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Here are the tastingspoons players. I’m in the middle (Carolyn). Daughter Sara on the right, and daughter-in-law Karen on the left. I started the blog in 2007, as a way to share recipes with my family. Now in 2023, I’m still doing 99% of the blogging and holding out hope that these two lovely and excellent cooks will participate. They both lead very busy lives, so we’ll see.

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BOOK READING (from Carolyn):

Remarkably Bright Creatures, by Shelby Van Pelt. Oh gosh, what a fabulous book. It’s a novel; however, much of the story is about the intelligence of octopus. In particular this one, Marcellus, who lives in an aquarium in a fictitious town in western Washington State. Marcellus himself writes some of the chapters. More than anything the book is about relationships, not only Marcellus with a woman (of a certain age) who cleans the aquarium at night, but the various people in this small town. Absolutely charming book. Both of my book clubs have it as a read this year. Loved it.

Trust, by Herman Diaz. This novel is an enigma in so many ways. It’s a book, within a book, within a book. About the stock market crash back in 1929, but it’s about a man. Oh my. I could hardly put this book down it was so riveting. Never read anything quite like it. Very hard to write a description of it. Read it. It’s really interesting. This book won the Pulitzer. That’s why I bought it.

Cassidy Hutchinson is a young woman (a real one) who works in politics or “government.” She’s worked for some prestigious Washington politicians, and ended up working for Trump. The book is a memoir of her short spin working at the highest levels, and obviously at the White House. She worked under Mark Meadows and suffered a lot of ridicule when she quit. Truth and lies . . . when she couldn’t live with herself and subvert the truth. Enough, gives you plenty of detail leading up to and after the January 6th uprising. She testified to Congress about what she knew. Really interesting. I almost never read books about politics because I think many (most?) of our elected politicians succumb to the lure of power and forget who they work for, us, the public.

Becoming Dr. Q, by Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, MD, is an Associate Professor of Neurosurgery and Oncology at Johns Hopkins University. This is his memoir about how he went from being a penniless migrant from Mexico to one of the world’s most renowned experts in brain tumors. About how he aspired to merely attend high school, how he made ends meet (barely) and how he eventually made it to medical school and became the expert he is. What an uplifting story. Here in California we have such a huge problem with illegal immigrants and I certainly don’t have the answers, but this story makes you stop and think.

The Invincible Miss Cust, by Penny Haw.  In 1868 Ireland, a woman wasn’t allowed to attend veterinary school, much less become a veterinarian. It took  years of trying (to the horror of her aristocratic family) and finally someone took her under their wing, she enrolled using a pseudonym (a name not revealing her gender). This is a true story of Aleen Isabel Cust, who did just that and was finally able to practice veterinary medicine in a rural area. This book is historical fiction, and some creative liberties were probably taken, but the tale itself is quite something. Enjoyed it from beginning to end.

Her Heart for a Compass, by Sarah Ferguson (yes), the Duchess of York. I was pleasantly surprised as I read this book that it wasn’t the usual romantic romp – there’s more to this story than you might think. Ferguson utilizes some of her family ancestors as real characters in the book. It starts with a young aristocratic woman on the eve of an arranged marriage. She just can’t abide the man, and runs away. Literally runs away with nothing. It’s the story of how she survives and becomes an agent for good in England and finally finds someone to love. The right love. Sweet story but with lots of twists and turns.

Someone Else’s Shoes, by Jojo Moyes. Moyes is such a prolific author, and comes up with the most unexpected stories. This being another one that grabbed my attention from the first page. Nisha, our heroine, is a wealthy socialite. She thinks her life is perfect. At the gym someone else grabs her gym bag, so she grabs the similar one. Then she finds out her husband is leaving her and he’s locked her out of their high-rise apartment. She’s penniless. No attorney will take her on. She has nothing but this gym bag belonging to someone else (who?). The gym has closed its doors. In the gym bag she did pick up are a pair of Christian Louboutin red crocodile shoes, and take big significance in the story, obviously. Nisha becomes a different person when she dons those shoes. Nisha meets some really kind people, people who barely subsist but willingly help her out. I marvel at Moyes’ ability to write a riveting story from the premise of a mistaken gym bag.

The Eleventh Man, Ivan Doig. What a story. Ben, part of a Montana college football team in the 1940s, joins the service during WWII. So do all of his eleven teammates. After suffering some injuries in pilot training he is recruited by a stealthy military propaganda machine. His job is to write articles about his teammates as they are picked off at various battle theaters around the Pacific and Europe. Ben goes there, in person, to fuel the stories. And sometimes accompanies bodies home, attends the funerals. There’s a romance involved; much of the book takes place in Canada, actually. Absolutely fascinating book. I don’t often read brutal war stories, but this one was a very interesting one. Ivan Doig is a crafty writer; I’ve read several of his books, my favorite being The Whistling Season.

Wavewalker, by Suzanne Heywood. Oh my goodness. A memoir about a very young English girl who goes off with her besotted and narcissistic parents and her brother on a years-long sailing journey supposedly following the route of James Cook. A very old, decrepit 70-foot schooner. Four people, 2 sort-of adults and 2 children. Sometimes a helper or two. A seasick mother. A dad who is driven to the extreme, whatever the damage he creates. She spent 10 years aboard, with a verve for sailing, a passion for reading and education (by mail) and survives the mood swings of her mother. She and her brother are left to fend for themselves in various places; the parents take on paying customers. Often there’s little or no food. I’m surprised they all survived, and they barely didn’t in several instances. You get to read all the details. Heywood managed to get into Oxford (despite her mother’s shenanigans and even her father’s unwillingness to help her, financially or otherwise). She’s a successful businesswoman and a very good writer. My DH (dear husband) always wanted to sail around the world; unfortunately I wasn’t a willing sailing mate for that as I get deathly seasick. The story intrigued me from beginning to end.

Claire Keegan wrote Small Things Like These. It’s won a lot of awards, and shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Takes place in Ireland. Some profound questions come up in this novella, about complicity, about restitution. There’s a convent nearby, and attached one of those places young girls were sent if they found themselves “in the family way,” and about how the church helped, supposedly, by taking the children and placing them in homes, without consent. It’s ugly, the truth of the matter. Really good read.

Nicholas Sparks isn’t an author I read very often because his books are pretty sappy, but daughter Sara recommended this one, The Longest Ride. It begins with Ira (age 93), stuck in his car as it plunges off the edge of a road, and it’s snowing. As the hours tick by, he reminisces about his life, having long conversations with his deceased wife. Then you pick up with a very sweet romance between a college student and a bull rider. The two stories interconnect. I really enjoyed the story.

The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind, by Barbara Lipska. Interesting that I’ve read two books recently about the brain (see Doctor Q above). This is a true story about a woman, a neuroscientist, who developed a metastatic melanoma in the brain. Because she in medicine, she chronicled her journey through it and coming out the other side. Fascinating if you’re interested in medicine (I am) and how the brain works (yes, that too). A very fascinating read. Not for everyone, I suppose.

The Price of Inheritance, by Karin Tanabe. This is a mystery, of sorts. Our heroine is an up and coming employee at Christie’s (auction house). In bringing a large collection of expensive art to auction, she makes a misstep about the provenance of a desk. She’s fired. She goes back to her roots, takes a job at a small antique store where she used to work. She begins buying antiques for the store, trying to make sense of what happened to her career. She meets a young Navy officer. The intrigue begins. I could hardly put this down. Although there is some romance in the book, it’s more about art and the lure of finding a gem amongst the junk. I loved this book because I’d never read anything about how auction houses work.

The Covenant of Water, by Abraham Verghese. Did you read Cutting for Stone, years ago, by this author? Such a good book, so I knew I’d enjoy this one, and oh, did I!. The book takes place in a little known area of southern India, and chronicles a variety of people over a few generations, who inhabit the place. Some who leave and some who come back. Verghese sort of writes like Ken Follett, or Michener, in that he delves into the intricacies of family relationships. There’s also a medical mystery involved too, which was very interesting. It’s a very, very long book, but worth reading.

Finding Dorothy, by Elizabeth Letts. My friend Dianne recommended this book to me, and it was so special. Loved it beginning to end. It’s based on the story of 77-year old Maud Gage Baum (her husband Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz) as she tries to advise the MGM folk as they are filming the 1938 movie with Judy Garland. You’ll learn lots of Oz and Baum history, and you’ll surely be rooting for Maud as she does her best to steer the director to stay true to the book. Absolutely fascinating read, every page.

The Bandit Queens, by Parini Shroff. I don’t quite know how to write a blurb about this book. The premise is so off the norm. It’s about a young Indian woman, Geeta, as she tries her best to make a living after her husband leaves her. Yet the community she lives in, thinks Geeta murdered him. Then some of her so-called “friends” ask her to help them get rid of their husbands too. It’s rollicking funny and unbelievable in many ways, including the backward ways of the local constabulary. I heard myself say “what?” many times in the weaving of this fanciful story.

Attribution, by Linda Moore. We follow art historian Cate, as she struggles to succeed in her chosen field against sexist advisors. She finds what she thinks is a hidden painting, perhaps a masterpiece. She risks everything to try to determine if it’s real or fake. It’s a mystery and a treatise in a way about art in general. What makes a masterpiece? Fascinating story and very well written. Loved it.

The Measure, Nikki Erlick. Oh my goodness. This story grabbed me from about the third sentence. Everyone in the world finds a wooden box on their doorstep, or in front of their camper or tent, that contains a string. Nothing but a string. People get various lengths of string and finally experts conclude it predicts the length of life. No one receives a string until they attain the age of 22. The author has a vivid imagination (I admire that) and you just will not believe the various reactions (frenzy?) from people who are short-stringers, or long-stringers. I’m sure the book is a parable or metaphor for us to be more understanding of how we segregate people – not black and white, this is short or long strings. I was in awe of the author’s ability to visualize how this kind of eventuality would complicate our lives. Yet there’s hope woven throughout. SUCH a good read. Highly recommend.

The Book Spy by Alan Hlad. True stories, but in novel form, of a special Axis group of men and women librarians and microfilm specialists, sent to strategic locations in Europe to acquire and scour newspapers, books, technical manuals and periodicals, for information about German troop locations, weaponry and military plans of WWII. I was glued to the book beginning to end. Fascinating accounts.

A Dangerous Business, Jane Smiley. What a story. 1850s gold rush, story of two young prostitutes, finding their way in a lawless town in the Wild West. There’s a murder, or two, or three, or some of the town’s prostitutes, and the two women set out to solve the crime.

Storm Watch, by C. J. Box. I’m such a fan of his tales of Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett’s adventures catching criminals. Loved it, just like I’ve loved every one of his books.

Defiant Dreams, by Sola Mahfouz. True story about the author, born in Afghanistan in 1996. This is about her journey to acquire an education. It’s unbelievable what the Taliban does to deter and forbid women from bettering themselves. Many trials and tribulations – just so you know, she makes it to the U.S. and becomes a quantum computer researcher at Tufts University. A book everyone should read.

Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. This is fairly light read, a novel – but interesting, about the meaning behind many flowers – like roses, you’d think of love. But red roses mean something else. You’ll learn about the various flowers as they’re woven into a story about a woman who studies them and creates a niche for herself producing beautiful bouquets and flower arrangements for special occasions.

The Rome Apartment, by Kerry Fisher. Such a cute story. Maybe not an interesting read for a man. It’s about Beth, whose husband has just left her, and her daughter has just gone off to college. Beth needs a new lease on life, so she rents a room from a woman who lives in Rome. Beth has much to learn about herself from the landlord, a woman of vast experience and compassion. Did I say cute? Yup.

All the Beauty in the World, a memoir by Patrick Bringley. Absolutely LOVED this book. Bringley was at loose ends and accepted a job as a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. He’d been a journalist at The New Yorker magazine, but after his brother was ill and died, he needed refreshing. After his training at the museum, he moves from room to room, guarding the precious art, and learning all about the pieces and the painters or sculptors. He takes special interest in many pieces and shares it in the book. He definitely has a writing gift. Lots of funny stories sprinkled throughout the book. I guarantee if you have any interest in art, you’ll love the book and Bringley’s story. He worked at the museum for a decade.

The Queen’s Lady, by Joanna Hickson. I love stories about Tudor England, and this one didn’t disappoint. Joan Guildford is a lady in waiting to Queen Elizabeth. Oh my goodness are there twists and turns. I went to my reference book on English kings and queens to verify the lineage of one person or another, and read several Wikipedia entries about various people in this book. So interesting. If you enjoy English history, this is a good one, probably more interesting to a woman than a man.

Once in awhile I’m ready to read another Louise Penny mystery. This time it was World of Curiosities. Usually I’d write something wonderful regarding “another tome about Three Pines.” Not going to say it this time. Three Pines becomes a sinister place. Murders (many).  Of course. Some bad folk out there, far too close to home. I had to put it down a couple of times because it was so frightening. But Inspector Gamache prevails. Of course he does! A piece of very complicated art is involved (I think it may be a real painting). Louise wrote a nice epilogue about how she devised the whole idea. Very interesting read.

Over the years I’ve read many of Jodi Picoult’s books. This, her newest, or very new, is called Mad Honey. Oh, my. This book is beyond Picoult’s usual borders, but then she always writes edgy books. That’s her genre. This one is written with a co-author, a woman who is gay (I think) and also a trans-gender. There is a lot of learn in this book, and might be very difficult or hard for some to read. Very engrossing story, though, as always.

Philippa Gregory is one of my fav authors. Just finished her 3rd (and last, I think) in the Fairmile series called Dawnlands. If you scroll down below you’ll find the 2nd book in the series, Tidelands. Very interesting about English history, but about the same families from the first book in the group. Loved it, as I loved all of them.

Am currently reading Rutherfurd’s long, long book, Paris. I love these involved historical novels about a place (he’s written many about specific places in the world). It’s a saga that goes back and forth in time, following the travails of various people and families, through thick and thin. Some of it during the era of the King Louis’ (plural, should I say Louies?). Very interesting about some of the city’s history and royalty.

Although this book says A Christmas Memory, by Richard Paul Evans, it’s not just about Christmas. A young boy is the hero here, but really an older widower man who lives next door plays a pivotal part of this book. It’s poignant, heart-rending and sweet. It delves deep into childhood memories to take readers back to an age when a world felt like it was falling apart, reminding us that even in the darkest of times, the light of hope can still shine. A beautiful read.

Wish You Were Here, by Jodi Picoult. Another page-turner. I loved this book. A thirty-something woman, about to take a trip with her boyfriend, when Covid breaks out. Covid plays a major role in this book, beginning to end. She decides to go anyway as her boyfriend is a doctor and cannot leave. She ends up on a remote Galapagos island, and you go along with her – with people she meets, the life she leads, the isolation she experiences, the loneliness she feels, but the joy of nature is a sustaining aspect. She’s stuck there because of Covid. Not boats, no airport, no nothing. Barely enough food. But yet, she survives. I could NOT put down this book. It had me riveted. You know, Covid is going to play a major role in a lot of books in our future – it has to. It was such a pivotal moment in this century!

Not everyone wants to read food memoirs. When I saw Sally Schmitt had written a memoir, titled Six California Kitchens, I knew I wanted to read it. I met Sally a few times over the years when I visited Napa Valley, and bought some of her famous pickled items, chutneys, jams, etc. She was the original chef at The French Laundry, before it became truly famous by Thomas Keller. Sally shares her food story, how she came to become a chef and entrepreneur. It’s a charming book and there are a few recipes (I think one at the end of every chapter). Enjoyed reading it. If you ever visited Napa Valley in the early days (the 1960s through 80s) you will enjoy reading how “California cuisine” kind of came into being.

Being a fan of Vivian Howard (from her TV show), when I saw she’d written another book, I knew I should buy it. This Will Make It Taste Good is such an unusual name for a cookbook, but once you get into the groove of the book, you’ll understand. She’s now divorced, but still running two restaurants and raising twins (part-time, I’m guessing as I assume her ex is involved some). I don’t know how she had time to write another book. She’s hysterically funny. I mean it. Over the years (and I’m guessing most of this came from her North Carolina roots and the mayhem she encountered opening a restaurant in her tiny, rural town, to great fame) she developed a group of tasty “things,” to complement her food. It’s hard to pinpoint what these are – they’re recipes for some “kitchen heroes” she calls them. They’re condiments. They’re food additions, they’re flavor enhancers. If I make some of them (I hope to) I’ll post them on my blog. They have umami flavors, and she says it’s how she survives and makes everything taste good. She includes the recipe for each of these kitchen heroes (and each title is laugh-out-loud funny in and of themselves) and a few uses of them. Recently she wrote a column in Garden & Gun (magazine) about online dating, and about how she filled out her profile and of some of the not-so-happy first dates. I laughed and laughed over that. I hope you click on that link and read it.

As soon as it came out, I ordered Spare, by Prince Harry. I’ve always been interested in the Royal Family. And I’m old enough to remember when Queen Elizabeth was crowned – my mother and I watched it on tv, in those early days of television. I admired her throughout her long life. What you learn in this book is how abominably Harry and Meghan have been treated. We all know the Royal Family has a company of people who “handle” them, called “the firm.” These people control what everyone in the R.F. does, when, who is present, who can take a vacation where, and some of them give permission for journalists to photograph, in somewhat private spaces, in return for leaving them alone for awhile. The paparazzi, and the photojournalists are ruthless. Absolutely ruthless and relentless. I cannot imagine having to live with that kind of low-life awaiting  your every move. It could break anyone, as it did Diana. I’ve never been a fan of Charles, and this book doesn’t endear him to me. I’ve never been a fan of Camilla, either. There’s a lot of verbiage given over to outing many people in the R.F. Betrayals on many levels. I devoured it, but then I’m an Anglophile of the first order.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. Usually I don’t seek out short stories. I might have purchased this book without realizing it was. There aren’t that many stories – each one gets you very ingrained in the characters. I love her writing, and would think each story in this book could be made into a full-fledged novel. I was quite taken with the main characters in each and every one of them. Since each story is different, I can’t describe one, without describing all of them; no space for that. With each story I was very sad when I realized it was the end, leaving you hanging. I wondered if these were stories Lahiri wrote hoping they would transcend into a full length novel, but she grew bored, or couldn’t quite flesh out more. But I always felt there could/would be more. I wanted there to be more.

A Lantern in Her Hand, by Beth Streeter Aldrich. A very interesting and harrowing story of early pioneer days in the Midwest (Nebraska I think); covered wagon time up to about 80 years later as the heroine, Abbie Deal, and her husband start a family in a small town. On land that isn’t lush or reliable. Many years of drought, winds, grasshoppers. The story is a novelized one of Aldrich’s own family roots. It’s full of good old-fashioned family values and is a record of some difficult Midwest pioneering history.

The Messy Lives of Book People, by Phaedra Patrick. From amazon’s page: Mother of two Liv Green barely scrapes by as a maid to make ends meet, often finding escape in a good book while daydreaming of becoming a writer herself. So she can’t believe her luck when she lands a job housekeeping for her personal hero, mega-bestselling author Essie Starling, a mysterious and intimidating recluse. The last thing Liv expected was to be the only person Essie talks to, which leads to a tenuous friendship. When Essie passes away suddenly, Liv is astonished to learn that her dying wish was for Liv to complete her final novel. But to do so Liv will have to step into Essie’s shoes. As Liv begins to write, she uncovers secrets from the past that reveal a surprising connection between the two women—one that will change Liv’s own story forever.

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr. I’m a fan of this author and relished reading his book about a year in his personal life, with his wife and very new, newborn twins. Doerr was given an auspicious award – a year of study in Rome, with apartment and a stipend. There are four chapters, by season. You will laugh and cry with him/them, as they have to work very hard to survive days and nights with crying babies that will not settle down. As he escapes to his study lair, if only to get away from the babies, sometimes to nap because he was up all night. Those of us who have had fussy babies know what this feels like. He suffers greatly because the “great American novel” isn’t coming to him. He feels the year wasting away from the standpoint of the award. The time in Rome was wonderful, and he and his family enjoy many wonderful visits to city high points, to stand in awe at old relics. I loved every bit of this book – so well written. If you’ve ever been to Rome you’ll enjoy it all the more.

Kristin Hannah’s Distant Shores is quite a read. Some described it as like a soap opera. Not me. Interesting character development of a couple who married young. She put her own career/wants/desires aside to raise their children. He forged ahead with his life dreams. The children grow up and move on. Then he’s offered a huge promotion across the country. She’s torn – she doesn’t want to be in New York, but nothing would get in the way of his career. They try to make the marriage work from separate coasts. The wife begins to find herself again, re-igniting her own passions. Lots of family dynamics.

Oh, William! by Elizabeth Strout. Lucy Barton is divorced. But she’s still sort of friendly with her ex. It’s complicated. Out of the blue he asks her to go on a trip with him to discover something about his roots. They go. And of course, they’re taken for a married couple most of the time. Lucy laments the things she loved about her ex, William. Hence she says “Oh, William” more than once. They encounter some very funny circumstances, and she guides him along, lamenting again, “Oh, William,” again. I don’t think she ever says it TO him, however. Very funny book. Sweet. Elizabeth Strout is a gifted writer.

Tidelands,  by Philippa Gregory. It tells the tale of a peasant woman, Alinor (an herbalist and midwife), who lives barely above the poverty level, trying to raise two children, during the time of great turmoil in England, the rancorous civil war about Charles 1. Her husband has disappeared. The feudal system at the time isn’t any friend to Alinor. In comes a man (of course) who is a priest, but to the Catholic king, not the Protestant people, and everything Catholic is abhorred and suspect. A fascinating read, loved every chapter.

Read Reminders of Him, by Colleen Hoover. A page turner of a story. A young woman is convicted of a crime (young and foolish type). Once released her sole purpose is to be a part of her daughter’s life. Hoover has such a gift of story-telling and keeping you hanging on a cliff.

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty. Oh my goodness. The wicked webs we weave. How in the world did the author even come UP with this wild story, but she did, and it kept me glued. Sophie walked away from her wedding day, and always wondered if she made the wrong decision. Then she inherits his aunt’s house, back in her home town, where the quizzical Munro baby disappearance provides a living for many of his family. Sophie moves there, only to have to unearth all the bad stuff that happened before. Quite a story.

Very funny and poignant story, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, by Elizabeth Taylor (no, not that one). Mrs. Palfrey, a woman of a certain age, moves into an old folks’ home in London. It’s a sort of hotel, but has full time elderly quirky residents. You get to know them all, and Mrs. Palfrey’s subterfuge effort to show off her “grandson.” I might not have ever picked up this book, but one of my book clubs had us read it, and I’m ever so glad I did.

For one of my book clubs we read Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus. This book is so hard to describe. Elizabeth is a wizard at chemistry and struggles to be recognized for her intelligence and research. She meets a man at her company who is brilliant too. They make quite a pair. They have a child, then he suddenly dies. Her work isn’t taken seriously, so she leaves her employment and becomes an overnight phenom on a cooking show where she uses the chemical names for things like sodium chloride, etc. You go alongside her struggles, and her raising of her daughter. LOTS of humor, lots to discuss for a book club.

Horse. Oh my, is it a page turner. Loved it from the first page to the last. Sad when it ended. It’s a fictional creation but based on a real racehorse owned by a black man, back in the 1850s. Technically, the story is about a painting of the horse but there are many twists and turns. If you’ve ever enjoyed Brooks’ books in the past, this one won’t disappoint.

The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel (no, not Hannah). Certainly a little-known chunk of history about a woman who becomes a master forger during WWII to help get Jewish children out of France. Not easy to read, meaning the difficulty of anyone finding the means and place to DO the forgery and right under the noses of the Nazis. Really good read.

Liane Moriarty’s first novel, Three Wishes, follows the travails of adult triplets, so different, yet similar in many ways. Two are identical, the third is not. So alike, and so not. It takes you through a series of heart-wrenching events, seemingly unrelated, but ones that could bring a family to its breaking point and test the bonds of love and strength.

Recently I’ve read both of Erin French’s books, her cookbook, The Lost Kitchen, and since then her memoir, Finding Freedom. About her life growing up (difficult) about her coming of age mostly working in the family diner, flipper burgers and fries (and learning how much she liked to cook). Now she’s a very successful restaurant entrepreneur (The Lost Kitchen is also the name of her restaurant) in the minuscule town of Freedom, Maine. She’s not a classically trained chef, but she’s terrifically creative. See her TV series on Discover+ if you subscribe.

Jo Jo Moyes has a bunch of books to her credit. And she writes well, with riveting stories. Everything I’ve read of hers has been good. This book, The Girl You Left Behind, is so different, so intriguing, so controversial and a fascinating historical story. There are two timelines here, one during WWI, in France, when a relatively unknown painter (in the style of Matisse) paints a picture of his wife. The war intervenes for both the husband and the wife.

Eli Shafak’s Island of Missing Trees. This book was just a page turner. If you’ve never read anything about the conflict in Cyprus (the island) between the Turks and the Greeks, you’re in for a big history lesson here. But, the entire story centers around a fig tree. You get into the head/brain/feelings of this big fig tree which plays a very central part of the story. You’ll learn a lot about animals, insects (ants, mosquitos, butterflies) and other flora and fauna of Cyprus.

Also read Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty. Ohhh my, such a good book. I couldn’t put it down. Whatever you do, do not read the ending before you start the book. I’ve never understood people who do this. The book chronicles the day a mom just ups and disappears. The grown children come back home, in panic. The dad isn’t much help, and he becomes the prime suspect of foul play. There is no body, however.

If you’d like a mystery read, try Dete Meserve’s The Space Between. It’s just the kind of page-turner I enjoy – a wife returns to her home after being away on business for a few days, to find her husband missing and what he’s left for her is an unexplained bank deposit of a million dollars, a loaded Glock in the nightstand, and a video security system that’s been wiped clean.

Read Alyson Richman’s historical novel called The Velvet Hours. Most of the book takes place in Paris, with a young woman and her grandmother, a very wealthy (but aging) woman who led a life of a semi-courtesan. Or at least a kept woman. But this grandmother was very astute and found ways to invest her money, to grow her money, and to buy very expensive goods. Then WWII intervenes, and the granddaughter has to close up her grandmother’s apartment, leaving it much the way it had been throughout her grandmother’s life, to escape the Nazis. Years go by, and finally answers are sought and found. An intriguing book, based on the author’s experience with an apartment that had been locked up similarly for decades, also in Paris.

Susan Meissner is one of my favorite authors. This book, The Nature of Fragile Things tells a very unusual story. About a young Irish immigrant, desperate to find a way out of poverty, answers an ad for a mail order bride.

Also read Rachel Hauck’s The Writing Desk. You could call this a romance. A young professional, a writer of one successful book, has writer’s block. Then she’s asked to go to Florida to help her mother (from whom she’s mostly estranged) through chemo. She goes, hoping she can find new inspiration.

Also recently finished The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish. The book goes backwards and forwards in time, from the 1600s in London with the day-to-day lives of a group of Jews (who had to be very careful about how they worshiped) to current day as an old house is discovered to hold a treasure-trove of historical papers.

Colleen Hoover has written quite a book, It Ends with Us: A Novel, with a love story being the central theme, but again, this book is not for everyone – it can be an awakening for any reader not acquainted with domestic violence and how such injury can emerge as innocent (sort of) but then becomes something else. There is graphic detail here.

Nicolas Barreau’s novel Love Letters from Montmartre: A Novel  is very poignant, very sweet book. Seems like I’ve read several books lately about grieving; this one has a charming ending, but as anyone who has gone through a grave loss of someone dear knows, you can’t predict day to day, week to week. “Snap out of it,” people say, thinking they’re helping.

Another very quirky book, that happens to contain a lot of historical truth is The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World: A Novel by Harry N. Abrams. Set in Japan just after the tsunami 10 years ago when 18,000 people died. At a private park miles away, some very special people installed a phone booth, with a phone (that didn’t work) at the edge of the park, and the survivors of the tsunami began wending their way there to “talk” to their deceased loved ones. Very poignant story.

No question, the most quirky book I’ve read of late, a recommendation from my friend Karen, West with Giraffes: A Novel by Lynda Rutledge. Back in the 1930s a small group of giraffes were brought across the Atlantic from Africa to New York, destined for the then-growing San Diego Zoo. The story is of their journey across the United States in the care of two oh-so-different people, both with a mission.

Could hardly put down Krueger’s book, This Tender Land: A Novel. Tells the harrowing story of a young boy, Odie, (and his brother Albert) who became orphans back in the 30s. At first there is a boarding school, part of an Indian (Native American) agreement, though they are not Indian. They escape, and they are “on the run.”

Just finished Kristin Hannah’s latest book, The Four Winds: A Novel. What a story. One I’ve never read about, although I certainly have heard about the “dust bowl” years when there was a steady migration of down-and-out farmers from the Midwest, to California, for what they hoped to be the American Dream. It tells the story of one particular family, the Martinellis, the grandparents, their son, his wife, and their two children.

Also finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s recent book, The Book of Longings: A Novel. It is a book that might challenge some Christian readers, as it tells the tale of Jesus marrying a woman named Mary. I loved the book from the first word to the last one. The book is believable to me, even though the Bible never says one way or the other that Jesus ever married. It’s been presumed he never did. But maybe he did?

Jeanine Cummins has written an eye-opener, American Dirt. A must read. Oh my goodness. I will never, ever, ever look at Mexican (and further southern) migrants, particularly those who are victims of the vicious cartels, without sympathy. It tells the story of a woman and her young son, who were lucky enough to hide when the cartel murdered every member of her family – her husband, her mother, and many others. It’s about her journey and escape to America.

Also read JoJo Moyes’ book, The Giver of Stars. Oh gosh, what a GREAT book. Alice joins the Horseback Librarians in the rural south.

Frances Liardet has written a blockbuster tale, We Must Be Brave. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Although the scene is WWII England, this book is not really about the war. It’s about the people at home, waiting it out, struggling with enough food, clothing and enough heat.

William Kent Krueger wrote Ordinary Grace. From amazon: a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God. It’s a coming of age 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.

My Name Is Resolute by Nancy Turner. She’s the author of another book of some renown, These is my Words:

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This is a memoir, so a true story, of a young man growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, who becomes a shepherd. Not just any-old shepherd – actually a well educated one. He knows how to weave a story.

 

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 Salad Dressings, Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on February 9th, 2024.

Lovely roasted veggies enhanced with lemon juice in a vinaigrette.

Having shopped that morning and with numerous vegetables to choose from, I decided a sheetpan of roasted veggies sounded good for dinner. My complete dinner. But adding some kind of dressing would be even better, so I kind of made up a dressing with EVOO, a tad of red wine vinegar and fresh lemon juice (my Meyer lemon tree is loaded, absolutely loaded with them), Dijon, a tiny bit of sugar, salt and pepper and some minced shallot.

After cutting up the veggies (one sweet potato, chunked large, 1 large sweet onion cut in wedges, about 12 Brussels sprouts, halved, one baby bok choy, cut into wedge thirds), I piled them onto a sheet pan lined with parchment. EVOO was drizzled over it and I used my hands to make sure every surface had been kissed by the oil. Then I added some salt and freshly ground black pepper, and it was ready. Into a 400°F oven it went for 35 minutes. If I’d wanted more caramelization I wouldn’t have used the parchment, but they were just done in that time frame (and the sheetpan was mostly clean). Meanwhile, I’d mixed up the vinaigrette, tasted it, and added a bit more oil. Once the veggies came out of the oven I put them onto my plate and drizzled (using a teaspoon) some of it over each piece of vegetable. That way, I hoped, I’d use less of the dressing (therefore fewer calories). So delicious. As I write this, I made the veggies last night, and at lunchtime today I couldn’t wait to have more of them. I reheated them in the microwave for a quick meal.

The recipe below makes more than you’ll need of the dressing – use what’s left on a green salad. Therefore, the calorie count in the actual recipe is way off. This is a mix-and-match kind of dish – don’t like sweet potatoes? Add white potatoes. Don’t like Brussels, add red, yellow and green bell peppers, cauliflower or eggplant. Don’t have sweet onion? No problem. Regular onions should work just fine. Add carrots to this – they’d be great – they become very sweet when roasted. I was trying to stick with low carb. Sweet potatoes are a resistant starch, so they don’t get absorbed by the body like most starches/carbohydrate. I have some portobello mushrooms and if I make this again in the next few days, I’ll add those, although they’d need the dark gills cleaned out  (otherwise the resulting dark fluid would spread over the other veggies – wouldn’t look pretty). I’m not a fan of cooked celery, but it probably would work here too. Regular cabbage would work too if cut into smaller wedges.

What’s GOOD: oh gosh, every veggie was wonderful. The vinaigrette just “made” it – it was the lemon juice that was the key to that. If you cut the veggies in somewhat even thickness they’ll all be done at the same time. Using parchment made for easy clean-up. The leftover vinaigrette I’ll use on a salad in the next few days. Absolutely wonderful dinner. If you wanted to serve it with a side of protein – a grilled chicken breast, or some rotisserie chicken, easy. A grilled pork chop maybe, or even a piece of fish. All good with the vegetables.

What’s NOT: only that you need to have the right combo of vegetables. Use what you have. No complaints here!

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Roasted Vegetables with Lemon Vinaigrette

Recipe: My own recipe, made it up on the fly
Servings: 2

1 medium sweet potato — peeled
1 large sweet onion — peeled, cut in wedges
2 whole bok choy — cut in thirds, through the core
10 whole Brussels sprouts — ends sliced off, halved
1 1/2 tablespoons EVOO
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
VINAIGRETTE: (this makes more than needed for the vegetables)
1/3 cup EVOO
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 small shallot — peeled, finely minced

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a large sheetpan with parchment paper.
2. Prep vegetables and combine on the sheetpan. Drizzle EVOO over all and toss the vegetables to coat them. Sprinkle salt and pepper over all.
3. Bake for 35 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.
4. Meanwhile, prepare vinaigrette and shake well to combine. Taste for acid balance – add more oil or lemon juice as needed.
5. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the hot, roasted vegetables and serve immediately.
Per Serving (makes more dressing than needed, so calories are way high): 578 Calories; 47g Fat (70.2% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 38g Carbohydrate; 8g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 175mg Sodium; 15g Total Sugars; 0mcg Vitamin D; 171mg Calcium; 3mg Iron; 989mg Potassium; 175mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Fish, on February 2nd, 2024.

Having made shrimp and grits before . . . well, these are the best ever.

It’s taken me awhile to catch up with all of the recipes I’ve made or had, and this was one that got lost. Phillis Carey made these at the class in early December, and they are just the bomb. What’s there not to like about bacon, mushrooms, lovely succulent shrimp and a bunch of cheese mixed in and around the pile of creamy grits?

Ideally, have everything out, ready, measured before you begin. The grits take less than 10 minutes to cook, and the shrimp even less than that, so be prepared. Chicken broth and cream are added to a pot, then once it’s up to a boil you slowly – ever so slowly – drizzle in the grits, stirring constantly with a whisk (not a spoon, a whisk). Once mixed, turn down the heat, cover and let it simmer for 5-7 minutes. Then you add in the salt, butter, and cheeses, plus some white pepper, cayenne and nutmeg (yes, nutmeg).

Phillis used 6 slices of bacon in this dish – – – I use 4 slices, as the bacon flavor was very prominent. You don’t want it to overpower the delicacy of the shrimp. The shrimp are cooked in the residual bacon fat (plus oil if needed), until it just begins to get opaque (pink), then you add green onions, the bacon and garlic. It’s then seasoned with lemon juice, some hot sauce plus salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, the grits are done, they’re spooned into a nice big wide soup bowls and the shrimp mixture is piled on top. Sprinkle with Italian parsley for color. Serve immediately so it doesn’t cool off.

What’s GOOD: every little morsel of this was delicious. I mean, really  . . . shrimp, mushrooms, bacon, grits with cheese and cream? Oh yum.

What’s NOT: well, there’s not much that’s healthy about this, lots of calories. A decadent splurge, let’s put it that way.

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Shrimp and Grits with Mushrooms and Bacon

Recipe: Phillis Carey, class, 12/2023
Servings: 5

GRITS:
3 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream — or use more broth instead
1 cup grits — quick, not instant type
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup cheddar cheese — grated
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
Freshly ground white pepper, cayenne and nutmeg (to taste)
SHRIMP:
4 slices bacon — diced
Oil for frying
1 pound large shrimp — cleaned, with or without tails
1/2 pound mushrooms — white, sliced
1 cup green onions — sliced
1 clove garlic — minced
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Crystal hot sauce, to taste, or Tabasco
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup Italian parsley — chopped

1. GRITS: Place broth and cream in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Gradually whisk in grits (too fast and you’ll get lumps). Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until grits are creamy and tender, stirring occasionally, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in salt, butter and cheeses. Add a pinch of each: white pepper, cayenne and nutmeg.
2. SHRIMP: Cook bacon in large skillet until browned on the edges. Remove with a slotted spoon to drain on paper towels.
3. If the bacon fat doesn’t provide a thin layer all over the pan, add a bit of neutral oil. Heat over medium high heat and add shrimp and mushrooms, tossing well. Cook until shrimp JUST starts to color, then add green onions, cooked bacon and garlic. Season with lemon juice, hot sauce, salt and pepper to taste.
4. Divide grits among four plates or wide bowls. Spoon shrimp mixture over grits and serve sprinkled with Italian parsley.
Per Serving: 718 Calories; 46g Fat (57.2% calories from fat); 43g Protein; 34g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 231mg Cholesterol; 1565mg Sodium; 3g Total Sugars; 1mcg Vitamin D; 708mg Calcium; 2mg Iron; 615mg Potassium; 773mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Pork, on January 26th, 2024.

Love rice? Love Chinese food? Have access to Chinese sausage? Make this!

For some reason I was craving Chinese food, and I didn’t really want to go out somewhere. I had a package of Chinese sausage in my refrigerator, so I decided to do something with it. Truth to tell, I know nothing about Chinese sausage. I’d never had it before, but I’d spotted packages of it at my local Costco. In a shelf-stable package. It said it would keep for about a year. Meat? Really? A year on my pantry shelf? Hmmm. Well, I had put it in my refrigerator, where it had languished for at least 4-5 months. I went online and searched recipes, and decided on this one, that’s just slightly adapted from Jaden’s Steamy Kitchen.

So, first I followed the recipe directions for rinsing the rice. Usually I don’t bother, but in this recipe it said it was important, to wash off the starch, so the rice would not stick together. I must say, I was impressed with the fluffiness of the finished rice – it definitely was fluffy and didn’t stick together at all. So, the rinsed rice was put into a large frying pan (big, must have been an 11-inch one), water was added. Nothing else The sausage links are nestled into the rice and then turn on the heat. The recipe was specific about watching the pan for the first sign of bubbling around the edges. At that point you lower the heat, cover the pan and let it cook for exactly 18 minutes.

Meanwhile, you prepare the sauce that will go into the rice. You make the sauce with shallot and garlic, then add two kinds of soy sauce (or you can jerry-rig the dark one, see notes, although I didn’t add the suggested honey or molasses – it was sweet enough without it, for me anyway) and some dry sherry. And a bit of water. Once cooked, the rice has to sit (covered, no peeking) for 5 minutes. The I removed those sausage links (keeping the pot covered) and cut them up into little diagonal slices. Those were added to the sauce, then I poured the whole thing over the pan of white rice and stirred and fluffed like crazy. Then a tiny drizzle of sesame oil.

Green onions and cilantro were added as a garnish to the servings. Well, there was just one serving, mine. Oh my goodness, was it ever good. The sausage was a bit on the salty side, so I’m glad I used low-sodium soy sauce. The little bit of Asian sesame oil adds a really nice touch to it.

What’s GOOD: every little tiny morsel of this was good. Healthy? Oh, maybe not, but it sure was tasty. I tried not to overeat; I was very tempted to. I had ample leftovers, so they went into the freezer for another day when I feel I can have a heaping portion of rice! Loved the flavors throughout, the sherry, even, the cilantro, the soy/shallot/garlic sauce. All good. Delicious.

What’s NOT: can’t say there is anything that wasn’t good. It wasn’t hard to make at all. Uses two pans. I had all the ingredients on hand, so it was a fast meal to make. Could make it on the fly if I had last-minute guests, even.

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Chinese Sausage and Rice

Recipe: Adapted from Jaden’s Steamy Kitchen
Servings: 6

1 1/2 cups long grain rice — jasmine rice preferred
2 3/4 cups water
6 Chinese sausage links
SAUCE:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic — smashed
1 shallot — roughly chopped
1/4 cup soy sauce — use low-sodium if preferred
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce — see notes
1 tablespoon dry sherry
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
TOPPINGS:
1/2 cup green onions — chopped
1/2 cup cilantro — chopped

NOTES: If you do not have dark soy sauce, substitute: with 2T regular soy sauce + 1 tsp honey or molasses.
1. Wash the raw rice grains fist. Fill a large pot with the rice and cold water to cover. Use your hands to swish the rice grains, loosening any extra starch and dirt. Rice (like beans) is a raw ingredient and it is important to wash and rinse. Washing also rids the rice of extra starch, which will give light, fluffy, airy rice – not heavy, sticky and starchy. Tip the pot and carefully pour out the water. Repeat two more times. Drain as much water as possible from the pot.
2. Measure and add in the 2 3/4 cups of water.
3. Snuggle the sausage in the rice grains. Turn the heat to high. When the water near the edge of the pot starts bubbling, cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 18 minutes. Note: While the rice is cooking, make the Sauce.
4. When the rice is finished cooking, turn off heat and keep covered – no peeking Let it sit with the lid on for 5 minutes to finish the steaming process.Remove the sausage links and cut them (carefully, they’re hot) into diagonal slices about 1/2 or 3/4″ thick.
5. SAUCE: In a small saucepan, add oil, garlic and shallot. Turn heat to low and let the garlic and shallot cook slowly until they begin to brown but not burn. Use a slotted spoon and remove the shallots and garlic and discard, leaving the flavored oil. Add remaining ingredients and simmer until thickened, about 2 minutes. Add shallot garlic mixture back in. Add the sausage and stir it thoroughly, then pour the sauce over the rice and stir to combine.
6. Serve with green onions and cilantro on top.
Per Serving: 302 Calories; 23g Fat (60.0% calories from fat); 14g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 897mg Sodium; 5g Total Sugars; 0mcg Vitamin D; 18mg Calcium; trace Iron; 107mg Potassium; 42mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Brunch, GF or Gluten Free, on January 19th, 2024.

Sorry, that photo isn’t better. That’s one of the little baked eggs, cut in half, oozing onto the plate.

There, is that better, at left? Cute muffin cup baked eggs and bacon.

A post from Carolyn, but Karen is the one who made this. On Christmas morning my D-I-L, Karen, made these for our breakfast. She was so thoughtful, to make something my cousin Gary could have, that was GF. My family is very considerate of his GF restrictions. I usually make a GF dessert for one or more of our family gatherings, so the hostess doesn’t have to think about it. I made two this year (desserts). For Thanksgiving it was a pumpkin dessert, Pumpkin Praline Custard, that’s been on my blog for years. Then for Christmas I made a GF poppy seed Bundt cake (recipe up soon) that was amazingly good. Light and fluffy. Gary enjoyed it, and what was left I packed up for him to put in his backpack on the plane when he flew home.

Back to this breakfast . . . Karen bought a package of  Cup4Cup GF flour on amazon. It’s the best mix of GF flours I’ve tasted. After Christmas I ordered a package of it and will be trying it in coming months. Next year the goal is to make GF popovers when Gary visits. I made popovers for Christmas Day dinner (it’s become a “thing” that I make them frequently when I visit my son and his family as they all love-love them), though I didn’t make them GF. I didn’t know there was a recipe out there that worked. Popovers are so finicky with wheat flour, let alone GF mixtures, but since Christmas I’ve found more than one recipe for GF popovers. I think I’ll try them here at home first.

As an added note, I made popovers a couple of days ago when I was visiting them, and I absolutely NAILED it with the recipe and now I need to go back to tweak the recipe that’s already here on my blog and add notes. Anyway, a week or so ago I listened to a podcast on Milk Street radio, an interview with Rose Levy Beranbaum, and in it she talked extensively about various flour (all purpose) and how they differ in the amount of protein they end up with in the finished product. With her advice in mind, I bought a bag of BLEACHED Gold Medal flour, weighed the exact amount (in grams) needed for the popovers, made them like that (with eggs, milk, and in this case some melted beef fat Karen had on hand). Oh my goodness. Perfect. If you’re interested in learning more about the flour intelligence in this, click here to go to Rose’s page on ingredients, and scroll down to FLOUR. Until now I’ve used  unbleached all purpose flour for everything, unless cake flour was called for in the recipe. I now know I need to use bleached flour for all cakes, cookies, biscuits, etc. I guess I’ll be phasing out my unbleached flour as I don’t make bread hardly at all anymore.

THE PIECRUST: Karen used this flour (picture at right) to make the GF piecrusts. Recipe below. It’s a normal crust – this special cup4cup GF flour, salt, butter, apple cider vinegar and cold water. Karen said the dough was quite easy to work with. Do note that the recipe below makes two crusts, or enough to make 24 of these little piecrust cups. She cautions you to NOT press the dough into the corners as that stretches it – when it bakes it will shrink. So, gently press and mold the dough without stretching to get into those corners.

Into the bottom of each pastry crust Karen spread about a teaspoon of whole-grain mustard. Then she added a few little cubes of the pancetta (or cooked bacon, whatever your preference). The eggs were separated and the yolk is carefully added into the cup. The egg whites are mixed  up a little bit, to make them more pourable and it was added to each muffin cup, up to about 2/3 full. Don’t over-fill as they might bubble up and over (which would make a BIG mess in your oven). She sprinkled salt, pepper and paprika over the top, then added grated Cheddar cheese on the top.

The egg cups are baked for 20-25 minutes, or until the egg is set and the cheese and the crust are golden brown. Sprinkle with chopped parsley when it’s served. Every oven is different – so watch the eggs carefully that you don’t overbake them.

What’s GOOD: all of it was good. The piecrust was perfect – flaky and I’d never have known it was GF. The eggs were perfectly cooked (oozy, just the way I like them). Karen did a great job on this breakfast. She served it with a lovely tray of fresh fruit and coffee.

What’s NOT: only that there are several steps to making these – the piecrust itself, of course, and then making the filling. Karen simplified it well (using those tiny cubes of pancetta instead of having to cook bacon).

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GF Mini Pancetta (or Bacon) and Egg Cups with Cheddar

Recipe: One online recipe and a cookbook recipe – combined
Servings: 12

Butter, for greasing
FILLING:
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
12 slices pancetta — or bacon (diced) cooked and drained
12 small eggs
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 cup grated Cheddar cheese — or more if needed
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
GF PIE CRUST: (makes enough for a double crust)
2 1/2 cups GF flour — plus more for the board
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 sticks unsalted butter — in 1/2″ dice
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup cold water — or up to 1/2 cup

NOTES: Take care NOT to force the dough circles into the muffin pans – stretching – as this will lead to the dough shrinking while it is baking. So, gently ease dough into the pan and gently press it into the edges.
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin pan.
2. Roll dough (using half of the below recipe) to 1/4 inch thickness on a lightly floured board and cut out 12 circles approximately 5″ in diameter. Gently lift and insert dough into muffin pan, pleating sides as necessary to fit into the cups. Do not stretch the dough.
3. Place about 1/2 teaspoon of mustard into the base of each pastry shell and add the pancetta (or bacon).
4. Separate the eggs. Gently place an egg yolk into each muffin cup. Very lightly mix the egg whites so they will pour easily. Add just enough egg white into each muffin cup to fill the shell about 2/3 full. DO NOT overfill. Season to taste with pepper and paprika, and sprinkle grated cheese evenly over the tops of the pastries.
5. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the egg is set and the cheese is golden brown. Serve warm, sprinkled with chopped parsley.
6. CRUST: Put the flour, sea salt and sugar, if using, in a food processor and pulse to combine.
7. Sprinkle the cold butter over the flour in the food processor. Pulse until the mixture looks crumbly with larger, pea-sized chunks of butter (those chunks of butter equal a flaky crust!). Drizzle the apple cider vinegar over top.
8. Turn the machine on and immediately start drizzling cold water through the feed tube. Stop the machine once the mixture starts to come together and looks shaggy. Give the dough a pinch—if it sticks together, it’s ready to go. If not, turn the machine on again and drizzle in a bit more water. You might not need all of the water—you’re looking for a shaggy dough, not a cohesive ball. Do NOT over-process the dough – it’s good to have little visible chunks of butter, which make a flakier crust.
9. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and shape it into a ball. Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces and form each into a flat disk. Wrap the disks in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 30 minutes or for up to 2 days. Do Ahead: The wrapped disks can be placed in zip-top freezer bags and frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before using.
10. If the dough has been in the fridge for several hours, let it sit at room temperature until slightly softened, about 10-20 minutes. Roll it out on a lightly floured piece of parchment paper. If the dough immediately starts to crack once you start rolling, it’s too cold—give it a few more minutes to warm up. If the edges crack as you roll (which they probably will, so no fear!) simply patch them as needed.
Per Serving: 252 Calories; 24g Fat (84.6% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 237mg Cholesterol; 260mg Sodium; trace Total Sugars; 1mcg Vitamin D; 102mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 90mg Potassium; 150mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Salads, Vegetarian, Veggies/sides, on January 12th, 2024.

Green beans – oh so delicious – can be a veg or a salad.

Over Christmas there was quite a bit of too-ing and fro-ing from one family location to another. Going south, we (my cousin Gary from NorCal was here) met on the 23rd for a big family dinner and gift exchange and one of the family’s homes in Corona del Mar. I think there were about 25 people there, with 22 of them being part of my daughter-in-law’s extended family. I took a gluten-free dessert and something else . . . at this moment I can’t recall what I made. I think it was a salad of some kind. Oh well, it will come to me . . . Then on the 24th my cousin Gary and I drove north to La Canada (where my son Powell and his family live). We had a lovely dinner that night, paella and all the extras from a local Spanish restaurant. We had desserts leftover from the 23rd, and we had lovely Sangria to enjoy too.

Because their house was full-up with guests, Gary and I were treated to an overnight at The California Club. My son and his wife have joined it and they have 30+ rooms available. It’s in downtown Los Angeles. It’s like a private country club but without a golf course. In the morning we enjoyed coffee (Gary had other things; me just the coffee) in the bar at the Club. We were sorry they had to provide food for guests on Christmas morning, but we weren’t the only people staying there, and the waiter was ever-so nice. Then we returned to the house for an official breakfast.

Karen made some GF eggs in pastry cups (recipe to come soon). They were just delicious and I was amazed at the flakiness of the pastry. I did a huge charcuterie board (I made Gary help me with the creating of it) which everyone munched on during the afternoon. For dinner Powell grill-rotisserie-d a double boneless leg of lamb stuffed with all kinds of herbs, and everyone else helped out with other dishes to round out the dinner. It was a fabulous meal – a formal dining room setting with the family china. I think the lamb was the most tender leg of lamb I’ve ever eaten – it was as tender as prime rib or a tenderloin.

So, this green bean dish . . . it comes from Milk Street, and you can tell, it’s Russian. First you make the Adjika (I’m assuming it means “sauce”). It’s comprised of a LOT of fresh mint (thank goodness I have it growing in abundance in my yard), Jalapeno chiles, garlic, salt, a bit of oil and some ground coriander. The green beans were cooked just past the crunchy stage, then they’re tossed with the sauce, some yogurt, lemon zest and juice and garnished with more fresh mint and some toasted walnuts. I made the mint sauce (the Adjika) at home so it was easy to mix in when composing the dish.

What’s GOOD: I thought these were stupendous. I’d have loved to have had leftovers the next day, but I left them for Karen and family to enjoy. Definitely a keeper and one I want to make again. Although I have mint growing, I’ll need to wait a few weeks for the patch to recover from harvesting so much of it for this dish! We’re having very cold temps at night, and mint doesn’t much like that – often it dies off in the winter. I was just lucky there was plenty when I needed it. We have several family members who can’t eat nuts, so the picture doesn’t show them – I had them nearby for people to sprinkle on top as they wanted. Make the sauce earlier in the day, and make the yogurt sauce ahead also. The green beans could be made ahead too, so all you’d have to do is toss everything. The dish is very low in calorie. I made a double batch to feed all of us.

What’s NOT: There are a few steps to making this – none is difficult, just a bit time consuming.

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Green Beans with Georgian Mint-Chili Sauce

Recipe By: Milk Street, Jul/Aug 2018
Servings: 6

ADJIKA: (makes about 1/2 cup)
2 cups fresh mint — lightly packed
1 medium Jalapeno peppers — stemmed, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 medium garlic cloves — smashed, peeled
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 tablespoon neutral oil — or olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
GREEN BEANS:
kosher salt
1 1/2 pounds green beans — trimmed
Adjika mint-chili sauce (from above)
1/4 cup Greek yogurt, full fat
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh mint — torn (lightly packed)
1/3 cup walnuts — toasted, finely chopped (DIVIDED)

1. ADJIKA: In a food processor, combine all ingredients. Process until finely chopped, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed. Transfer to a small bowl or jar, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 4 days. Don’t discard any tender mint stems; they’re fine to use here, as the food processor will break them down. Don’t use the relish immediately after processing. Allowing it to rest for at least one hour before serving allows the flavors to bloom.
2. GREEN BEANS: In a large pot over high, bring 4 quarts water and 2 tablespoons salt to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Add green beans to boiling water and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain, then transfer to ice bath. Let stand until completely cooled, about 3 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
3. In a large bowl whisk yogurt, zest, juice, mint Adjika (use all of it) and salt. Add beans and toss until evenly coated. Gently stir in the garnishing mint and half the walnuts. Taste and season with more salt if needed. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with remaining walnuts.
Per Serving: 127 Calories; 18g Fat (71.2% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 2mg Cholesterol; 99mg Sodium; 5g Total Sugars; 0mcg Vitamin D; 60mg Calcium; 2mg Iron; 324mg Potassium; 89mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Uncategorized, on January 8th, 2024.

At Thanksgiving and Christmas every year I make a few things that I’ve made for decades. I suppose I could go to all the trouble of creating new, cropped photos of all these things, and write up a new blurb about them. But if you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you may have already seen them in years past. I’m not going to do that this time – it’s a ton of work. I’m just going to list them, in blog-style conversation and if you’re interested, you can click on the link.

At Thanksgiving, I made my usual cranberry relish. It’s different because it contains apple, a whole orange (including the skin and pith) and some fresh ginger (that you’d not know was there except I’m telling you). It keeps for about a month.

Early in December I made Bishop’s Bread, something I learned to make back in the 1960s and it’s filled with chocolate chips, walnuts and maraschino cherries. So it’s a fruitcake, but doesn’t have all those citron things in it. As I write this I still have part of a loaf that I nibble on with coffee or tea every few days.

Several of us gathered together to make Christmas cookies this year. Each person brought one cookie (already made, or mostly made) that was shared with our group of four. And we baked several throughout the day. We tried a couple of new recipes. Cranberry Moscow Mule Cookies are different, all the flavors of a Moscow mule, but in cookie form. They’re quite sweet. Not certain we’ll make them again. We always make Chocolate Almond Saltine Bars, and this year we made a double batch as one batch didn’t give each of us enough.

We tried a new snowball cookie called Bee’s Knees, and although they were fine, they weren’t as good as the ones we usually make, so we’ll go back to our original next year, I think. I made a double batch of Chocolate Salami, which is a real treat for me. It’s a mixture of bittersweet chocolate, cookie crumbs (this time I used graham crackers although I think the Biscoff cookie crumbs are better) and nuts, rolled into a log, chilled, then you slice them and they look kinda-sorta like salami.

We’d talked about making potato chip cookies (they were a winner last year) but we ran out of time. As it was, we baked nearly all day and since all of us are “of a certain age,” we were TIRED. Next year we’ll go back to the Cranberry Noels that have been a favorite for many years.

We also made Bushwhacker Bars (similar to the cocktail, but a cookie, obviously). I don’t think we liked them that much, so I didn’t write up the recipe to share. If anyone wants the recipe, click the link and it goes to Food & Wine magazine. If you make them, cut back on the sugar.

Nearly all the cookies are gone now – I gifted some, took some when I went to someone’s house, and I ate a lot of them myself. There are a few of the Cranberry Moscow Mule cookies left, but they’re not a favorite so they languish in the freezer.

Lots of baking . . . lots of dishes, and thanks to Jackie and Dianne for washing up dishes a jillion times that day. I made some soup, my Dad’s lentil soup, for us so we wouldn’t eat too much cookie dough, and we dashed out to visit a local store that was all decked out for Christmas. We had a really nice time of it. We skipped our usual cookie baking one of the years during Covid, but it’s nice to be back in the cookie groove again. At the end of the day we divided up everything so we all went home with about 6 different cookies, I think.

Posted in Chicken, on January 5th, 2024.

An easy weeknight chicken breast dinner that comes together fairly quickly.

Can you tell I made this before Christmas? What with those Christmas plates (Spode ones with the Christmas tree in the middle, you know that one, it’s been around forever). So, this dish is a chicken breast stuffed with all kinds of goodies – a little bit of cream cheese, some pepper jack cheese too, some poblano chiles (or you could use canned California green chiles, sliced), then it has a green chile salsa with onions and the remaining poblanos in the sauce. These are so very easy to make. Just have all the ingredients on hand (I did).

First off, consider the size of the chicken breast. I used a package of Costco’s sealed packet of chicken breasts. And there were only two of them in the packet. But they were huge. So I cut them each in half, crosswise. Then, I sliced each of those in half horizontally to make an open-book type of breast that’s suitable for stuffing. When doing the horizontal cut, stop cutting about 1/2″ from the other side so you can open it up to a nice chicken surface. Each made a nice-enough chicken breast serving, so I got four servings out of two breasts. Next time I make these I will pound all of those pieces a little bit as all of them were a bit too thick. I mean, they were fine, but they plumped up thicker once baked.

The poblano peppers should be blistered (to remove the skins), but if you’re short on time, you can make this without that step. Saute the onion and peppers in a bit of olive oil until the onions are translucent (otherwise they won’t cook through in the oven when it’s baked).

There are the chicken breasts sort-a, kind-a sealed up, seasoned, with the onions and peppers around the outside.

There’s the casserole with the salsa on top, before baking.

First you spread some softened cream cheese on one side of the chicken open book. Then place in a slice or two of pepper jack, then some of the poblano chile strips. Fold the chicken over so it mostly covers the filling. Place in a greased baking dish. Then you pour all the onions and remaining chiles around the chicken breasts, add the jar of green chile salsa (I use Trader Joe’s) and make sure some of it is spread on top of each breast. This doesn’t have to bake long – chicken breasts cook fairly quickly. Use an instant read thermometer and make sure the center of the breast has reached 150ºF. I served this with rice seasoned with lime juice and some broccoli.

What’s GOOD: loved everything about this – the melty, oozy cheese, the poblanos, and just how moist the chicken was. It was quite simple and easy to put together; maybe 30 minutes of prep work, then about 25-30 minutes in the oven. It made a very nice company meal.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. I’d definitely make this again.

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Easy Cheesy Green Chile Chicken

Recipe: Adapted from Half Baked Harvest
Servings: 4

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts — see notes
2 ounces cream cheese — at room temperature
3 ounces pepper jack cheese — sliced
2 poblano peppers — sliced (or substitute whole canned California green chiles, cut into slices)
1 small yellow onion — chopped or sliced
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
kosher salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
22 ounces salsa verde — Trader Joe’s jar
fresh cilantro and lime wedges for serving

NOTE :If you use really large chicken breasts, cut them in half across the breast.
1. Preheat the oven to 400° F.
2. Prep the peppers: slice each poblano open lengthwise, cut into about 3-4 pieces, removing the stem, seeds and membranes. Place them on a foil lined small baking sheet skin side up and roast for 8-12 minutes until the skin has blistered. Watch carefully so you don’t burn them. Allow to cool some, then remove the skin as best you can.
3. Slice the chicken through the middle horizontally to within a 1/2 inch of the other side. Open the 2 sides and spread them out like an open book. Spread the cream cheese on one side of the chicken, then add the slices of pepper jack and a few poblano pepper slices. Fold the other side of the chicken over the peppers/cheese, like a book, to enclose the filling. Place the chicken in a baking dish. Rub with olive oil.
4. In a small bowl combine the chili powder, paprika, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Rub the seasonings all over the chicken.
5. In a skillet add olive oil and gently cook the onions and remaining poblano chiles until the onions are translucent. Pour this mixture around the chicken. Drizzle everything with olive oil, then pour over the salsa verde. Bake 20-25 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Check with an instant read thermometer – chicken should be at least 150 F. Serve with fresh cilantro and lime wedges. Serve with rice seasoned with lime juice.
Per Serving: 425 Calories; 23g Fat (49.3% calories from fat); 35g Protein; 19g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 116mg Cholesterol; 1661mg Sodium; 7g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 208mg Calcium; 3mg Iron; 1100mg Potassium; 447mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Cookies, on December 29th, 2023.

 A winner of a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated.

A couple of weeks ago I was invited at the last minute to a lovely Christmas luncheon and cookie exchange, so I needed to make some quick and easy cookies. Since I love anise biscotti, and I love lemon, I decided these were just the ticket.

There isn’t anything difficult about these cookies. Know, though, that these are more the tea- or coffee-dunking style – i.e., these are quite dry and hard. Actually, that’s the way the original Italian biscotti were back in the day – they contained next to no fat at all. These do have some butter in the dough, but not a lot. They are edible without dunking, but be careful you don’t crack a tooth! I’d suppose Italians today would think soft (or at least not hard) biscotti are blasphemy to the true cuisine of Italy.

The dough comes together very easily and it makes two loaves. Once baked, it’s cooled a bit, then slice them, and they go back in the oven to dry out thoroughly. This recipe makes about 40 biscotti (two loaves). I love the lemon flavor, and I like anise too. A great combination.

What’s GOOD: easy recipe, really like the subtle lemon flavor and the anise. I’d not thought of that as a combination, but it is. These keep for ages, although I keep them in the freezer. Each cookie is just 57 calories and 1 gram of fat.

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever. Great little cookie.

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Lemon Anise Biscotti

Recipe By: Cook’s Illustrated
Servings: 40

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon anise seed
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

1. Sift first three ingredients together in a small bowl.
2. Whisk butter and sugar together in a large bowl to a light lemon color; add eggs, one at a time, mixing well before adding the next egg. Add vanilla extract and lemon zest. Sift dry ingredients over egg mixture, then fold in until dough is just combined.
3. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350°F. Halve dough and turn each portion onto an oiled cookie sheet covered with parchment. Using floured hands, quickly stretch each portion of dough into a rough 13-by-2-inch log, placing them about 3 inches apart on the cookie sheet. Pat each dough shape to smooth it. Bake, turning pan once, until loaves are golden and just beginning to crack on top, about 35 minutes.
4. Cool the loaves for 10 minutes; lower oven temperature to 325°F. Cut each loaf diagonally into 3/8-inch slices with a serrated knife. Lay the slices about 1/2-inch apart on the cookie sheet, cut side up, and return them to the oven. Bake, turning over each cookie halfway through baking, until crisp and golden brown on both sides, about 15 minutes. Transfer biscotti to wire rack and cool completely. Biscotti can be stored in an airtight container for at least 1 month. Or freeze up to 2-3 months.
Per Serving: 57 Calories; 1g Fat (23.2% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 12mg Cholesterol; 27mg Sodium; 5g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 12mg Calcium; trace Iron; 13mg Potassium; 24mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Desserts, on December 22nd, 2023.

If you’re a fan of chocolate . . . cherries . . . mascarpone cheese . . .whipped cream and cake, you’ll want to make this.

Another recipe from the double cooking class a few weeks ago. Sorry I don’t have a better photo of it. Daughter Sara and I both swooned over this cake, and have decided we need to make it some time over the holidays. Decadent? Oh yes. Chocolatey? Absolutely. Smooth and tender? Yes, indeed. If you’re a fan of chocolate, cherry and a tender cake, this will float your boat.

There are three different steps to making this: (1) marinating the cherries; (2) baking the cake; and (3) making the frosting and obviously then frosting the cake. First you need to do the cherries – you can use frozen cherries, no problem. Defrost first, then heat with cherry brandy or kirsch and some sugar and let it simmer for 10 minutes or so. Cool and chill. That part can be made up to five days ahead of time.

Next, the cake. You need two 9-inch cake pans here with nonstick cooking spray all over the inside. Making the cake batter isn’t difficult – it’s one of those hot water cakes (makes for a very tender cake). The only chocolate is unsweetened cocoa powder. Everything else is the normal stuff for making a cake. The batter, however, is quite thin. Don’t be concerned. Pour into the two pans, bake for 30-35 minutes, let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes then gently remove them and cool completely on racks. You can make the cake layers 2 days ahead or if you want to, freeze them, several weeks ahead is fine.

The frosting is a combo of heavy cream and mascarpone cheese. So good. Sturdy with the mascarpone in it. The cakes need to be sliced in half to make four layers. Diane had a great idea – if you cut a tiny little V in the side of each cake, you can be certain you’ll put those two thinner slices back together so they lay flat if you line up the V. The cherries are halved and you use about 1/2 cup on each layer. The cake needs chilling time, at least 4 hours or up to 24. Makes it even easier – make it the day ahead (and refrigerate it, of course).

What’s GOOD: the cake is so chocolatey and tender. The frosting is not ordinary – loved the combo of whipped cream and mascarpone. The cherry element is unexpected and a nice complement to the chocolate. Hence the name, black forest! Altogether fabulous.

What’s NOT: only that there are three steps. A bit time consuming. But worth it. Do a lot of it ahead – easier for the hostess. The finished cake wants to be refrigerated at least 4 hours or  overnight.

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Black Forest Cherry Cake

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, cooking class 12/2023
Servings: 12 (or up to 16)

CAKE:
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups unbleached flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder — unsweetened
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water
CHERRIES:
3 cups sweet cherries — pitted, either frozen and defrosted, or fresh
1/4 cup cherry brandy — or kirsch
1/4 cup sugar
FROSTING:
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup dark chocolate shavings — for garnish
10 maraschino cherries — pitted, for garnish

NOTE1: The juice (vodka) used to soak the cherries is used to brush on each layer of the cake. Don’t discard it.
NOTE2: For the class, Diane cut about a 4″ circle in the center of the cake. She cut small wedges from the side of the cake and once those were plated, the center provided another 3-4 servings, so the cake would feed about 16 people.
1. CAKE: Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat two 9″ baking pans with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In a large bowl whisk together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder and soda, and salt. Stir in eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. With an electric mixer beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water and mix until blended, about 2 more minutes. Batter is very thin. Divide batter equally between the two pans and bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 30-35 minutes.
3. Remove pans and cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and let cool completely on wire racks. You can make these ahead to this point and refrigerate for up to 2 days, or freeze for up to 6 weeks. Defrost before proceeding.
4. CHERRIES: In a saucepan combine the ingredients, bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
5. Drain the cherries, saving the juices and allow to cool before assembling the cake. Cut the cherries in half if you have time.
6. The cherries and juice can be cooled, covered and refrigerated (separately) for up to 5 days.
7. FROSTING: In a large bowl beat the cream until stiff peaks form. Add the mascarpone cheese and beat until smooth.
8. Cut each cake layer in half horizontally. TIP: cut a tiny notch on the side of each cake so when you re-assemble the cake with the frosting you can line up the cake the way it should be (and hopefully level).
9. Lay strips of waxed paper or paper towels on the outside of the cake plate (to catch crumbs and drips). Set a cake half on serving plate. Brush cake with some of the cherry/cherry brandy juice. Spread with some of the cream mixture and top with some of the cherries.
10. Continue to layer with cake, juice, cream frosting, cherries and repeat. If there is enough frosting leftover, spread on the top and sides of the cake.
11. Decorate the top and sides of the cake with chocolate shavings and arrange maraschino cherries around the top of the cake. Refrigerate cake for at least 4 hours, or up to 24 hours ahead.
Per Serving: 668 Calories; 40g Fat (52.1% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 74g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 118mg Cholesterol; 559mg Sodium; 55g Total Sugars; 1mcg Vitamin D; 114mg Calcium; 2mg Iron; 266mg Potassium; 181mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Pork, Veggies/sides, on December 15th, 2023.

Is this ever delicious! So worth making. Long simmered pork shoulder chunks in a brothy sauce, ladled over a fresh batch of oven-baked polenta, and topped off with gremolata (the green stuff in the center).

So there’s a cute story about this – – we had this on New Years’ Eve, for dinner. My son-in-law, John, (Sara’s husband) was in l-o-v-e with it. He had seconds. Then he ate what was left on their son’s plate. He said: “Oh, where has this been for the last 56 years?” Obviously, he’s 56 now. Does that give you a clue as to how good this is?

A couple of weeks ago my friend Cherrie and my daughter Sara and I met in La Jolla (a seaside village north of San Diego) to attend a cooking class. I don’t believe I’ve been to a cooking class since we attended this same kind of class last December. Phillis Carey and Diane Phillips (both long-time cooking instructors and cookbook authors) taught the class, aimed at Christmas feasts. Diane is either Italian herself, or her husband is (they own a home in Spoleto, Italy and divide their time between San Diego and Tuscany). Phillis doesn’t teach cooking classes anymore (she’s retired except for taking some group cruise ship tours in various parts of the world with cooking and food as the emphasis). I miss Phillis’s classes.

But anyway, Phillis and Diane teach the equivalent of a full cooking class each at this particular event – a full course meal, demonstration and then everyone gets to sample the food. Diane did 6 dishes, Phillis did 5, I believe. There were several stars in the mix, and this was one of them. Sara and I decided we’d like to prepare this over New Years’ weekend sometime. We’re going to be in the desert with family visiting that weekend and it’ll make a great company meal. The flavor was just over the top delicious. A pork shoulder is used, cut up into small chunks (see photo below) and it’s served over a very easy baked polenta. Diane explained that some while back she just didn’t want to buy veal shanks anymore (they’re so very expensive, and it’s so inhumane to slaughter a very young steer), so she tried pork shoulder. Here’s the photo of it simmering.

Here on my blog I already have a recipe for osso bucco using pork shanks. But this one is very different using the pork shoulder. What’s there not to like about all the flavor from the fat in that pork shoulder? You do get to skim some of that fat off during the cooking process. The pork is browned then all the aromatics are added (onion, carrot, celery, sage, wine, broth, tomatoes). The meat is simmered for about 2 hours, or until the pork is super-tender. Diane recommends making it the day before, refrigerating it (that’s when you can remove the fat that rises to the top), then it’s merely a matter of reheating it. Serve with Gremolata – to me it “makes” the dish. It’s a mixture of freshly chopped Italian parsley, orange and lemon zest and fresh garlic (finely minced). See photo below.

The polenta was super-easy – you combine water, polenta style cornmeal, salt and pepper in a baking dish. You leave it uncovered, transfer to a 375°F oven and bake for an hour. Then you stir in Parm and butter. You want to serve the meal immediately when the polenta comes out of the oven while it’s creamy and hot, though you can add more hot broth or water to it to loosen it if it has to sit a few minutes.

What’s GOOD: everything about this was yummy. So tender, the meat, delicious juices running all over the plate, and the creamy polenta that is a match made in heaven. Serve it with gremolata (garlic, lemon zest, orange zest and Italian parsley). So pretty and it truly adds a lot of extra flavor.

What’s NOT: only that you need to start this several hours ahead (or ideally the day before).

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Pork Shoulder Osso Bucco

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, cooking class, 12/2023
Servings: 8

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 pounds pork shoulder — cut into 1″ cubes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup onion — finely chopped
1 cup carrot — finely chopped
1 cup celery — finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 cup dry white wine — or vermouth
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup low sodium beef broth
30 ounces canned tomatoes — including juice
GREMOLATA:
4 cloves garlic — minced
grated zest of one lemon
grated zest of one orange
1/2 cup Italian parsley — chopped
OVEN BAKED POLENTA:
8 cups water
2 cups polenta — medium grind cornmeal, not instant type
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated (about 2 cups)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter — cut into pieces

1. In a 5-quart Dutch oven, melt butter in the oil. Sprinkle pork cubes with salt, pepper and brown the meat a few pieces at a time, until they are nicely crusted on all sides, removing them from the pan and adding more, as they are browned. Remove all the meat and set aside.
2. Add onion, carrot, celery and sage and saute for 5 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften and turn translucent.
3. Add the wine and scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan.
4. Add broth and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add the pork into the pan, along with any accumulated juices. Simmer the meat for 2 hours, covered, or until pork is tender. At this point the dish can be cooled to room temp, covered and refrigerated up to three days of frozen for 2 months. Reheat over low heat before serving.
5. GREMOLATA: In a small bowl combine garlic, zests, and parsley. Set aside.
6. Remove any fat that may have accumulated on the top of the stew; serve with oven baked polenta and garnish the top with the Gremolata.
7. POLENTA: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 375°F. Coat the inside of a 9×13 baking dish with non-stick spray.
8. Combine water, polenta, salt and pepper in baking dish. DO NOT COVER.
9. Transfer uncovered dish to oven and bake until water is absorbed and polenta has thickened, about 60 minutes.
10. Remove baking dish from oven and whisk in Parm cheese and butter and stir until polenta is creamy and smooth. Plan to serve the osso bucco immediately after the polenta is cooked through. If you let it sit it will become much more firm. You can add broth or water to is to loosen is up, but it’s ideal served immediately.
Per Serving: 658 Calories; 43g Fat (59.8% calories from fat); 50g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 175mg Cholesterol; 1708mg Sodium; 7g Total Sugars; 2mcg Vitamin D; 277mg Calcium; 3mg Iron; 466mg Potassium; 612mg Phosphorus.

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