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

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BOOK READING (from Carolyn):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Column of Fire: A Novel by Ken Follett. It takes place in the 1500s, in England, and has everything to do with the war between the Catholics and the Protestants, that raged throughout Europe during that time, culminating in the Spanish Inquisition.

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

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

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Cookies, on December 10th, 2023.

These just sounded so different – had to try them.

A recent issue of Food & Wine intrigued me because it contained different Christmas cookies than I’d ever made or even considered. Amongst them was this. I like a Moscow Mule once in awhile. I like gingersnaps. I love cranberries. Hence, it sounded like a winner.

This cookie requires a couple more steps than many – first you either have to buy or make a ginger syrup. But, fully disclosure here, those of us who gathered to bake cookies yesterday, could barely taste the massive amount of ginger contained in these cookies. Dianne actually made the dough that morning and it needed to chill for 4 hours (better overnight is my motto here). She and I worked on these cookies. Because the batter appeared to be really loose, first we baked one tray of them and figured out they were too loose – they almost spread into a cake. The cookie is very soft when first baked. Another item of disclosure here too, they need to cool awhile on the cookie sheets before trying to remove them. So we added about 2 tablespoons of extra flour, which was just about right. A note is in the recipe below about this.

So what makes it a Moscow Mule cookie, you ask? A full CUP of vodka (wow). Although not all of it ends up in the cookies – you soak the cranberries in it and reserve what’s left of the vodka for another use (maybe nice in a mixed drink of some kind where cranberry juice is called for?). You can substitute 7-UP in it if preferred. It also contained a HALF CUP of the ginger syrup, a bunch of lime zest and two tablespoons of fresh grated ginger (plus there was a ton of fresh ginger in the ginger syrup too). Be sure to make a thorough shopping list before attempting these!

Having a cookie scoop really helped with these. Dianne scooped and plopped the dough into my hand and I swirled them around in the powdered sugar before placing on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. These darned cookies DO stick, so even if you have those kind-of corrugated sheet pans, use parchment anyway. When the cookies bake they become speckled with the sugar – crackled is the word used in cookie baking, I believe. Love the look of them. Do, as I mentioned above, allow them to cool on the pans. The recipe says 2 minutes. I recommend more than that.

What’s GOOD: well, they’re very festive looking. And they taste good. Maybe not the highest on my list of cookies I’d make again – but they’re different (I like that). I’m not a fan of sugar cookies at all, so yes, I liked that they’re a very unusual cookie. The dried cranberries in them are nice to encounter, AND you can definitely taste the booze.

What’s NOT: well, that you have to make a ginger syrup (or buy one). Ideally start that the day before. And you need to chill the cookie dough at least 4 hours or overnight. Again, this dough is very soft. What surprised the four of us who met to do Christmas cookie baking, is that the ginger was almost so subtle we couldn’t taste it. Very odd, considering how much ginger is in them.

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

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Cranberry Moscow Mule Gingersnaps

Recipe: Food & Wine
Serving: 48

2 cups sweetened dried cranberries
1 cup vodka — or 7-Up
3 cups all purpose flour — plus 2 tablespoons
4 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
12 tablespoons unsalted butter — melted
1/2 cup ginger syrup — (such as Ginger People) see Notes for making your own
2 tablespoons lime zest — from 3-4 limes (or more if they’re small)
2 tablespoons fresh ginger — peeled and grated
4 large eggs
3 cups powdered sugar

1. Place dried cranberries in a small microwavable bowl. Add vodka, pressing cranberries to submerge. Microwave on high until steaming, 45 seconds to 1 minute. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let stand until cranberries are plump, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside, reserving cranberry-flavored vodka for another use.
2. Whisk together flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside. The extra 2-3 tablespoons of flour place in a separate bowl and use as needed to make a firmer dough.
3. Combine with mixer: brown sugar, butter, ginger syrup, lime zest, and grated fresh ginger until smooth and evenly combined, about 30 seconds. Add eggs; mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Add flour mixture until just combined. If batter is really soft/loose, add in the additional flour. Fold in plumped cranberries until evenly dispersed throughout dough. Cover and refrigerate dough until thoroughly chilled and firm, at least 4 hours or up to 1 day. (Do not skip this step, as batter is loose.)
4. Preheat oven to 400°F. Place powdered sugar in a bowl. Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, drop a dough ball (about 1 tablespoon) into powdered sugar, and roll until heavily coated. Place coated dough ball on a parchment paper–lined baking sheet. Repeat procedure to form 12 cookie dough balls, spacing at least 2 inches apart. Bake in preheated oven until cookies are puffed in center and lightly browned around edges, 9 to 11 minutes. Remove from oven. Let cookies cool on baking sheet 2-5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; serve warm, or let cool completely. Repeat scooping, rolling, and baking process with remaining cookie dough and remaining powdered sugar.
Per Serving (ginger syrup isn’t included): 170 Calories; 3g Fat (18.9% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 31g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 23mg Cholesterol; 73mg Sodium; 23g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 35mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 38mg Potassium; 38mg 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)

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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
TOPPING:
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.

. . .

Herbdacious

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 Breads, on November 19th, 2023.

Every Christmas season I make this bread. I’ve posted it more than once. I just took two loaves out of the oven and wondered if some of you hadn’t ever read my original post for this quick Bishop’s Bread? I posted it in December, 2007, the first December I’d been writing this blog. It’s such a  favorite. And as I was looking it up today I realized that I have more comments about this bread than I have about any other recipe on this blog. One thing you need to know is this is NOT fruitcake. It has none of the citron stuff in it. It may look like fruitcake, but it’s not . . . Several people wrote me saying how thrilled they were to find the recipe as they’d lost it somehow. There are some other varieties of the bread. My original recipe (above) contains chocolate chips (Ghiradelli dark), Maraschino cherries (halved) and lots of walnuts. Some versions contain chopped dates. I don’t love dates in a bread so have never included it. Some people use dried cherries (or cranberries); others prefer the glazed cherries that are ubiquitous in Christmas baking. Some include walnuts and pecans.

One year I made Golden Bishop’s Bread. That was 2011. It’s more of a rich cake/bread (butter, spices, brandy), and it’s good too.

When I was in junior high school, the school cafeteria made white cake cupcakes nearly every day and they made a Maraschino cherry frosting with some chopped cherries in it and some of the juice in the frosting, so it made the frosting extra pink. I think (actually I’m sure) that’s when I fell in love with Maraschino cherries. I don’t eat them at any other time of the year. Start your holiday baking, my friends!

 

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.

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

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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 Cookies, on November 6th, 2023.

Have you ever had banana cookies? I don’t think I had. They’re good.

This evening I’m leading a committee meeting and wanted to serve something, a little something, while we work. I told the hostess I’d bring cookies. But maybe not chocolate (my usual go-to anything) since it might keep some people awake. This cookie was just the thing – a cross between banana bread and a cookie. Having made them and now eaten several of them, they really are just banana bread made into a cookie.

The original recipe called for quite a bit more sugar, but commenters said to reduce the sugar by about half. I didn’t quite do that, but close. And if I make them again, I’d likely reduce the 2/3 cup to a little over 1/2 cup. The mixture of spices in this (cinnamon, mace [or nutmeg] and ground cloves) is just right. Not too much, not too little. Several commenters said they removed most of the spices because they knew their children wouldn’t like the taste (really?), but I think the spices are great.

Do note the brief time the mashed bananas need to just sit with the baking soda. That’s not an instruction you see very often. It helps the rising factor. The batter may appear curdled, but as with banana bread, it doesn’t make a jot of difference once baked. I have good baking sheets (my new favorite is the Williams-Sonoma gold ones) that don’t require parchment. These cookies didn’t stick at all. You can put more than the usual amount of cookies on the sheet as they don’t spread. Where they plop, they stay. I used a cookie scoop so they were all a uniform amount.

What’s GOOD: love the banana flavor and texture. Just like banana bread, but in cookie form. Definitely I’d make these again if I had over-ripe bananas in my kitchen.

What’s NOT; nothing really. These are good. Not crisp – they’re soft and tender. Just like banana bread.

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

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Banana Bread Cookies

Recipe: Adapted from Simply Recipes, Garrett McCord
Servings: 30

1/2 cup unsalted butter — room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg — room temperature
1 cup mashed bananas — about 2 1/2 large bananas = 1 cup
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour
1 pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground mace — or nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup walnuts — chopped, or pecans, or chocolate chips, or a mixture

NOTE: do not guess on the amount of bananas – measure! Do allow the bananas to sit for a few minutes with the baking soda. The batter may appear curdled, but that’s the way it’s supposed to look.
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and continue to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.
2. In a bowl, mix the mashed bananas and baking soda. Let sit for 2 minutes. The baking soda will react with the acid in the bananas which in turn will give the cookies their lift and rise.
3. Mix the banana mixture into the butter mixture. Mix together the flour, salt, and spices and sift into the butter and banana mixture and mix until just combined.
4. Fold into the batter the pecans or chocolate chips if using. Drop in dollops onto parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake for 11-13 minutes or until nicely golden brown. Let cool on wire racks.
Per Serving: 135 Calories; 8g Fat (52.8% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 14mg Cholesterol; 101mg Sodium; 6g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 10mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 76mg Potassium; 41mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Chicken, Soups, Veggies/sides, on October 27th, 2023.

Tummy-warming soup with a Mexican bent – made with poblano chiles, canned green chiles and a bunch of vegetables. Plus chicken, of course.

First, a little update about me. My jury duty is finally over with – it lasted four weeks. Thank goodness I’m done with it. I wasn’t ever called to be a deliberating juror (I was an alternate), but when the jurors did meet they convicted the defendant on all five counts, including an enhancement charge that she had intended to cause bodily harm. I wrote a letter to the prosecutor (thanking her), one to the police detective who was assigned to the case (thanking him for his 14 months of working on the case), another to the police chief (telling him how much I admired the detective for his work, but also for his compassion to the victim), and lastly I mailed a Halloween card to the victim herself telling her how brave she was to testify (age 11). The defendant will be put away for a long time.

Now let’s talk about soup. When the weather begins to turn cooler I’m all in for making soups. This one started out as a slow cooker soup, but since I no longer have a large slow cooker (only the instant pot one – and it would have been too small for this batch) I changed the recipe all around, added more vegetables into it and made it on the stovetop. If you have leftover chicken (or in my case it was some rotisserie chicken) this is a perfect soup to use it up.

This is a quick and easy soup if you have all the ingredients. The original recipe called for rice (you can add it if you’d like), but I added some sweet potato and a bit of butternut squash. Actually, for the record, I bought a box of fresh, chopped up veggies at Trader Joe’s, a kind of fall medley, so I’m estimating how much sweet potato and squash it added. Soups like this aren’t exact – add more of anything that suits you and your family.

There are bunches of recipes on the ‘net lately, all made in a crockpot, using a brick of cream cheese. That adds a lot of luscious creaminess to the soup as it melts slowly. I almost always have an 8-ounce brick of cream cheese in my refrigerator. You don’t have to decorate the servings with grated cheese or cilantro, but those two things add a nice touch to the soup. Finishes it off.

What’s GOOD: loved this soup. It makes a big batch, so I have ample to freeze in Ziploc quart bags. Loved the creaminess of it, and the various vegetables added, the sweet potato and butternut squash. The various chiles add a lovely umami flavor to the soup, I think. Altogether delicious.

What’s NOT: nothing really. I suppose you could adapt this to an instant pot (make half the recipe) and then add the cream cheese at the end and let it simmer (not pressure cook) to blend slowly into the soup itself. Made on the stovetop, with all the chopping, etc. it probably takes an hour to make the soup.

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Green Chile, Chicken and Vegetable Soup

Recipe: Adapted significantly from an online recipe
Servings: 8

1 tablespoon EVOO
1 large yellow onion — diced
1/2 cup celery — diced
2 whole poblano peppers — seeded, diced
2 garlic cloves — minced
1 tablespoon chili powder — or more if you like more heat
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
29 ounces low-sodium chicken broth
30 ounces green enchilada sauce
8 ounces diced green chiles — canned
2/3 cup frozen corn — or fresh if you have it
1 large sweet potato — peeled, diced
1 cup butternut squash — diced (or more if desired)
8 ounces cream cheese — cubed
4 cups cooked chicken — shredded or cubed
salt and pepper
GARNISHES:
Monterey jack cheese and freshly chopped cilantro

1. In a large pot heat EVOO, then add onion, celery and poblano peppers. Saute on low for about 10 minutes, then add fresh garlic, chili powder and ground cumin. Continue to cook over low for about 1-2 minutes.
2. Add chicken broth, canned green enchilada sauce, canned chopped green chiles, corn, sweet potato, and squash. Simmer for about 10 minutes or until veggies are just about tender.
3. Add cubed cream cheese and cooked chicken. Stir and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until cream cheese is well incorporated and smooth in the soup. Add salt and pepper to taste.
4. Serve in bowls and top with Monterey jack cheese and chopped cilantro.
Per Serving: 428 Calories; 18g Fat (38.0% calories from fat); 44g Protein; 23g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 129mg Cholesterol; 839mg Sodium; 7g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 100mg Calcium; 4mg Iron; 956mg Potassium; 401mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Chicken, Soups, on October 20th, 2023.

We used to think that coconut milk was bad for us – because of the saturated fat it contained. But now the experts think that type of saturated fat isn’t the same as from animal fat. Good thing, since this soup is so delicious and contains not one, but two cans of coconut milk.

So, first, just to catch you up. I’ve been on jury duty for about 3 weeks (as I write this). And the trial isn’t over yet. Maybe I’ll talk about it eventually. It’s absolutely gruesome. It’s not a murder trial but about child abuse. Erroneously, I thought that once you got to be my age, you didn’t have to serve on jury duty anymore. Not so in my county. There were 60 of us assigned to a courtroom and over the course of 1 1/2 days they finally got a jury selected, me included as Alternate #3. Lots of potential jurors didn’t want to be a juror for this trial. The judge warned us it was going to assault our senses when we’d see photos. Some people likely lied about their inability to view child abuse. Some jurors were released; others weren’t. When I was called to the jury box (I was potential juror #55) and questioned, I knew all the arguments the judge had heard. I’d resigned myself that this must be what God had in mind, that I needed to serve. So when the judge asked me if I could be fair and impartial, I said yes. Did I want to be there? Absolutely not. But I wouldn’t lie. That’s not in my nature anyway.

Consequently, my life has kind of been on hold. And let me tell you, coming home in the evenings I was just a “basket case” of sadness (for the children involved), anger (at the defendant and that the abuse had gone on for so long, undetected). I have cried in the courtroom several times; so did some of the other jurors. The judge had forewarned us that he expected some of us to shed tears. At home, I found myself unable to concentrate. Unable to do normal tasks. Most evenings I watch mindless TV just to reset my brain. Each weekend I went through the motions of doing tasks I knew I needed to do (grocery shopping and errands), but my heart wasn’t in it. By Sundays I’ve been mostly back to normal. And then it starts all over on Monday mornings.

Cooking has not played center stage for me in these past weeks, except for making a couple of soups that I could take to court (and reheat in the microwave in the large jury pool room on the lunch hour). One was fabulous (this one) the other one not so much (won’t be posting it).

The Soup: the original recipe came from the internet, but I altered it some, making it my own. It had rice; I eliminated the rice – but you can add it if you’d like to. Surely you know me by now, I like to eliminate carbs when possible. This has sweet potato in it, but that veg is a resistant starch that gets mostly eliminated through your gut and intestines and not absorbed as a carbohydrate. I added zucchini (just because I love zucchini) and I added bok choy too. It called for spinach, but I added a lot more.

The meatballs were very easy to make – with ground chicken, shallots, fresh ginger, a bit of soy sauce. They were lightly browned on a couple of sides in EVOO, then removed. Then you begin assembling the soup part – more shallot, some onion, garlic, curry paste, curry powder, chicken broth, bok choy, zucchini and the sweet potatoes. Once the veggies are tender add in the coconut milk and spinach. The meatballs are added back in and simmered for a few minutes. Done.

What’s GOOD: loved the umami flavors in this – probably the coconut milk, the ginger, garlic, even the sweet potato! SO flavorful. I’m so glad I have many more portions of this soup to enjoy in the next week or so. Whether it’s taking it to the jury room, or having here at home once this trial is over. Altogether wonderful soup. If you’re pressed for time, don’t make the meatballs, just add all the flavors into the soup and you’ll be happy with the results.

What’s NOT: maybe the sticky meatball-making, but that’s about it. It’s a very simple soup to make.

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Chicken Meatball Soup with Coconut Milk, Bok Choy and Zucchini

Recipe: based on an internet recipe, but altered a bit
Servings: 6

MEATBALLS:
1 pound ground chicken
1 small shallot — chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ginger — minced
2 teaspoons soy sauce — reduced sodium
black pepper + kosher salt, to taste
1 teaspoon EVOO — for your hands, to make the meatballs easier to roll
SOUP:
2 tablespoons EVOO
1 shallot — minced
4 cloves garlic — chopped
1 whole yellow onion — chopped
2 cups bok choy — chopped, or use half the amount of celery, finely diced
2 tablespoons red curry paste
1 tablespoon curry powder
3 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 cup sweet potato — peeled, cubed
28 ounces coconut milk — use full fat
4 cups zucchini — chopped
5 cups baby spinach — chopped
1/3 cup cilantro — chopped
toasted chili sesame oil and/or chopped cilantro garnish

1. In a bowl, combine the chicken, one of the shallots, the ginger, soy sauce, a pinch of pepper, Coat your hands with a bit of oil, and roll the meat into small balls, to make about 20-24. .2. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pan. Add the meatballs and sear until crisp, about 4-5 minutes, turning them 2-3 times. Transfer to a bowl or plate.
3. To the same pot, add the curry paste, shallot, ginger, onion and the garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth, bok choy, zucchini and sweet potatoes. Cover and cook over medium heat until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.
4. Add the coconut milk and spinach. Simmer, uncovered another 5-10 minutes, until thickened slightly. Slide the meatballs back into the soup. Stir in the cilantro. Season with salt.
5. Divide the soup into bowls, with 3-4 meatballs per serving. If desired, drizzle with chili oil and sprinkle with additional cilantro on top. Serve with Naan on the side.
Per Serving: 592 Calories; 44g Fat (64.1% calories from fat); 27g Protein; 29g Carbohydrate; 11g Dietary Fiber; 65mg Cholesterol; 391mg Sodium; 11g Total Sugars; 0mcg Vitamin D; 288mg Calcium; 11mg Iron; 1465mg Potassium; 400mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Miscellaneous, Miscellaneous sides, Salads, on October 13th, 2023.

Another favorite of my friend Linda. This is an adult fruit salad.

Do you still have some good, summer fruit available? Maybe some strawberries, although they’re on the back end of summer fruits. Bananas, green grapes, cantaloupe, watermelon. Blueberries add a nice color to the salad. I might add some peaches or nectarines, if they were available. Even kiwi? Linda added some mandarin oranges to her salad.

Likely you have a bottle of Grand Marnier in the back of your liquor cabinet too? And you need fresh lemon juice also – and mint.

If you buy a watermelon, consider cutting it in half and making a bowl from the rind, you know, the kind where you cut the zigzag edge?

When you make this, combine the sugar, lemon juice and Grand Marnier in a big bowl or a big plastic bag, then add the fruit. Stir it around GENTLY so all of the fruit has had a kiss by that Grand Marnier. Refrigerate it for a few hours to marinate the fruits. Serve with sprigs of mint. Lovely.

What’s GOOD: the subtle Grand Marnier flavor, for sure, and just the joy of a lovely fresh fruit salad.

What’s NOT: not a thing.

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Fruit Salad with Grand Marnier

Recipe By: Adapted from Food Network
Servings: 12

6 cups fresh fruit — (watermelon, cantaloupe, green grapes, blueberries, strawberries, and bananas)
1/2 cup sugar
5/8 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup Grand Marnier
Mint leaves — for garnish

1. If desired, hollow out a watermelon half and slice some off the bottom so it will be stable as a “bowl.” Cut a zigzag edge if you’d like to be creative.
2. In a large container add sugar, lemon juice and Grand Marnier; whisk until blended and sugar is dissolved.
3. Dice all the fruits and add to liquid and toss gently. Let stand in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, or up to 2 hours. Pour into watermelon bowl, if using. Garnish with mint.
Per Serving: 35 Calories; trace Fat (0.7% calories from fat); trace Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; trace Sodium; 9g Total Sugars; 0mcg Vitamin D; 1mg Calcium; trace Iron; 13mg Potassium; 1mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Salad Dressings, Salads, on September 29th, 2023.

A post from Karen: While a Honey Chipotle Chicken I can’t take credit for (thank you “Marinated” for making my life easy! –[a farmer’s market near where Karen lives]) was roasting in the oven I considered what sides I was going to serve with it. I wanted a salad or slaw to complement it and was reminded of El Torito Restaurant’s dressing with cilantro and pepitas. Alas, I was out of pepitas, but I did have pistachios on hand. Why not?! I continued rummaging through pantry and refrigerator for what would complete my dressing. I often pickle or freeze what I can’t use right away, and in this case I had some onion and red jalapeno pickles on hand. I also had some Yuzu hot sauce which would add a nice citrus component.

What’s good: – this came together very easily. I think the pickled elements of the onion and jalepeno really lended a wonderful layer of flavor to the dressing and negated the need for added salt or pepper. It was also a great use of the vinegar my onions were pickling in. The pistachio added a nice little crunch. I didn’t toast them, and would be curious to hear if you try it that way. The feta was a nice add as well, simply sprinkled on the top instead of incorporated in. I haven’t tried cotija cheese, but seems like it would work well, so let me know if you try that too!

What wasn’t – well, if you are trying to watch your calories, you may not like that I used heavy cream and mayonnaise. I did use light mayo for the second batch and that worked fine.
Bottom line – Hubby declared it the “best ever” slaw he’s ever tasted. It’s gotten rave reviews from everyone who has tried it so far and I find myself craving it now! Hope you enjoy it too!

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Pistachio and Cilantro Slaw

Recipe By: Karen’s original recipe
Servings: 6

DRESSING:
1/2 cup cilantro — roughly chopped, including stems
1 whole jalapeno pepper — seeded, diced
1/4 cup pistachio nuts
1/4 cup mayonnaise — regular or light
2 tablespoons onion vinegar — from a jar of pickled onions
2 tablespoons heavy cream
6 dashes yuzu hot sauce
2 strips pickled red jalapenos
2 tablespoons onion — roughly chopped
1 tablespoon pickled onion
SLAW:
3 cups cabbage — thinly sliced
1/3 cup feta cheese — crumbled, or cotija, for garnish
2 slices pickled red jalapeno — for garnish

1. Add all dressing ingredients to a blender container and puree until smooth. Taste for seasonings and adjust for thickness by adding more cream. Dressing will be thick, almost a paste.
2. Toss dressing with 2-3 cups sliced cabbage and top with crumbled feta cheese or cotija, if desired. May add some slices of pickled jalapeno on top.
Per Serving: 120 Calories; 9g Fat (66.1% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 19mg Cholesterol; 240mg Sodium; 3g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 94mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 165mg Potassium; 88mg Phosphorus.

Posted in easy, Grilling, Pork, on September 22nd, 2023.

Easy, easy dry rub, air dried/marinated in the frig, then grilled.

Always, I’m on the lookout for a new way to do pork tenderloin. I was hosting a big family birthday party recently. Karen brought salmon, and her pistachio cole slaw, Karen’s mom brought a veggie platter, Sara brought a blueberry lemon layer cake and I filled in the rest with this pork and a big huge salad platter (see below).

This recipe for the pork came out of Southern Living a few months ago. Once you prepare the dry rub (brown sugar, smoked paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, dry mustard) you plop the tenderloins into a Ziploc bag with the rub. Toss it around a bit, let it sit for a few minutes, toss again, then the tenderloins are placed on a rack on a sheetpan (I used the smaller one) and they marinate in the refrigerator (yes, open, no covering) for 8-12 hours. What happens in that time is the outside of the pork hardens a bit and absorbs all of the dry rub.

When my family comes I almost always assign the grilling duty to my son Powell, or Sara’s husband John. I think they both worked at it – cooking the salmon and grilling the pork. The pork was grilled for 8-10 minutes I’m guessing (I wasn’t at the grill so don’t have an exact number), turning them occasionally, until the internal temperature reaches 140°F. If you remove the pork then, let it sit a few minutes and it rises to 145°F, which is what you want it to be. As you can see, the two guys cooked it perfectly.

I wish I’d made some kind of salsa or condiment to go with it – like balsamic onion marmalade, green tomatillo salsa, or pineapple salsa, strawberry salsa, tomato jam, parsley sauce, chimichurri perhaps, or mango chutney. It was fine plain, and we had plenty of food, but knowing my family, it would have been nice if I’d had something to go with it. Just sayin’.

There’s the salad platter I served with it. I cut Romaine in quarters (the ones from Trader Joe’s are smaller and manageable). There are nine wedges of Romaine in the center. Then green beans that I dressed with some of the vinaigrette at the last minute, halved hard boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes and some pomegranate seeds sprinkled over it all. I drizzled everything (except the eggs) with my old-favorite, creamy garlic blue cheese vinaigrette (that I made with Gorgonzola this time). There was nothing left on the platter except a few green beans.

What’s GOOD: oh, how easy this was – made the pork rub in the morning, marinated it for 5 minutes, then it chilled in the frig all day. Easy to grill – just don’t let it go too long, remove it at 140°F. Delicious. The smoky flavor comes from the smoked paprika, which was really nice, I thought. It wasn’t overly sweet at all, though on the pieces you ate with the outside edge, you could taste the brown sugar just a bit. Very good. I’d make it again – just with a salsa or sauce with it. The salad platter was SO easy too – I cooked the green beans the day before and made the dressing. The hard boiled eggs were done in my Instant Pot that morning and chilled. It took about 5 minutes to cut the Romaine wedges, dress everything and arrange on the platter. So easy and a pretty presentation to boot!

What’s NOT: hmm. Nothing that I can think of, other than you need to start this in the morning before grilling in the evening.

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Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Sweet Smoky Rub

Recipe: Southern Living May 2023
Servings: 5-6

1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
2 pounds pork tenderloin — about 1 lb each
1 tablespoon canola oil

1. Marinate pork tenderloins: Place a wire rack inside a medium-sized rimmed baking sheet, and set aside. Whisk together brown sugar, salt, smoked paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, and ground mustard in a small bowl. Pour sugar mixture into a gallon-size Ziploc plastic bag, add pork, and seal well. Shake bag until pork is coated. Let stand 5 minutes; shake bag again to coat pork. Remove pork from bag, and transfer to prepared rack; discard sugar mixture if any remains. Refrigerate, uncovered, 8 to 12 hours.
2. Preheat grill to medium high (400°F to 450°F). Remove pork from refrigerator; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Gently brush pork with oil (do not brush off dry rub).
3. Grill: Place pork on oiled grates; grill, uncovered, turning occasionally, until charred in spots and an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest portion of pork registers 140°F, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from grill; let stand 15 minutes. (Temperature will rise to 145°F.) Slice and serve.
Per Serving: 302 Calories; 9g Fat (28.3% calories from fat); 38g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 118mg Cholesterol; 2876mg Sodium; 14g Total Sugars; 1mcg Vitamin D; 28mg Calcium; 2mg Iron; 752mg Potassium; 447mg Phosphorus.

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