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Currently Reading

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):

The Concubine, by Norah Lofts. Over the years I’ve read several books about the wives of Henry VIII. All quite fascinating. This one is all about Anne Boleyn. It’s historical fiction, in that the author gives a voice to all the characters, including Henry himself. Henry waited years upon years to have his way with Anne (she holding him off because he still was very married to Catherine of Spain). There’s one tidbit of insight (true? who knows?) that once Henry finally bedded Anne, he was quite disappointed with the act, and barely bothered to visit her bed except to his need for a son, each time equally disappointed (with the act). Such an interesting sideline to the fated life of Henry (and Anne), wanting nothing more than a son to succeed him. Henry did marry Anne Boleyn, but then beheaded her 2 years later, claiming she’d been an adulterer. Many people of the time called Anne The Concubine, hence the title. No one knows for sure whether she was or she wasn’t an adulterer. Made for a good read.

Fellowship Point by Alice Elliott Dark. Oh my goodness. One of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. I love nothing better than being engrossed in a book, so much that I can’t wait to get back to it. This book takes place in Maine, in some previous decades, and revolves around the friendship between two women and their families. This fictitious area, called Fellowship Point, was purchased by a small group of like-minded couples, as a place to spend the summers raising their children. There was a special land grant for this property, and as these two matriarchs reach old age, their purposes are at odds. The book covers so many subjects (let alone the beauty of the Maine landscape, which plays large) including reflections on aging, writing, land stewardship, family legacies, independence, and responsibility. Secrets are kept and then revealed. I guarantee you’ll be intrigued once you begin the first page.

On Mystic Lake, Kristin Hannah. One of Hannah’s earlier books. Another one I could hardly bear to stop reading. A woman sees her young adult daughter go off to school. In the next breath her husband tells her he’s in love with someone else and leaves. She’s nearly off her hinges. Grief? Yes. Disbelief? Yes. Eventually she retreats to her hometown in Washington State, hoping for some peace and understanding. She meets someone. Well, read the book.

A Wild and Heavenly Place by Robin Oliveira. A very different historical novel about the Pacific Northwest in its very early days. In the fleeting days of youth, in Scotland, a boy and a girl fall in love. The girl, with her family move to America, to some unknown place in Washington Territory. It takes years, but the boy makes his way to America too, to find her. Wishing doesn’t always make the best bedfellows. There is great plenty (coal) and great hardship (from the unforgiving land and equally unforgiving landlords of the coal industry). Very interesting history; liked the book a lot.

The Women, Kristin Hannah. Obviously I’m a fan of Hannah’s writing. She tackles some very difficult subjects, and this one is no different. During the Vietnam War, gullible Americans like me, believed what was delivered via media that there were no women in military service in Vietnam. Not true. Although this book is fiction, it delves deeply into the harsh environment of the nursing corps (and doctors too) who did their best to patch up the thousands of soldiers who could possibly be saved after the ugly battles. Another book I could hardly put down. It also covers PTSD, not only in the badly wounded soldiers, but the doctors and nurses who were bombed and lost lives too. The book is an eye-opener and one every American should read.

The Map Colorist by Rebecca D’Harlingue. Who knew there were such map-coloring artists back in the 1600s. And to find a woman doing it was unheard of. I was very intrigued by the actual art involved, and in this story she had to hide behind her mother’s skill because a young person simply couldn’t do the job, so the publishers thought. Her skill comes to the fore as she begins working with a wealthy man in her Dutch neighborhood. Very intriguing story. D’Harlingue is a very good story teller.

The Paris Novel, Ruth Reichl. Such a cute book – I devoured it. As much for the story as the occasional descriptions of food. Stella receives an unlikely inheritance from her mother – a one way ticket to Paris. The time is right and she goes. Wandering the streets she spots a vintage Dior gown hanging in a consignment store. The store owner insists she try it on, and then insists she buy it and wear it for a night of new adventures. Next stop: oysters at Les Deux Magots. There she meets an octogenarian and her real adventure begins. Hold onto your seat as Stella’s life takes on wings. So cute. A little bit of magical thinking, but plausible and fun from beginning to end. Loved it and could hardly put it down.

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle. Amazon tells it best: “Where do you see yourself in five years? Dannie Kohan lives her life by the numbers. She is nothing like her lifelong best friend—the wild, whimsical, believes-in-fate Bella. Her meticulous planning seems to have paid off after she nails the most important job interview of her career and accepts her boyfriend’s marriage proposal in one fell swoop, falling asleep completely content. But when she awakens, she’s suddenly in a different apartment, with a different ring on her finger, and beside a very different man. Dannie spends one hour exactly five years in the future before she wakes again in her own home on the brink of midnight—but it is one hour she cannot shake. In Five Years is an unforgettable love story, but it is not the one you’re expecting.”

The Paris Daughter, Kristen Harmel. Never ceases to amaze me how authors can come up with a different take on a war novel. Riveting. Two young women meet in a park is Paris in 1939. Elise and Juliette and Juliette’s very young daughter. Elise must run as she’s Jewish, but she entrusts her baby to her friend Juliette. At the end of the war Elise returns to Paris to try to find her daughter. Oh, what a wicked web we weave sometimes. You’ll hang onto every new revelation in her journey to find her daughter.

Master Slave Husband Wife by Ilyon Woo. This book almost defies belief, but it’s a true story. In 1848, an enslaved Black couple, she fairer skinned, him dark skinned, manage to escape bondage by posing as a white woman with her slave (not husband). They journey from Georgia by various means, mere feet from the slave traders trying to find them, with ingenious methods of disguise. They’re handed from one “underground railroad” home to another, in between taking public transportation. Their goal: freedom in Philadelphia. Yet once they get there they don’t feel free, so they continue their journey northward. What a story. Another one every American should read. This book has been given many awards; so worth reading.

The Tiffany Girl by Deanne Gist. Such an interesting story. Flossie Jayne, a student at the Art Institute in NYC, is asked to help THE Mr. Louis Tiffany, finish the very elaborate glass chapel at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, when the glassworker’s union goes on strike. Many women were employed (when it was thought they couldn’t possibly have the strength to cut glass), working day and night, to finish the work. This is Flossie’s story, of the people she meets, and foists off, but always with her eye on the dream, succeeding in the art of cut glass design. Very interesting story. If you’ve ever admired Tiffany glass lamps and other decor items, you’ll enjoy learning more about what’s involved in making them.

The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post by Allison Pataki. Ah, to live within the life of the rich and famous. This is a book of historical fiction, but is very much the story of Marjorie Merriweather Post. Her life. Her goals. Her daughters. Amazon notes: “Presidents have come and gone, but she has hosted them all. Growing up in the modest farmlands of Battle Creek, Michigan, Marjorie was inspired by a few simple rules: always think for yourself, never take success for granted, and work hard—even when deemed American royalty, even while covered in imperial diamonds. Marjorie had an insatiable drive to live and love and to give more than she got.” Her life wasn’t all sweetness and light. She was a survivor, had a good solid head for business, and married several times. Her life was very Oprah-esque, with fresh flowers in abundance every day, dripping with jewels and custom clothing. But she also knew how to scrimp and remake herself. Fascinating read. Wish I could have met her and  had tea (one of her favorite things).

Fox Creek by William Kent Kreuger. A Cork O’Connor Mystery. Kreuger is known for his love of the land. I’ve been a fan of his work for a long time. This one is new. This one weaves Indian territory and mores with a murder mystery. Very riveting as any mystery should be.

Chenneville, Paulette Jiles. From Amazon: Union soldier John Chenneville suffered a traumatic head wound in battle. His recovery took the better part of a year as he struggled to regain his senses and mobility. By the time he returned home, the Civil War was over, but tragedy awaited. John’s beloved sister and her family had been brutally murdered.” This is the story of his dogged, relentless journey to find and kill the killer. Grip your seat as he weathers some very treacherous adventures. Really good read, rugged outdoors kind of story. I’ve loved Jiles’ writing ever since I read News of the World by her. She’s a really good story-teller.

The Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala. Oh my goodness. From Amazon: In 2004, at a beach resort on the coast of Sri Lanka, Sonali Deraniyagala and her family—parents, husband, sons—were swept away by a tsunami. Only Sonali survived to tell their tale. This is her account of the nearly incomprehensible event and its aftermath.” I’ll tell you, this is a very hard book to read. The writer, the victim, tells you in intimate detail what happened at the time, immediately after, and then recounts months by month and a loooong time after her journey of grief. She barely functions. Wishes she’d been swept away too. Harrowing account of the facts and the journey of living again.

The Art of Resistance by Justus Rosenberg. From amazon: Unlike any World War II memoir before it. Rosenberg, has spent the past seventy years teaching the classics of literature to American college students. Hidden within him, however, was a remarkable true story of wartime courage and romance worthy of a great novel. Here is Professor Rosenberg’s elegant and gripping chronicle of his youth in Nazi-occupied Europe, when he risked everything to stand against evil.” His parents sent him off to Paris early on to go to school, from Danzig (which likely saved his life), but he becomes the hunted, and eventually part of the underground. Gripping book; well worth reading.

The Royal Librarian by Daisy Wood. A little bit of a reach, but believable nonetheless. A young woman, an accomplished librarian from Austria in 1940, is sent to Windsor to sort the centuries of valuable books, maps and treasures of the Royal Family. She believes she’s on a mission for British intelligence. She very distantly befriends Princess Elizabeth. Years later her sister unearths documentation about her sister, and she undertakes a journey of discovery too. You’ll learn a lot about Windsor Castle, even what they did during the Blitz. Lots of intrigue. Very sweet book and interesting since I love books about the Royal Family.

Long Time Gone by Charlie Donlea. If you watch any crime shows, you know how important DNA is these days. Here is a mystery that comes from familial DNA, in a framework of a current day research project. The protaganist is a fellow (woman) preparing to be a medical examiner. She’s assigned a project regarding DNA, requiring her to submit her own. She knows she was adopted, but nothing more. Oh my, stand by as this book unfolds with drama within nearly every page. Could hardly put it down. Her life is threatened and she doesn’t know who is friend or foe.

A Most Intriguing Lady, by Sarah Ferguson with Marguerite Kaye. Sarah Ferguson, yes, that Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, has now written her second novel. About a very astute young woman who deftly avoids the marriage mart, but comes from the ton. She wants to “do” something with her life other than be a companion to her aging mother. Plenty of characters, some intrigue, a love interest, cute story, you know how it will end, but good reading nevertheless. I liked Ferguson’s first book better, Her Heart for a Compass.

Under the Java Moon, by Heather Moore. Sometimes these WWII books are tough to read. This is a true story (written as fiction, though) about a few Dutch families who are taken prisoner on Java Island, by the Japanese. Certainly it’s a story about unbelievable deprivation and sadness, but also about resilience too. Not everyone survives, as you could guess, but you’ll be rooting for young Rita who takes on so many responsibilities far beyond her 6-year old’s abilities. I read this because a dear friend of mine’s husband (now deceased) was in the Army during WWII and spent a lot of his duty in Indonesia and had horrific stories to tell about the weather and environment (awful!). A period of his life he liked to forget. The book certainly brings that period and place to the forefront. I’m glad I read it.

Never in a million years would I have picked up Blind Your Ponies, by Stanley Gordon West. If I’d read the cover or flap that the bulk of the story is about basketball, I’d have put it back on the shelf. But oh, this book is – yes, about basketball, but it’s about a place in time in Montana, a few decades ago, when a tiny town supported their high school team. It’s about a dream. About the town who believed in them. About a tall young man who comes to lives in the town, and his deliverance, really, from a pretty awful background as he plays basketball, when he’d never played before. It’s about relationships, marriages, families and about how this little team makes it. Such a great story and SO glad I read it.

A Girl Called Samson, by Amy Harmon. I’m a fan of anything written by Harmon, and this one delivered as all her books do. 1760, Massachusetts. Deborah Samson is an indentured servant but yearns for independence. From being a rather tall, skinny kid (a girl) to faking it as a young soldier (a young man) in the Continental army. You’ll marvel at her ability to hide her true self. It’s quite a story. She’s thrown into the worst of situations in the war and comes through with flying colors. You’ll find yourself rooting for her and also fearing mightily that she’s going to either get killed, or be “found out,” by some of the men. Riveting story beginning to end. There’s a love interest here too which is very sweet.

On Mystic Lake, by Kristin Hannah. This is a book Hannah wrote some years ago, and tells the story of a woman, Annie, who finds out (on the day their daughter goes off to a foreign land for an exchange quarter) that her husband is in love with another woman and leaves her. Annie, who has been the quintessential perfect corporate wife, is devastated. She felt blind-sided. She cries and wallows, but eventually she returns home to her small town, where her widowed dad lives, in Washington. There she runs into many people she knew and at first feels very out of place. Slowly, she finds the town more welcoming and she helps a previous boyfriend, now widowed with his young daughter. A connection is there. Annie has to find herself, and she definitely does that. Her husband rears his head (of course he does!) after several months, and Annie has to figure out what to do. I don’t want to give away the story. Lots of twists and turns.

The Vineyard, by Barbara Delinsky. A novel with many current day issues. Husband and wife own a vineyard in Rhode Island. Husband dies. Widow soon (too soon) marries the manager, a hired employee, much to the consternation of her two grown children. Widow hires woman as personal assistant (much of the book comes from her voice) and she gets entangled into the many webs, clinging from the many decades the winery has tried to be successful. Really interesting. Lots of plot twists, but all revolving around work of the vineyard. Cute love story too. It wouldn’t be a Delinsky book without that aspect.

Consequences, Penelope Lively. I’ve always loved this author’s writing style. Have read many of her books. This one follows a rather dotted line family, the women, as they grow through worn-torn London and England. There’s poverty and both major events and minor ones that send the story’s trajectory in new directions. Riveting for me. Lively won the Booker Prize for Moon Tiger, her most famous book.

Below Zero, C.J. Box. Mystery of the first order. A Joe Pickett novel (he’s a game warden in Wyoming) with a family member thought dead is suddenly alive. Or is she? Joe’s on the hunt to find out. I don’t read these books at night – too scary. I love his books, though.

Consolations of the Forest: Alone in a Cabin on the Siberian Taiga, by Sylvain Tesson. I’m not sure what possessed me to read this book. About a late 30s guy who seems to crave solitude; he’s offered a 11×11 cabin in the cold/frozen Siberian outback, on a huge lake that freezes over in winter. Here’s a quote from the book: “A visit to my wooden crates. My supplies are dwindling. I have enough pasta left for a month and Tabasco to drench it in. I have flour, tea and oil. I’m low on coffee. As for vodka, I should make it to the end of April.” Vodka plays large in this book. Tesson (who is French, with Russian heritage) is a gifted writer, about the wilderness, the flora and fauna, about the alone-ness, the introspection. Mostly he ate pasta with Tabasco. No other sauce. Many shots of vodka every day. Drunkenness plays a serious role too – what else is there to do, you might ask? He lived there for about a year. I’d have lasted a week, no more.

The Auburn Conference by Tom Piazza. Another one, given my druthers I’m not sure I’d have picked up. For one of my book clubs. Excellent writing. 1883, upstate NY. A young professor decides to make a name for himself and puts on an event, inviting many literary luminaries of the day (Mark Twain, Frederick Douglass, Herman Melville, Forrest Taylor and a romance novelist [the outlier] Lucy Comstock). Part panel discussion, part private conversations, the author weaves a tale of discord, some moderate yelling, some rascism and much ridicule of the romance novelist. Also some words of wisdom, maybe not from the authors you’d have expected. Unusual book.

As Bright as Heaven, by Susan Meissner. 1918. Philadelphia. About a young family arriving with the highest of hopes. Then the Spanish Flu hits and dashes everything. You’ll learn a whole lot about that particular virulent flu and the tragic aftermath. Really good read.

Hour of the Witch, by Chris Bohjalian. Boston, 1662. A young woman becomes the 2nd wife of a powerful man, a cruel man. She determines to leave him, something just “not done” back then. Twists and turns, she’s accused of being a witch. Story of survival, and a redeeming love too.

My Oxford Year, by Julia Whelan. At 24, a young woman is honored with a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford. She’s older than most of her fellow classmates, and as an American, doesn’t fit in very well. She’s left a good job back home, but determines to try to work some for the political campaign job she’s left, and also do the work for her Oxford scholarship. She meets a professor. Oh my. Such an interesting book. I loved learning about the culture of Oxford, and there’s a fascinating romance too, somewhat a forbidden one with said professor.

Madame Pommery, by Rebecca Rosenberg. I love champagne. Have read a number of books over the years (novels) about the region (and I’ve visited there once). This is real history, though in a novelized form. Madame Pommery was widowed, and determined she would blaze a trail that was not well received (no women in the champagne business for starters). And she decides to make a different, less sweet version. She’s hated and reviled, but sticks to her guns, veering away from the then very sweet version all the winemakers were producing. Fascinating story.

The Wager, by David Grann. A true tale of shipwreck, mutiny and murder back in the 1740s. Not exactly my usual genre of reading, but once I heard about the book, I decided I needed to read it. This is a novelized version of the story, based on the facts of an English shipwreck, first off Brazil, then later off Chile. Of the men, their struggle to survive (and many didn’t). Yes, there’s murder involved, and yes, there’s mutiny as well. Those who survived stood trial back in England many years later. Riveting read.

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate. 1939. A shantyboat in the backwaters of the Mississippi River. A 12-year old girl is left to care for her younger siblings when her mother is taken ill. A mystery ensues, and soon officials chase these youngsters to take them into an orphanage, one that became infamous for “selling” the children, weaving wild tales of their provenance. Dual timeline, you read about a successful young attorney who returns home to help her father, and questions come up about the family history. Fascinating read. You’ll learn about this real abominable woman, Georgia Tann, who profited by her “sales.”

The Vaster Wilds, by Lauren Goff. This tells the story of a young servant girl, in the aftermath of the starvation in Jamestown, the beleaguered town that virtually disappeared because the people weren’t prepared for the harshness of survival in those days. She escapes before the demise of the town and heads west, with nothing but the clothes she’s wearing. She survives longer than you might think, and encounters a lot of interesting experiences and people. Very interesting historical read.

Lady Tan’s Circle of Woman, Lisa See. Historical fiction, from 1469, Ming Dynasty, China. Based on the true story, however, about a young woman mostly raised by her grandmother who is a well known physician. Her grandfather is a scholarly physician, her grandmother, more an herbalist, or like a pharmacist of the day. Tan eventually marries into a family and is immediately subjugated by the matriarch, who won’t allow her to practice any of her healing arts. Quite a story, and also about how she eventually does treat women (women “doctors” were only allowed to treat women) as a midwife and herbalist. You’ll learn a whole lot about the use of flowers and herbs for healing and about the four humors.

Winter Garden, by Kristen Hannah. Quite a story, taking place in Washington State with apple orchards forming a backdrop and family business. Two sisters, never much friends even when they were young, return home to help care for their ailing father. Their mother? What an enigma. She took no part in raising them, yet she lived in the home. She cooked for the family, but rarely interacted. Yet her father adored his wife, their mother. How do they bridge the gulf between each other and also with their mother. Another page turner from Kristen Hannah.

Trail of the Lost, by Andrea Lankford. Not my usual genre. This is nonfiction, about Lankford who has plenty of credentials for rescue services, and is an avid hiker herself, determines to try to find some missing people who have disappeared off the face of the earth on the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s about how rescues work, everything from the disconnect between active citizens who want to help, and seemingly the unwillingness of authorities to share information. Not exactly a positive for law enforcement in this book. Really fascinating. There are hundreds of people who have disappeared off various long hike trails in the U.S. This is about four who were hiking (separately and at different times) on the PCT.

Tomorrow, Tomorrow and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin. I’ve never been a “gamer.” Not by any standard definition, anyway. Not like people who really get into games, adventure, killers, etc. And this book isn’t a game .. . but it’s a novel (and a great story, I might add) about how these games come into being. How they’re invented, how they morph. First there were two college students, then a third person is added, and they end up creating a wildly popular game. A company is born. And it goes from there. Mostly it’s about the people, their relationships, but set amidst the work of creating and running a gaming company. Not all fun and games, pun intended.

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. 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.

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. 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.

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.

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. Sweet story but with lots of twists and turns.

Someone Else’s Shoes, by Jojo Moyes.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 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. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

The Bandit Queens, by Parini Shroff. 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.

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.

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. 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.

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.

Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. This is fairly light read, a novel – but interesting, about the meaning behind many flowers.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. What’s here are recipes for some “kitchen heroes” she calls them. They’re condiments. They’re food additions, they’re flavor enhancers.

As soon as it came out, I ordered Spare, by Prince Harry. I’ve always been interested in the Royal Family.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 Beef, Pork, on June 28th, 2024.

The last recipe from the meatloaf cook-off. This one was the winner.

It’s kind of funny – Dianne was convinced her Turkey Meatloaf with Swiss Cheese would win the cook-off, hands-down. We made four meatloaves – one from Erin French’s dad, my favorite with a sweet/sour topping, Dianne’s turkey meatloaf, and on a whim, Dianne decided to make this one, with Italian sausage (along with ground beef too) in it and has grated Mozzarella on top. We served them with creamy mashed potatoes.

Note that she used parchment inside the pan, and it really helped getting it out of the pan, ready for slicing and serving.

Meatloaves, in general, have some similar ingredients – the beef or pork or turkey (the protein), bread crumbs, an egg or two, probably onion, and then it’s up to you. Herbs? Sauce inside? Grated cheese? In this case, there’s some diced up red bell pepper, Italian-style bread crumbs, an egg, some grated Parm, dried oregano and red pepper flakes. In this one you add some jarred pasta sauce IN the meatloaf and the remainder is spooned over the top, then the grated Mozzarella added during the last 5 minutes of baking.

What’s GOOD: well, as I mentioned, this one won the cook-off .. . everybody loved the texture of the meat (the mixture of beef and Italian sausage) and the pasta sauce on the top too, and the gooey Mozzarella as well. Altogether delicious meatloaf.

What’s NOT: not a thing. Really delicious meatloaf.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Italian Meatloaf with Mozzarella Topping

Recipe: An original from my friend Dianne Y.
Servings: 8

1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion — chopped
1/2 cup red bell pepper — diced
3/4 cup bread crumbs — Italian style
1 large egg
2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup pasta sauce — jarred, tomato based
1/2 cup Mozzarella cheese — grated

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. In a skillet heat olive oil. Add chopped vegetables and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until soft, but not browned. Set aside to cool slightly.
3. In a large mixing bowl combine meats, spices, egg, Parmesan, bread crumbs, oregano, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Then add HALF the pasta sauce. Add the cooked vegetables. Mix with your hands until the egg is thoroughly incorporated and vegetables are evenly spread through the mixture. Try not to overmix.
4. Place the meatloaf mixture in a loaf pan or form a long rectangle on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Add the remaining pasta sauce on top.
5. Bake for 30-45 minutes. Remove from oven and top with grated Mozzarella cheese. Place back in oven for 5 minutes, until cheese is melted. Remove from oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before cutting into slices.
Per Serving: 226 Calories; 11g Fat (45.3% calories from fat); 18g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 71mg Cholesterol; 482mg Sodium; 3g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 117mg Calcium; 2mg Iron; 385mg Potassium; 212mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Beef, on March 18th, 2024.

Such a nice, tender corned beef with a semi-sweet apricot glaze with mustard.

Change of subject here: It’s been a long time since I’ve talked (written) about grief. In another week or so it will be 10 years since my dear husband Dave died after having a stroke. I can’t believe it’s been that long . . . time sometimes dragged after it happened; every day was a misery, then as grief does, a day of less angst, then more of them, until eventually the days upon days of grieving were mostly in the past. It took about a year or more for that to happen. At first there were lots of business-y things to deal with, the trust attorneys, the special tax return to be filed. Money to be moved here and there. Some of that busy-ness kept me grounded, distracted from the grieving. It was always there in the background, though. Erupting in the evenings when I felt so alone. I still have moments, memories arise and cause a fall of my stomach, sometimes from seeing an old photo, or a fragment of a memory of old times.

Recently I’ve had some issues with my main house. I had a major leak and mold to deal with. Teams of people had to come in to fix, repair. It took weeks and weeks and weeks to get it repaired. Then a roof leak during the last heavy rains. Fortunately I was able to get someone to come and find the leak and repair it. Then I needed termite work done. Money has been pouring through my checking account. Dave would have been front and center making the phone calls, weighing the bids, watching the repairs. Since he’s been gone those things fall on me. Sometimes it’s a heavy load.

As I’ve mentioned before, grief is a fickle thing. It comes and goes. I feel it today – I’m writing this on Sunday, St. Patrick’s Day. I am out in the desert, a small condo Dave never knew since my daughter Sara, her husband John, and I bought it just a few years ago. Knowing St. Patrick’s Day was coming up, I decided to make a celebratory dinner. Celebratory. What was I celebrating, I asked myself? Just me. I bought a corned beef, had cabbage and onions on hand, a few carrots, and then I decided to make Irish Soda Bread.

As the day has progressed, the corned beef slowly simmered on the stove, soda bread was made, and vegetables prepared. And I suddenly felt very bereft. Lost. Sad. Alone. Dave would have loved the upcoming meal – he loved corned beef. At one point I weighed, did I really even want this dinner? Many holidays since Dave has been gone go unmarked, no special fanfare. And I’ve been fine with it. Not Christmas or Thanksgiving because I’m almost always with family then, but other holidays like July 4th, Easter, or this, St. Patrick’s Day. Tears began to form in my eyes, me feeling sorry for myself. I took a deep breath. Talked to myself. Pick yourself up, Carolyn, make it festive. Could I hear Dave’s voice saying, enjoy it, honey, wish I was there with you. Yes, I could imagine him saying that, though I didn’t really hear him. Can’t waste a perfectly good (and expensive) corned beef. Get a grip. And so I did.

The Irish Soda Bread is already on the blog – it’s Ina Garten’s, lightly flavored with orange zest. Wonderful as toast with butter and jam. The corned beef was made differently – although I like the recipe I’ve used in the past (more than one) I was interested in making one with a fruit glaze. Found one online that suggested orange marmalade as the base. Shopping at the store, they were OUT of marmalade, so I substituted Bonne Maman’s apricot fruit spread instead. Mixed with Dijon mustard and brown sugar.

The corned beef was simmered for hours, then put into a low baking dish, glazed and baked for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile I cooked the vegetables in the same pan I’d simmered the corned beef. Sliced a piece of the bread, still warm from the oven, spread with butter. A dinner made. The corned beef was great, but I wasn’t by that time, really in the mood. I ate. I washed a mound of dishes, watched TV and went to bed. Now I’m writing this on Monday morning, back home. Feeling fine today, not sad. That little grief spell is overwith now. Glad to see it go .. . meanwhile, do try the corned beef and especially the Irish soda bread.

What’s GOOD: I loved the corned beef, particularly with the kinda sweet/savory glaze (the savory coming from the mustard). I had a bit of the glaze with every bite. The veggies were okay. Loved the bread, especially the 2nd slice I had not just with butter, but some of the apricot fruit spread on top too.
What’s NOT: nothing really .. . all of it was good. And yes, I’d make it again with the apricot glaze.
printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Apricot Glazed Corned Beef

Recipe: Adapted from a recipe
Servings: 7

2 pounds corned beef brisket — flat cut
1/2 cup apricot jam
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons brown sugar
VEGETABLE SIDES: cabbage wedges peeled potatoes (or sweet potatoes), peeled carrots, onion wedges

1. Remove corned beef from the brining package. Rinse off any herbs and spices.
2. Add corned beef to a large soup pot and cover amply with water.
3. Bring mixture to a slow simmer, cover, or cover partially, and cook for 3-4 hours until a fork probed into the meat seems tender. The water should not be fully boiling, just below that, at about 200°F.
4. Preheat oven to 350°F.
5. Remove meat and place it in a casserole dish.
6. In a small bowl mix the apricot jam, Dijon and brown sugar until no streaks of mustard are visible. Use about half of the glaze to brush or spoon onto the top of the corned beef..
7. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove meat to a cutting board. Cut meat across the grain into about 1/2″ thick pieces. Shingle them onto a serving platter and serve the remaining glaze on the side.
8. VEGETABLES: If you want cabbage, onions, carrots and potatoes with the meal, prep them and add to the pot of simmering fluid you cooked the corned beef in. Pour out most of that liquid and simmer the vegetables in about 1″ of the water. Bring back to a simmer and allow vegetables to cook for about 20-25 minutes. Drain and serve alongside the corned beef.
Per Serving: 325 Calories; 20g Fat (54.2% calories from fat); 19g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 70mg Cholesterol; 1636mg Sodium; 12g Total Sugars; 0mcg Vitamin D; 19mg Calcium; 2mg Iron; 413mg Potassium; 157mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Beef, Miscellaneous, on November 30th, 2023.

There were a couple of posts I’d forgotten about writing up. This one for sure. Herbdacious is an herb paste you prepare in bulk (well, it makes a cup or so) and  you use it judiciously in other things. The meatloaf? With Kalamata olives? How’s that for different?

You have to hand it to chefs these days – well, maybe for a long time. It’s their job to make ordinary things better; or to create some new method of cooking, or combine unusual ingredients to make an all-new flavor of something. The latter is the case here – who would have thought of using Kalamata olives in a meatloaf? Never in a million years would I have created that! I was skeptical. Yet, this meatloaf is delicious. It’s definitely savory – you know what I mean in that some meatloaves have a sweet topping, like ketchup. My old family favorite is one of those with a sweet and sour tomato-based topping. This one – although it does have a bit of honey in it, it’s still a very savory meatloaf.

Over the  years I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Kalamata olives. Early on, I was in love with them, put them in everything. But they’re fairly bitter, and as my taste buds have changed with age (is that a thing?). I do use them occasionally, but not often. My first instinct was to use a different olive, but then I’d be changing the recipe from what Vivian Howard intended, so I did use the Kalamata. Thank goodness they sell them pitted these days. And indeed, I liked them in the meatloaf.

But first, we have to talk about Herbdacious. This is another one of Vivian Howard’s flavor heroes. So what is it, you ask? It’s a thick olive oil, garlic and herb/cheese/lemon juice paste. It stores well in the frig (with a little olive oil film on top to keep it fresh) or you can freeze it. The meatloaf recipe calls for 2/3 cup of Herbdacious. The Herbdacious recipe below makes 2 cups (mostly it’s made in a blender), so you’ll have plenty leftover to use in something else (soup?, a vinaigrette? stew? see below). For ideas, Vivian suggests:

. . . mix with mayo for/on a BLT, slather on corn on the cob, drizzle over bean soup, on grilled or sauteed veggies, over a baked potato, add to guacamole or avocado toast, dot on a tomato or watermelon salad with creamy cheese, slather on bread with cheese for garlic bread, as a green base for pizza, to dress pasta or grain salads, in deviled eggs or egg salad, toss with stale bread to make croutons.

The meatloaf is mixed up like any other meatloaf although it have one unusual ingredients: Greek yogurt. This recipe makes one huge meatloaf. If I made it again, I think I would shape it into two loaves, but if you’re feeding a crowd, then go for the full 2 1/2 pound loaf. Instead of bread crumbs, Vivian calls for crushed saltine crackers. With the herbdacious in it, the mixture is a pretty unusual color – kind of green/brown.  See the photo below, kinda greenish. But the finished product doesn’t look unusual at all.

In her cookbook she included recipes to use herbdacious: a clam dish, as a marinade for leg of lamb, part of Italian meat sauce (gravy), a chicken salad, a new version of Chex Mix (Chex and Cheez-Its, nuts, saltines, bagel chips), a Caesar salad vinaigrette, a zucchini sauce for fettucine, in a citrus salad, and lastly, in mashed potatoes. I haven’t made any of those yet. I should!

If you’re willing to try a very different kind of meatloaf, I recommend this one.

What’s GOOD: the meatloaf is wonderfully moist and flavorful from the Kalamata olives and the sun-dried tomato topping. I’m not a huge fan of sun-dried tomatoes, but this topping was good; I ate it. The meatloaf would make great sandwiches afterwards, and certainly is something I’d be willing to make for guests (since it’s so unusual).

What’s NOT: this has a couple of unusual ingredients, and it makes a huge meatloaf. Am sure it could be scaled down to a 1 1/2-pound variety, however.

MEATLOAF: printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook file (click link to open recipe)

HERBDACIOUS: printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Meatloaf with Herbdacious

Recipe By: Vivian Howard, This Will Make It Taste Good
Servings: 12

1 tablespoon EVOO
2 large onions — finely diced
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt — divided use
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
1/2 cup Greek yogurt, full fat
2/3 cup Herbdacious
1 cup Kalamata olives, pitted — drained, chopped
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 1/2 pounds ground beef
1/2 cup saltine crackers — or bread crumbs
1/2 cup tomatoes, sun-dried — drained, chopped finely
1 1/2 cups roasted red peppers — drained, chopped
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
2. Warm a 10-inch skillet on medium heat.
3. Dice the 2 onions. Sauté the onions for 10 minutes until translucent and soft. Season the onions with 1 tsp salt and pepper.
4. Add parchment paper to a 9 X 13-inch baking pan.
5. TOPPING: Combine the sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, honey, vinegar, and 1/2 tsp salt in a blender. Blend the ingredients until smooth.
6. On a cutting board, roughly chop the Kalamata olives. Measure and then crush the saltine crackers, then set aside.
7. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, Greek Yogurt, Herbdacious, Kalamata olives, beef, crushed saltine crackers, and remaining 1 tsp salt. Gently mix the ingredients in the bowl, not too much to overwork the ingredients.
8. Spray the baking pan with the parchment paper with non-stick spray.
9. Dump the meat mixture on the parchment paper in the baking dish. Shape the meat into a rectangle block, around 3 X 3 X 12-inches. Spread the tomato mixture over the top of the meatloaf, taking care to spread it over all the sides.
10. Bake the meatloaf, on the middle rack, for 1 hour, or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F. Remove the meatloaf from the oven and let it rest for 3-5 minutes before serving.
Per Serving: 396 Calories; 37g Fat (68.1% calories from fat); 22g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 100mg Cholesterol; 1400mg Sodium; 6g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 81mg Calcium; 3mg Iron; 474mg Potassium; 231mg Phosphorus.

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Recipe By: Vivian Howard, This Will Make It Taste Good
Servings: 12

2 heads garlic — peeled (about 20 cloves)
2/3 cup EVOO
1 cup fresh basil — packed
1/4 cup fresh parsley — packed
1/4 cup fresh dill — packed – or mint, chervil or cilantro
1/4 cup green onions — roughly chopped, green parts only
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated (use a Microplane)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Zest of 2 lemons
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1. In a small saucepan, bring the garlic cloves and olive oil up to a simmer over very low heat. If it begins to sizzle and boil, pull it off the heat and allow it to cool slightly before you return it to the hot eye of the stove. The idea is to slowly poach the garlic in the oil rather than fry it. This could take as long as 20 minutes if you keep the heat extremely moderate. When the garlic is done, it will be soft and just slightly browned.
2. This garlic confit plus its oil are kitchen heroes in their own right and can be used anywhere you want mellow garlic notes. You could stop this recipe right here and save those little garlic bombs in the fridge for a month, as long as they are submerged in oil. Pureed, the cloves are especially useful as a means to thicken and add flavor to sauces.
3. But you don’t get to herbdacious by calling it quits early. Once the garlic confit is completely cool, put it and all the remaining ingredients in the most powerful blender you have and let it rip until the mixture is smooth and green. Store herbdacious in a sealed container in your fridge for up to 2 weeks or in your freezer for up to 3 months. Makes 2 cups.
Per Serving: 148 Calories; 15g Fat (87.4% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 7mg Cholesterol; 407mg Sodium; trace Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 125mg Calcium; trace Iron; 33mg Potassium; 72mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Beef, on November 18th, 2023.

You know how it is when you read a recipe saying it’s “the BEST” around? There are too many of them, so how do you decide?

Fall has “arriven” here in SoCal. So happy to have cooler days. Lighting my fireplace in the evenings, even wearing a sweater part of the time. I was craving chili, and couldn’t decide whether I should just defrost a package of some I made last spring, or to try something new. When I looked through the America’s Test Kitchen’s recipe for chili, claiming it’s the “best,” I thought why not try it. But then, I didn’t have all the ingredients (chuck roast for one). I didn’t have fresh jalapeno peppers, either. Nor did I have beer on hand (I don’t drink it). I had a handyman working here in my house so decided I’d make do with what I did have (ground beef and ground pork) and canned chiles, and I used beef broth instead of beer. So the bottom line to this recipe is that I changed it a lot, but I also liked it a lot.

Ancho chiles are my new favorite thing in chili – they add so much complex flavor. The chiles I had weren’t hard-crisp-dried, but still somewhat soft, so it took a bit of doing to get them chopped up. The food processor didn’t do a very good job of it, so I plopped them out on my cutting board and used a big chef’s knife to chop them up into much smaller pieces. Back into the food processor, and whizzed them for a long time – eventually I got tiny pieces and a lot of coarse chile dust. Perfect.

First I sauteed some chopped onion, then added celery (not in the original recipe) just because it adds some more flavor and fiber, then garlic. I removed all that to a bowl while I browned the ground beef (as it happened I’d purchased some wagyu ground beef at Costco) and ground pork. Then I added the ancho chiles, some chili powder, cornmeal (gives it a little texture and thickening), dried oregano, ground cumin AND some cocoa powder. Say what? Maybe this is a take on Mexican mole, which uses chocolate. It’s not like you can taste the chocolate (there were only two teaspoons). Also an unusual item, molasses. Canned black beans (and you can add more – I used just one can) and canned tomatoes were added too, then canned green chiles and beef broth. Here’s where  you could add the lager if you had it (instead of broth).

The onions went back in and I set it to simmer for about an hour. Done. It needed salt and toppings to finish. Usually I prefer to let chili sit overnight in the frig (helps it develop better flavor, as in a lot of dishes like soups and stews), but I had some for my lunch yesterday, with shredded cheese (Mexican cheese blend) and some cilantro. You could add lots of other toppings: freshly grated raw onion, green onions, crushed Fritos, tortilla chips, fresh chopped tomatoes and even some minced Jalapeno peppers. So even though it hadn’t melded overnight, I thought the flavor was wonderful!

What’s GOOD: you can make this in an hour or so. It probably could be made in the Instant Pot in a lot less time too, though you’d need to scale down the recipe as I think it would make it too full. I liked it a LOT. Very nice, deep, complex flavors. Notice how dark the color is – a lot from the ancho chiles, but also the cocoa. This recipe is a keeper. Certainly I didn’t stick to the America’s Test Kitchen recipe very well, but I liked my riff.

What’s NOT: only that it does take at least 90 minutes to make, maybe a bit longer. It makes a big batch, and even more if you added another can of beans. I try to limit carbs, so used just one can. Great for freezing.

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Chili, the BEST?

Recipe: Adapted significantly from America’s Test Kitchen
Servings: 7

1 tablespoon light olive oil — or neutral oil
2 medium onions — chopped finely
2 1/2 cup celery — chopped finely
4 medium garlic cloves — minced or pressed through garlic press (about 4 teaspoons)
2 pounds lean ground beef
1 pound ground pork
6 ancho chiles — (dried) stems and seeds removed, and flesh torn into small pieces
2 tablespoons chili powder
3 tablespoons cornmeal
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
4 ounces canned green chiles — chopped
16 ounces canned black beans — undrained
15 ounces diced tomatoes
5 cups low sodium beef broth — or use a light lager if you have it available
2 teaspoons molasses
table salt to taste
TOPPINGS: grated cheese, chopped cilantro, grated onion, chopped green onions, crushed Fritos, crushed tortilla chips, chopped tomatoes, minced Jalapeno chiles

1. In a large Dutch oven heat light olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and saute until softened, about 10-15 minutes. Add celery and continue cooking for about 5 minutes, then add garlic. Cook for about one minute.
2. Remove the onion mixture from the pan and set aside.
3. Meanwhile, chop up the ancho chiles with scissors or a sharp knife, then whiz in a food processor until the chiles are in very small pieces or coarse dust.
4. Add the ground beef and ground pork to the pot and saute, chopping up the meat to separate it as it cooks. Once the pink has disappeared, add the chopped ancho chiles, chile powder (a jarred variety or make your own), ground cumin, cocoa powder cornmeal and oregano. Stir well, then add add canned tomatoes, canned green chiles, black beans (including the juice), molasses, then the beef broth and stir well.
5. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook over very low heat for about an hour, stirring a few times to make sure the mixture isn’t sticking on the bottom. Taste for salt.
6. Allow mixture to cool fully and refrigerate (if possible) overnight. The flavors will meld.
7. Serve bowls of reheated chili with grated cheese and cilantro on top. Or put out small bowls of the various toppings and let people have a choice.
Per Serving: 389 Calories; 10g Fat (23.7% calories from fat); 49g Protein; 25g Carbohydrate; 8g Dietary Fiber; 119mg Cholesterol; 673mg Sodium; 6g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 102mg Calcium; 7mg Iron; 1280mg Potassium; 519mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Beef, Soups, on July 27th, 2023.

Need a quick, easy soup – even if it’s summer – taco soup is always welcome.

It’s been a few weeks ago that I made this, but I recall that I was in a hurry to get it done – so I perused some online recipes for quick taco soup, and came up with this variation. It has all of the usual ingredients (although I added celery – not sure that’s an authentic addition to taco soup, but I like celery, what can I tell you?) and a shortcut of using a packet of dry taco mix. First I sauteed onion and celery, then added garlic, chopped red bell pepper, a chopped up poblano pepper, the package of taco seasoning mix, a punch of ground cumin (because I like it a lot). Then I added a package of ground beef (you could use ground turkey or one of the non-meat substitutes, or it could be vegetarian easily enough without any protein added). Once it was no longer pink, and separated into lots of little bite-sized pieces, I added tomato sauce, a can of tomatoes and pinto beans. And some water. It simmered for a grand total of 30 minutes. Done. You could make this in the Instant Pot – but the sauteing of the various veggies and the beef would take longer, but probably under pressure it would be done in 8 minutes.

Garnishes are optional – but they help – I used cilantro, sour cream, green onions for sure. The second time I had it I added a few crumbled tortilla chips and some bell pepper. Any of those work – whatever suits your family’s preferences.

It was better the next day – soups always are. And what I didn’t eat in the first three days I froze for another quick meal another day.

What’s GOOD: only that it was finished in about an hour – the prep work did take a bit of time, but some of it can be done while the initial sauteing is being done. Easy soup. It didn’t have time to develop a lot of complex flavors – a simple soup, cooked in a jiffy.

What’s NOT: nothing really – it isn’t going to win any blue ribbons at the fair, but I was happy I got it done in under an hour and provided a bunch of meals afterwards.

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Easy Ground Beef Taco Soup

Recipe: From a variety of online recipes
Servings: 8

1 tablespoon EVOO
1 large red onion — chopped (or yellow onion)
1 1/2 cups celery — chopped
3 cloves garlic — minced
1 1/2 cups red bell pepper — chopped
1 whole poblano pepper — stemmed, seeded, chopped
1 package taco seasoning mix
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 pound lean ground beef
16 ounces tomato sauce
12 ounces canned diced tomatoes — undrained
15 ounces canned pinto beans — undrained
1 cup water — used to rinse out the cans then add to the pot
GARNISHES: sour cream, chopped cilantro, shredded cheddar cheese, minced red bell pepper, green onions and/or tortilla chips

1. In large Dutch oven warm the EVOO, then add onion and celery. Saute for 4-6 minutes until softened. Add garlic, bell pepper, poblano pepper, taco seasoning mixture, ground cumin and continue to cook for 3-5 minutes.
2. Add ground beef and use implement to break up the meat. When all the pink is gone, add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and pinto beans. Bring to a simmer and bubble away for about 5 minutes. Taste for seasonings. Continue to simmer for 30 minutes.
3. To serve, scoop about 1 cup into a soup bowl and serve with optional garnishes.
Per Serving: 193 Calories; 6g Fat (25.4% calories from fat); 17g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 35mg Cholesterol; 310mg Sodium; 7g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 81mg Calcium; 4mg Iron; 827mg Potassium; 217mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Beef, Pork, Veggies/sides, on July 21st, 2023.

There are SO many recipes out there in the ‘verse for meatloaf. How do you choose?

My friend Dianne and I hosted a PEO fundraising event awhile back and did a menu from Erin French’s cookbook, The Lost Kitchen. I already posted the cocktail we made, the Cider & Rosemary Prosecco Cocktail, and in the photo for the cocktail was a cute little board with the whole menu on it. Here’s the next set of recipes.

We’re talkin’ meatloaf here. So, can I say this meatloaf is all that different from others? Well, yes and no. What’s different: quite a lot of carrots, a lot of shallots, pecorino cheese (that’s certainly different!) and more than a usual amount of bread cubes. Listening to podcasts, or reading articles about meatloaf, more and more chefs reveal that they use a lot of bread in their meatloaf – because it makes it tender. I don’t think my mother used any bread or breadcrumbs in her meatloaf. I might have used a little bit in my old tried and true meatloaf. Hence my old standby is kind of a firm, very firm chunk of meat. I definitely like this better, despite not really wishing I have to add carbs to make it tender. But hey, if it tastes better, then yes, I guess I’ll have to incorporate this into recipes from now on.

Erin suggested a variety of sides to choose from (including just mashed potatoes) but I thought the parsnips would be a different side not many people would make themselves. Many of our guests had NEVER had parsnips before – some didn’t even know what they looked like. They’re shaped like big carrots, but they’re a kind of off-white color. They’re quite hard to cut, but become tender when they cook. They’re naturally sweet – not as sweet as sweet potatoes, but still they have a lot of natural sugar in them. Trader Joe’s carries them now and then – I guess when they’re in season. Particularly around the holidays.

The glaze on the meatloaf is a ketchup based one (with brown sugar and Dijon added). I love the topping – wanted some of it with every bite. And I wanted a bit of parsnips with every bite too. Make plenty – you’ll be surprised how well it goes with meatloaf.

All of our guests raved about both dishes and wanted the recipes. We got to talking about meatloaf and many at our table had their own little twists that became family favorites. It was decided that next year Dianne and I are going to do a meatloaf cook-off. She’s going to make two types and I’m going to make two types (all four of them different) and we’ll have sides and a dessert. Maybe we’ll include Ina Garten’s turkey meatloaf in the mix too — not sure. It’s excellent, but I think we’d be comparing apples and oranges to choose between and try to compare a beef/pork meatloaf with a turkey one.

Really, I loved Erin’s Dad’s meatloaf. It WAS very tender, and tasty from the added carrots, shallots and Pecorino  – and the bread! The recipe below makes two big loaf pans of it – you could easily halve it, though. I’m sure portions would freeze easily, however! And the parsnips were a big hit. I have loved parsnips ever since I first tried them in England many years ago. They’re a standard side dish in British cuisine. You don’t have to do much to them to make them delicious – this with butter and heavy cream. Yummy.

What’s GOOD: Loved the meatloaf and the parsnips. The additions in the meatloaf make for a very tender loaf – more tender than usual. And the parsnips are such a lovely sweet surprise. And they go so well with meatloaf. Both recipes are keepers.

What’s NOT: the meatloaf does take a bit of prep (you could use a food processor to hasten the process) but so worth it. Parsnips are a cinch.

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Erin French’s Dad’s Meatloaf

Recipe By: Erin French, The Lost Kitchen Cookbook
Servings: 10

1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
3/4 cup grated carrots
1/2 cup chopped shallots
1/2 cup pecorino cheese — grated
2 cups bread cubes — (1/2-inch-diced) such as sourdough
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons kosher salt
6 twists pepper — (pepper grinder style)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 Preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. In a large bowl, add all meatloaf ingredients and mix with your hands until combined. Do NOT overmix it! Divide the mixture between two 9 x 5-inch loaf pans and set aside.
3. For the glaze, in a medium bowl, stir together the sugar, ketchup, and mustard. Brush the top of each meatloaf with a thick coat of the glaze. Transfer to the oven and bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the middle registers 150 degrees F, about 45 minutes.
4. Let the meatloaves rest for 10 to 15 minutes, unmold, cut into slices, and serve. Ideally, serve with parsnip puree on the side.
Per Serving: 340 Calories; 15g Fat (38.7% calories from fat); 30g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 125mg Cholesterol; 797mg Sodium; 17g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 71mg Calcium; 3mg Iron; 576mg Potassium; 298mg Phosphorus.

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Parsnip Puree

Recipe By: Erin French, The Lost Kitchen Cookbook
Servings: 8

3 pounds parsnips — peeled, roughly chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream — warmed

1. Put parsnips in medium saucepan, add cold water to cover, and seasonw ith salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat so the water simmers, and cook until just fork-tender, about 20 minutes.
2. Drain parsnips and transfer to a food processor. Add butter and pulse until melted. Pour in cream and process until very smooth. Taste and add salt if needed, though if your cooking water is well seasoned, you probably won’t need more. Serve immediately or keep warm in a double boiler. Can also be made a day ahead and reheated in the microwave oven – be sure the center of the mound of parsnips is hot.
Per Serving: 229 Calories; 12g Fat (43.8% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 31g Carbohydrate; 8g Dietary Fiber; 32mg Cholesterol; 22mg Sodium; 9g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 73mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 654mg Potassium; 131mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Beef, Grilling, on July 7th, 2023.

So I understand, tri-tip isn’t a cut of meat available everywhere. Maybe you can ask for it at the meat counter?

What is it, you ask? Tri-tip is a triangular cut of beef cut from the bottom of the sirloin. Which means it’s not super tender to begin with. It’s an odd shape – kinda-sorta triangular in shape, hence the name. The narrower end tends to cook too much (because it’s thinner) so you have to cook the meat for the thicker center portion. Which is what we did here.

This was a big dinner I did a year ago – and totally forgot about it – about posting it. I think it was a celebration of my granddaughter Taylor’s graduation from nursing school and the whole family visited. I served this and some other meat (so people could have a choice). I don’t even remember what else I served! Here in SoCal we can buy already marinated tri-tip, but that’s not what I bought – I wanted the un-marinated one so I could use my own. The recipe I’ve had around for a long time – it came from an old Sunset magazine article. And got rave reviews. And I’d give this good reviews too.

The marinade is very easy – soy sauce (I use the low-sodium type), fresh cilantro, liquid smoke, dried oregano, garlic and pepper. See? Simple. I had to dig deeply into my cabinet to FIND the liquid smoke. Likely I’ve had that little bottle for 15 years! The meat marinates for 24 hours – that will guarantee you’ll get tender meat. The tri-tip does contain a few stripes of gristle, so you need to eat around that, but otherwise the cut of meat is easy to cook and because it’s so nice and tender when it’s done, it’s easy to slice into thin strips. I don’t believe this cut of meat has much fat in it – which is why it’s necessary to marinate it.

The soy marinade flavor doesn’t overpower the meat (there’s only 1/4 cup in the marinade) but the soy sauce is the magic power that tenderizes this meat so well. It’s grilled for about – note ABOUT – 10 minutes per side. I think I assigned the grilling duty to someone else as I was busy in the kitchen doing the last minute salad and veggie prep and plating. I know we ate outside. One interesting technique for this was instructions to make small slits in the meat, both top and bottom – so that marinade will reach deeper into the meat.

That dinner may have been the only time I used my patio last summer as I had such a problem with mosquitoes. Oh my gosh, it was awful. We had the regular sized ones, but we also had the no-see-ums, or ankle-biters, as most people call them. They’ve become a new thing in California, probably because of our changing climate. It was an abundant infestation of them last summer, even though – then – we were in a terrible drought. This year they’re anticipating another bad siege of mosquitoes, so I’ve hired a mosquito service. They come every 3 weeks until early November. So far it’s worked well, although they don’t guarantee it’ll completely remove them, I think they said about 90% improvement. So far, so good.

Back to this tri-tip. Use an instant-read thermometer and remove it when the thickest part reaches 125°F. Then just let it rest 5 minutes, lightly covered with foil (otherwise it’ll get cold quickly). Slice and serve immediately. Slicing tri-tip into thin pieces is important – if you do thicker, it’ll be too chewy.

What’s GOOD: loved the flavor – tri-tip has really good, beefy flavor, and the marinade did it’s job of tenderizing the meat. I think the guests ate it all. It’s easy to slice, easy to grill. Great recipe.

What’s NOT: only that you need to start this 24 hours ahead, turning over the meat every few hours so the marinade reaches every crevice.

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Grilled Tri-Tip Roast with Cilantro

Recipe By: Tanya Newgent, San Diego, Sunset Magazine
Servings: 8

2 1/2 pounds beef tri-tip roast
1/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons liquid smoke — optional
2 teaspoons dried oregano
3 cloves garlic — minced
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Cilantro sprigs for garnish

1. Trim and discard excess fat from beef and remove any silverskin. Cut 1-inch-long slits about 1/2 inch deep and about 1 inch apart over top and bottom of roast.
2. Mix soy sauce, chopped cilantro, liquid smoke, oregano, garlic, and pepper in a heavy-duty plastic bag.
3. Add meat and spoon soy mixture into slits. Pour remaining mixture over meat. Refrigerate for 24 hours, turning the roast every 3-4 hours or as often as possible.
4. Preheat grill to medium-high heat (you can hold your hand at grill level only 3 to 4 seconds). Cover gas grill. Cook roast, turning once, until a thermometer inserted in center of thickest part registers 125° for rare, 20 to 25 minutes total (so about 10 minutes per side) for a 1 1/2- to 2-inch-thick piece. Tapered end will cook faster, so try to place it away from heat.
5. Transfer meat to a board, cover loosely with foil, and let rest about 5 minutes. Cut across the grain in very thin slices. Garnish with cilantro sprigs. Serve with a sauce of some kind: try an ancho chili and sour cream mixture.
Per Serving: 241 Calories; 12g Fat (46.8% calories from fat); 30g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 94mg Cholesterol; 330mg Sodium; trace Total Sugars; 0mcg Vitamin D; 45mg Calcium; 2mg Iron; 487mg Potassium; 282mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Beef, on December 30th, 2022.

Forgot to take a picture once it was out of the oven . . . sorry about that. On top is a nice flavorful layer of Gruyere cheese and buttered bread crumbs.

A post from Carolyn. If any of you are “of a certain age,” you may remember that serving authentic beef stroganoff was a frequent entertaining entree way back in the 60s and 70s. It required copious amounts of sour cream and of course, some kind of tender beef. Whatever type I bought wasn’t ever tender enough. I think tenderloin is the authentic beef recommended – that was way out of my price range, so I used some other substitute (and probably overcooked it, or it was a type that might never get tender) so I wasn’t necessarily thrilled with the results. My other go-to company meal was turkey a la king, served in puff pastry cups – a more inexpensive entree served elegantly in those little buttery vessels. Vaguely I remember when someone decided to make stroganoff with ground beef, but it was considered to be a cheap substitute (and oh, hand up to forehead – gasp – certainly not worthy of a company meal). Over the ensuing years I know I’d made that substitute casserole many times, but it never came into regular rotation. Probably because it was thick, gloopy (is that a word?) and over-the-top too rich.

How times have changed. When I watched Rachael Ray make this on her show, I was intrigued. Why? Because she used a max of 1/2 cup of sour cream (not 1 – 2+ cups as I’d used in my other recipes), it didn’t contain any canned soup (cream of mushroom), and it used sherry wine plus a moderate amount of Worcestershire sauce. Plus it was a much dry-er casserole – no gluey or thick mushy type serving.

Did you know that Worcestershire is an umami flavor? Yup. You can add a little bit to dishes and you’ll not know it’s there, but it adds nice flavor. Mushrooms also have umami, and there are plenty of them in this recipe too. Rachael called for rye or pumpernickel bread crumbs . . . I didn’t have those and wasn’t about to buy a loaf of that bread to garner a cup of breadcrumbs, so I used panko, because that’s what I had on hand. Others who have made this recipe and posted it online mention those rye or pumpernickel bread crumbs as being a real game-changer. I like it just fine with panko crumbs, but agree, the other types might make this casserole even better. The addition of Gruyere cheese also added to the high-flavor profile here.  I buy Costco ground beef – I think it has more flavor than many others, like my local grocery store variety. I keep those Costco cubes in my freezer all the time (they’re 1 1/2 pounds, just what’s called for in this recipe).

If you make this and have leftovers, heat them in servings in the microwave, maybe with a sprinkling of water on the bottom. As I mentioned, this makes a kind of “dry” casserole. I’d reheat them in a bowl rather than a flat plate.

What’s GOOD: really delicious comfort-food casserole. Liked the depth of flavor in this (from the mushrooms, Worcestershire, sherry wine, Gruyere) and will definitely make this again. It should freeze well – I made two small casseroles and one large one. The smaller ones I froze, so I’ll enjoy them in coming months.

What’s NOT: only that it takes about an hour to prepare (plus baking time), with a moderate amount of cutting and chopping; nothing is difficult. You’ll find that the mixture seems quite dry, but it works out fine.

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Ground Beef Stroganoff Casserole

Recipe By: adapted slightly from a Rachael Ray recipe
Servings: 10

1 pound egg noodles — wide type
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup olive oil — divided
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
Kosher salt and coarse black pepper
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
12 ounces mushrooms — thinly sliced (3/4 pound)
2 large shallots — finely chopped (or 1 medium white or yellow onion)
4 cloves garlic — chopped
3 tablespoons fresh thyme — chopped, or 1 T dried
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup sherry wine — or 1/2 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups beef stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups bread crumbs — rye, pumpernickel, or panko
2 tablespoons butter — melted
2 cups Gruyere cheese — shredded
3 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped, for garnish

CHANGES I MADE: I added more Gruyere cheese and reduced the oven temp to 375°F as the top got a bit too toasted. I also added the Italian parsley garnish.
1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. For the egg noodles, cook noodles in boiling, salted water for two minutes less than package directions, then toss with butter, salt and pepper. Set aside.
3. For the beef and mushrooms, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat with half the olive oil, 2 turns of the pan, add beef and brown, breaking up with the back of your spoon, season with salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce. Remove the beef from the skillet and set aside.
4. Add the remainder of the oil to the same pan, then add the mushrooms and brown. Add the shallots (or onion), garlic, thyme, salt and pepper, stir a few minutes to soften shallots, then add sherry and let it evaporate and cook into the mushrooms. Add beef stock and simmer 5 minutes, then stir in heavy cream and sour cream (if the sour cream is at all clumpy, use a coil whisk to make it smooth). Add the beef back to the skillet with the mushrooms and remove from heat. The mixture will seem thin but all the liquid is absorbed by the noodles when it bakes.
5. For the breadcrumbs, in a bowl, mix together melted butter, breadcrumbs and Gruyere.
6. Toss beef and mushroom mixture with noodles. Pour into casserole dish. Top with Gruyere and rye breadcrumbs and bake in the center of your oven until brown and bubbly, about 30 minutes. If you have leftovers, heat them in serving sizes in the microwave with a little tetch of water added, so it doesn’t dry up the noodles on the bottom.
Per Serving: 752 Calories; 43g Fat (51.5% calories from fat); 38g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 161mg Cholesterol; 768mg Sodium; 4g Total Sugars; 1mcg Vitamin D; 574mg Calcium; 5mg Iron; 648mg Potassium; 607mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Beef, Vegetarian, on November 18th, 2022.

Comfort food – think all the ingredients of cabbage rolls, but in a casserole.

A post from Carolyn. You’ll likely find a bunch of recipes out there for cabbage roll casseroles. I looked at about 15 maybe before deciding on one, but then I tweaked it some. First, I substituted Impossible burger meat instead of ground beef. You can use beef, or ground chicken or turkey too. In a casserole like this, I doubt anyone could tell the difference!

There’s another recipe here on my blog that’s a similar concoction, Unstuffed Sweet & Sour Cabbage, posted waaay back when – in 2008. My goodness, how time flies. I also have made a similar mixture into a soup. But I prefer the sweet/sour aspect of this recipe and my 2008 one.

First a chopped up an onion and sizzled that a bit in a big frying pan with a bit of oil. Then garlic, some celery (not in the original recipe), then the beef substitute. It cooks up just like ground beef, looking like raw, with redness, then it cooks out the red. Then a big can of diced tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste are added. Paprika and thyme were sprinkled in. I also added some half-sharp paprika too. Since most of you won’t have that (you can buy it at Penzey’s), just add a little jot of Sriracha to the mixture. I added some beef soup base (not much) to give it a bit more beefy flavor, though you could use vegetable soup base just as easily. I added a little bit of caraway seed, ground sage, celery seed too. Those weren’t in the original recipe either.

Meanwhile I cooked up 2/3 cup of basmati rice (long grain) and set it aside. Once the sauce came to a boil I simmered it for about 20 minutes to meld the flavors. I poured it out into a big bowl. Then I chopped up a big green cabbage. Some recipes leave the cabbage in wedges, but I liked the idea of layering the cabbage and the “meat” sauce, so I cut it into about 1″ squares, approximately. That got sautéed a bit in oil and water (in the original pot), then steamed until mostly cooked. One recipe cautioned that the baking of  the casserole doesn’t cook the cabbage any further, so it needs to be fully cooked before composing the casserole.

Into a big 9×13 pan it went – half of the cabbage – then half the “meat”, then the remaining cabbage and remaining “meat.” I also sprinkled on some fresh dill in between the layers and some more on top when it was served.

This makes a generous quantity, and it’s very filling. I ate one portion and then squared out  more portions and put them in freezer containers for another day. Always happy for that occurrence. I used some plastic wrap to mold (pressed directly on) the top of the food itself, then put the plastic lid on top. I didn’t want it to grow ice crystals, so hope that will be a good solution. My cousin Gary is coming to visit over Thanksgiving, so this will make a nice dinner for us one night.

What’s GOOD: loved the ease of making this – it’ll serve at least 8-10 people. I liked that the whole casserole had just 2 cups of cooked rice in it (since I try to limit carbs). Loved the flavors, the sweet (from the tomatoes) and the sour (from the little bit of cider vinegar added at the end). You might ask – why did she put in celery? Because of the flavor – celery adds a nice addition to flavors. It probably isn’t in cabbage rolls. I try to add more veggies wherever I can.

What’s NOT: nothing really. It made a mound of dirty dishes, but it wasn’t all that bad. I miss my dear hubby who used to wash all the dishes for me – that was our deal – I cooked – he cleaned up.

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Cabbage Roll Casserole

Recipe By: Adapted a lot from Spend with Pennies blog
Serving Size: 9

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion — diced
1/2 cup celery — chopped
3 cloves garlic — crushed
1 pound meat substitute — like Impossible or Beyond Beef, or lean ground beef, or ground pork, or 1/2 pound of each
28 ounces canned diced tomatoes — including juice
1 cup tomato sauce
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon beef broth concentrate — or vegetable broth concentrate
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon half-sharp paprika — or add Sriracha to taste
1 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon sage
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 cups cooked rice — (about 2/3 cup raw)
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dill weed — optional
1 large head cabbage — about 12-14 cups
1 tablespoon olive oil — or more if needed
4 tablespoons water
1 1/2 cups Gruyere cheese — grated
1 1/2 cups Monterey jack cheese — grated
fresh dill weed sprinkled on top

1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. in a large skillet sauté onion and celery in olive oil for about 5 minutes. Then add garlic and the meat of choice over medium heat until no pink remains. Drain any fat. Stir in diced tomatoes (including juice), tomato sauce, tomato paste, and all seasonings – broth concentrate, paprika, half-sharp paprika or Sriracha, thyme, sage, caraway, celery seeds, salt and pepper. Simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes until thickened. Remove from heat and add cooked rice. Add cider vinegar and stir thoroughly so it’s mixed well throughout. Taste for seasonings (may need more salt). Remove meat to a bowl and set aside.
3. Meanwhile, chop cabbage into 1″ squares. Heat half the oil in same large skillet and add 1/2 of the cabbage and 2 tablespoons of water. Cook just until softened (about 10 minutes). Watch carefully so cabbage doesn’t burn, adding more water if needed until cabbage is cooked through. Repeat with remaining cabbage. Place 1/2 of the cooked cabbage in a 9×13 casserole dish. It will just barely cover the bottom of the casserole. Top with 1/2 of the meat sauce. Sprinkle some fresh dill in between layers. Repeat layers of cabbage and sauce.
4. Sprinkle top of casserole with a generous portion of the two cheeses. You may refrigerate the casserole for a later time (allow to cool first). When ready to bake, remove casserole from refrigerator for about an hour before baking – it may take longer to bake.
5. Bake for 45 minutes, or until top of casserole (the cheese) is golden brown and the casserole is bubbling around the edges. If you’re not sure it’s thoroughly heated, test casserole in the center with an instant read thermometer and casserole should read 165°F. Remove from oven then sprinkle more diill weed on top. Allow to rest for 5 minutes, cut and serve.
Per Serving: 514 Calories; 33g Fat (56.7% calories from fat); 35g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 78mg Cholesterol; 1039mg Sodium; 5g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 757mg Calcium; 3mg Iron; 494mg Potassium; 632mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Beef, Soups, on October 25th, 2022.

Just look at that deep, dark color. I’d never made chili this way. Read on.

A post from Carolyn. We had a few days of cooler weather, a harbinger of fall, here in SoCal, and my taste buds turned to winter weather foods. First I craved chili, so I decided to try a new recipe. I have a deep respect for the work that the folks at Cook’s Illustrated do, and sure enough, I had a recipe to try. They called it “Best Ground Beef Chili.”

Right off the top, I’ll tell you, this isn’t a 1-2-3 done kind of chili. It requires a few steps and about 2 hours in a low oven too. But oh, my goodness, is this ever good. The dried ancho chiles are the key ingredient in this version. Well, there are a couple of other oddball ingredients in this too, but the ancho chiles are certainly the first and foremost. They are stemmed, seeded, and cut or torn into chunky pieces. They go into a dry Dutch oven and are toasted. You’d think they’re already toasted with the color of them, but they’re not – they’re simply dried chiles. The picture at right shows the ancho pieces as they toast away in the dry Dutch oven. Do watch the pot, though, and make sure they don’t begin to smoke. If they do, turn down the heat – but stir them a lot as they toast. You cannot tell they are getting toasted, just trust the recipe.

Meanwhile, I mixed up the lean ground beef with 2 T of water and a bit of baking soda. Say what, I asked? Why? Well, doing that helps the beef retain its moisture as it cooks and helps the beef to not shed all of its juices. What an idea! That bowl was set aside to rest while I began the other steps. Onion was sautéed in the Dutch oven (same one I used for the chiles). The toasted chiles went into a food processor along with a whole bunch of dried spices and herbs. That got whizzed up into a fine dust and was added to the onion. A large can of whole tomatoes was also pureed (I guess you could buy already pureed tomatoes if you’d rather). They say the whole tomatoes have better flavor; I suppose that’s why you whiz them up yourself. The ground beef was added to the Dutch oven, the spices and the tomatoes. Plus a few other minor ingredients like chipotle chiles in adobo, a can of pinto beans, a tetch of sugar and a couple cups of water. That was brought up to a boil, lid affixed, and it went into a 275° oven for 1 1/2 hours (or up to 2).

Once out of the oven, the mixture needs to get stirred as the fat rises to the top. Stir it in to get more flavor. The chili is so SO dark colored. Those toasted chiles really did their job of coloring the entire pot full. You also add 2 T of cider vinegar. What that does for the chili I don’t know – I couldn’t really taste it. Guess it gave it a bit of tang, perhaps? The recipe recommends serving it over rice and/or tortilla chips. I did neither as I didn’t want the carbs. A serving is about 1 to 1 1/4 cups – it’s rich, so a little goes a long ways. All the toppings give texture too. Grated cheese, avocado, red onion, crushed tortilla chips, sour cream, lime wedges, chopped cilantro – any and all of those go with it.

What’s GOOD: everything about this chili is stellar. Deep, dark flavor from those ancho chiles. The chili is just slightly warm (go easy on the chipotle if you’re sensitive to heat). Notice, there is NO chili powder in this chili. Loved it from the first to the last slurp. A definite keeper. Thanks to Cook’s Illustrated.

What’s NOT: nothing other than it takes a few hours to prepare and more cooking prep than some recipes. But you’ll be rewarded at the end for all your hard work.

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Chili with Deep Dark Anchos

Recipe By: Cook’s Illustrated
Servings: 8

2 pounds lean ground beef
2 tablespoons water
Salt and pepper
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
6 whole dried ancho chiles — stemmed, seeded, and torn into 1-inch pieces
1 ounce tortilla chips — crushed (1/4 cup)
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
14 ounces canned tomatoes — whole
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion — chopped fine
3 garlic cloves — minced
1 teaspoon chipotle chiles
15 ounces canned pinto beans
2 teaspoons sugar
2 cups water
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Lime wedges
Coarsely chopped cilantro
Chopped red onion

NOTES: Diced avocado, sour cream, and shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese are also good options for garnishing. This chili is intensely flavored and should be served with tortilla chips and/or steamed white rice. The water and soda added to the ground beef help the meat hold on to moisture, so it doesn’t shed liquid during cooking.
1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 275°F.
2. In a bowl combine ground beef with 2 tablespoons water, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and baking soda in bowl. Mix with hands until thoroughly combined. Set aside for 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, place anchos in dry Dutch oven set over medium-high heat; toast, stirring frequently, until fragrant, 4 to 6 minutes, reducing heat if anchos begin to smoke. Transfer to food processor and let cool.
3. Add tortilla chips, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, coriander, oregano, thyme, and 2 teaspoons pepper to food processor with anchos and process until finely ground, about 2 minutes. Transfer mixture to bowl and set aside. Process tomatoes and their juice in empty workbowl until smooth, about 30 seconds.
4. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 6 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add ground beef mixture and cook, stirring with wooden spoon to break meat up into 1/4-inch pieces, until beef is browned and fond begins to form on pot bottom, 12 to 14 minutes. Add ancho mixture and chipotle; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.
5. Add 2 cups water, beans and their liquid, sugar, and tomato puree. Bring to boil, scraping bottom of pot to loosen any browned bits. Cover, transfer to oven, and cook until meat is tender and chili is slightly thickened, 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
6. Remove chili from oven and let stand, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Stir in any fat that has risen to top of chili, then add vinegar and season with salt to taste. Serve, passing lime wedges, cilantro, and chopped onion separately. (Chili can be made up to 3 days in advance.) One serving is about 1-1/4 cup.
Per Serving: 257 Calories; 7g Fat (26.3% calories from fat); 28g Protein; 19g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 70mg Cholesterol; 464mg Sodium; 4g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 91mg Calcium; 6mg Iron; 751mg Potassium; 316mg Phosphorus.

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