Get new posts by email:

Archives

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.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

BOOK READING (from Carolyn):

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.

Scroll down to the bottom to view my Blogroll

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.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

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.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

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!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

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.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

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.

Posted in Fish, Salads, on September 15th, 2023.

A fabulous recipe from my friend Linda. It’s a favorite of hers.

My friend Linda is a great cook. My guess is she cooks more than I do, and she’s also a single person. She had told me about this recipe some time back and she recently made it again for guests and took a photo and sent me the recipe, asking if I’d like to post it on the blog. I said yes, sure would! Originally the recipe came from Ina Garten, but as Linda has made it over and over, she’s adapted it some. For one thing, Linda felt there was too much shrimp in it (Ina called for 2 pounds). And she altered the amount of veggies in it too.

There are a four steps to this recipe: (1) cook the orzo; (2) make the dressing; (3) roast the shrimp; (4) combine the orzo, the dressing, the shrimp and add dill, parsley, cucumber, red onion and feta cheese. The dish is served at room temperature. You can make it a day ahead and bring it out to warm a bit before serving. Just taste it for salt and pepper before serving. Linda says everyone who has had this loves it.

What’s GOOD: the nice big shrimp and orzo combination. The lemon juice-based dressing adds a nice acidity to the dish. Great for hot weather.

What’s NOT: nothing that Linda mentioned.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Roasted Shrimp and Orzo

Recipe: Adapted from Ina Garten
Servings: 5

3/4 pound orzo pasta — a rice shaped pasta
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice — from about 3 lemons
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/4 pounds shrimp — peeled and deveined, 21-25/lb
3/4 cup minced scallion — white and green parts
3/4 whole hothouse cucumber — unpeeled, seeded, and medium-diced
1/2 cup red onion — diced
6 ounces feta cheese — large diced
1/2 cup fresh dill — chopped
3/4 cup Italian parsley — chopped
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. Fill a large pot with water, add salt and a splash of oil, and bring the water to a boil.
3. Add the orzo and simmer for 9 to 11 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it’s cooked al dente. Drain and pour into a large bowl.
4. Meanwhile, whisk together the lemon juice, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Pour over the hot pasta and stir well.
5. Place the shrimp on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to combine and spread out in a single layer. Roast for 5 to 6 minutes, until the shrimp are cooked through. Don’t overcook!
6. Add the shrimp to the orzo and then add the scallions, dill, parsley, cucumber, onion, salt and pepper to taste. Toss well. Add the feta and stir carefully. If the feta is quite salty, be careful adding salt to the salad.
7, Set aside at room temperature for 1 hour to allow the flavors to blend, or refrigerate overnight. If refrigerated, taste again for seasonings and bring back to room temperature before serving.
Per Serving: 659 Calories; 31g Fat (41.7% calories from fat); 38g Protein; 59g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 213mg Cholesterol; 1232mg Sodium; 5g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 296mg Calcium; 4mg Iron; 696mg Potassium; 517mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Chicken, on September 8th, 2023.

OMGoodness. Was this ever beyond delicious.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote up a post about Vivian Howard’s book, This Will Make It Taste Good. And about my friend Cherrie and I getting together to cook for a day and making three of the flavor enhancers Vivian shares in the book. This post is about the one called Red Weapons.

To make this chicken and grits, you need to make the Red Weapons. They’re not hard – not in the least. But it is a separate process, and they need to be made a day ahead, at least. The red weapons mixture Vivian says will keep in the frig for 3 months. It’s a pickled kind of mixture but also contains EVOO.

What’s in it? First you cut up 2 pounds of tomatoes, put them in a bowl. Glass one if you have it. Then in a big saucepan you combine green onions, jalapenos, fresh ginger, garlic, cumin, mustard seeds, cayenne, turmeric, brown sugar, EVOO, salt, unseasoned rice wine vinegar and white wine vinegar. The mixture is heated to a boil then it’s poured over the bowl of tomatoes. It’s set aside to sit, for many hours, or even overnight. This allows all those flavors to mingle – once you refrigerate this it will stop the flavor-mingling. Because of all the vinegar it contains, it IS a pickling liquid, but tempered by the EVOO. While you heat it up and then pour all that hot liquid over the tomatoes, it semi-cooks the mixture. The tomatoes stay relatively intact.

The recipe below makes twice this amount, pictured. At right is a quart of it (half). The EVOO is sitting there on top and the red weapons and the pickling liquid below that (called for separately in most of the recipes that accompanied the red weapons recipe in the cookbook). If you make this, store it in a wide mouthed glass container (do NOT use plastic). Or you can divide the mixture into several smaller containers – just use wide mouthed ones as the congealed EVOO on top makes it hard to get to the goodies underneath.

WARNING: turmeric stains everything it touches. There’s only 1 1/2 teaspoons in the entire batch, but it gets on everything –  your counter, your clean-up sponge, and if you mop any of it up with a paper towel, you’ll sure know there’s turmeric in it. But you can’t taste the turmeric at all. Funny how that is. The tomatoes and jalapenos are the primary flavors here. Ideally the mixture is left out at room temp overnight, then it’s refrigerated.

In the cookbook, Vivian suggests you can use the red weapons for these things: on any kind of cooked egg, added to braising liquid (stews, soups), mixed into cooked rice or beans, as a sauce or marinade for grains, legumes or pasta salads, added to reheated chicken or pork, a marinade for ceviche or a dressing for crudos, chopped up with fresh herbs as a salsa, blended with mayo for a dipping sauce and stirred into potato, chicken, shrimp or tuna salad. Recipes in the cookbook include: pickled shrimp, a breakfast casserole with sausage, bread and cheese, in deviled eggs, as a condiment for fish, beef or lamb tartare, added to fried chicken, Vivian’s sausage sauce (Sunday sauce) served over broccoli, not pasta, with greens on mozzarella toast, plus several vinaigrettes.

Now, we can get on to the Chicken and Grits recipe. First, I made a huge mess trying to extract the cup of red weapons (the stuff underneath).  I removed about half of the EVOO covering it, then dug deep into the glass container to get to the goodies. You need a cup of red weapons and 1/2 cup of the pickling liquid.

I didn’t have skin-on chicken thighs, so I used boneless, skinless ones. They were lightly browned in a skillet – the big, huge 12-inch Lodge cast iron one. They were removed, then you add a chopped up leek to the fat in the pan. As it began to soften I mushed them a bit so they’d separate into rings. Then garlic is added, then the grits, the red weapons, the red weapons liquid, milk and water. The recipe suggested adding more salt, but I didn’t think it was needed. The picture here at right is of the thighs nestled into the grits (which is very liquid at this point).

If you’re using skin-on thighs, they’re nestled into the mixture and the pan goes into a 375°F oven. With skinless thighs, I baked the grits for 20 minutes, then nestled the thighs into the grits mixture to finish cooking them. The total bake time is 40 minutes and you let the pan cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Vivian suggested serving the grits with another one of her flavor bombs, a mixture called herbdacious. I haven’t posted that recipe yet. I had guests the night I made this chicken, and we did use some of the herbdacious on the top and I agree, it made it even better.

What’s GOOD: I’ll say it again – OMGoodness. So good. There is very little fat in this (except for the chicken skin if you use it plus a tablespoon of EVOO used to brown the chicken). There’s no butter, no cream. The red weapons provide a wonderful flavor to everything – chicken and the grits. I will be making this again and again – providing I have some red weapons in my refrigerator.

What’s NOT: well, only that you need to plan ahead at least a day to make the Red Weapons first, then the chicken and grits later.

RED WEAPONS: printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook file (click link to open)

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chicken and Grits with Red Weapons

Recipe By: Vivian Howard, This Will Make It Taste Good
Servings: 4

4 chicken thighs — bone in, if possible
2 teaspoons kosher salt — divided
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 whole leek — white and light green parts, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
3 garlic cloves — thinly sliced
1 cup grits — stone ground (Albers brand, if possible)
1 cup Red Weapons — roughly chopped
1/2 cup Red Weapon pickling liquid — here)
2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups water

NOTE: if you make this with boneless, skinless chicken thighs, go ahead and bake the grits for about 20 minutes (half the time), then add the boneless, skinless thighs to the mixture, nestling them down into the grits. It will still take 40 minutes altogether, but the chicken won’t overcook.
1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. Season chicken thighs with 2 tsp of salt.
3. In a 12-inch ovenproof skillet or braising pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Brown chicken skin side down, until nicely caramelized. Take the chicken out of the pan and set aside.
4. Lower the heat slightly and add the leeks, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the pan. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, until the leeks have softened (and break them apart as they soften) and picked up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic and stir for about a minute, then stir in the grits, the chopped Red Weapons, the Red Weapons liquid, milk, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt (taste to see if it’s needed), and 1 1/2 cups water. Make sure everything is mixed together in a homogeneous way and that nothing is stuck on the bottom of the pan.
5. Nestle the thighs on top of the grits mixture. They will sink a bit because the grits are watery at this point, but as long as the browned chicken skin peeks out, all is good. Slide the skillet onto the center rack of the oven and bake for 40 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer in the chicken reaches 165°F.
6. Remove skillet and allow it to cool for about 5 minutes before serving. If desired, this would be great dotted with a little Herbdacious.
Per Serving: 721 Calories; 43g Fat (54.7% calories from fat); 40g Protein; 41g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 201mg Cholesterol; 1375mg Sodium; 7g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 173mg Calcium; 2mg Iron; 657mg Potassium; 445mg Phosphorus.

– – – – – – –

* Exported from MasterCook *

Red Weapons – Tomatoes

Recipe By: Vivian Howard, This Will Make It taste Good
Servings: 16

2 pounds plum tomatoes — cut into quarters lengthwise
1 bunch scallions — sliced thin
5 jalapeños — sliced into thin rings
3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
3 tablespoons minced garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 1/2 tablespoons mustard seeds — yellow or brown
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt — plus 1 teaspoon
1/2 cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar
3/4 cup white wine vinegar

NOTES: Store this mixture in glass containers as the turmeric will stain plastic. Wear an apron. Use a wide mouth glass jar, or several, to store this. You can use all of the ingredients – the oil by itself for flavoring/frying, the juice to add a piquancy to dishes, and the tomato mixture to flavor a bigger dish of something.
1. Put the tomatoes in a large, wide, heatproof bowl that is plenty large enough to hold all the ingredients. Assemble and start to “pickle” my weapons on the counter, which lets the flavors marry as they cool down. Then, once they’re mixed together and have reached room temperature, transfer to smaller containers suitable for the fridge getting an equal amount of oil, tomatoes and liquid in each one. (This recipe is sized to just barely fit into two quart-size mason jars, but you may have a little extra. While you can try to pull it all together directly in the jars, that might just be a big mess waiting to happen.)
2. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, bring all the ingredients except for the tomatoes and the olive oil to a boil over medium heat. Let it boil for 1 minute. Then add the olive oil and bring back to a boil. Immediately pour over the tomatoes in the big bowl, pressing them down to make sure they are submerged.
3. Let the tomatoes and the liquid cool to room temperature without the aid of an ice bath or anything to speed the process along. If you’ve got room in your fridge, the big bowl can go in there. But if the weapons sit out at room temperature overnight, that’s totally fine. The more slowly they cool down, the more quickly they will pickle. Once they’ve cooled, transfer the pickled tomatoes to jars and refrigerate for a minimum of 3 days or up to 3 months. Do not freeze.
Per Serving: 243 Calories; 21g Fat (75.5% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 443mg Sodium; 12g Total Sugars; 0mcg Vitamin D; 28mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 201mg Potassium; 28mg Phosphorus.
MORE NOTES: Once they’ve spent a few days in the frig, you’ll notice Twin B, the olive oil component, rises to the top and creates a lid over Twin A, the pickling liquid and the tomatoes and other solid stuff. This act of science makes the weapons and their offspring easy to separate from one another, but it’s not a pretty process. You’ll likely find yourself with your hand in the jar and a puddle on the counter. It’s easier to do if the mixture is cold. These are good on eggs, in braising liquids or soups, mashed with guacamole,, on cream cheese, mixed into cooked rice or beans, a sauce or marinade for grain, legume or pasta salads, with leftover chicken or pork, chopped with fresh herbs for salsa, blended with mayo as a dip, or stirred into potato, chicken, shrimp or tuna salad.

Posted in Appetizers, Cookbooks, Fish, on September 1st, 2023.

You are going to love these. I mean it.

In my last post I told you about Vivian Howard’s latest cookbook, This Will Make It Taste Good, and about the various “flavor heroes,” she calls them, that she relies upon in her restaurant and home cooking. To make this recipe above, however, you have to make one of her flavor heroes, the one she calls the “Little Green Dress.” Hereon referred to as LGD! I suppose that’s a take on every woman’s need for a “little black dress,” except that here, the color is decidedly green, not black.

The flavor hero recipe has a preponderance of Castelvetrano olives in it, plus shallots, garlic, vinegar, capers, some anchovies (which you don’t taste at all – but you know – anchovies are one of the umami flavors), fresh parsley, fresh mint, EVOO, hot sauce and salt. You pour this into a clean glass jar, and if you haven’t used it within a few days, pour a little layer of EVOO on top so it doesn’t spoil. It will keep for several weeks that way.

If you’re not familiar with Castelvetrano olives . . . well, they’re a more ripe olive than the traditional green olives – not in color, just in how they pickle them, I guess. They have a milder flavor and they’re not as piquant (sour).

Once you make this flavor hero, then you add some of it to – – in this case it’s canned tuna, a little bit of mayo, and some minced celery and you’ve got a fantastic lunch. Vivian slices avocado and puts that on the cracker first, then piles it with the tuna salad. I forgot the avocado that day, but I made it again the following day, and used some avocado on one, and a sliced egg on the other.

You may THINK this is not worth the trouble, but I’m tellin’ you, it is. I don’t think I’ve ever had canned tuna taste this great. I’m serious. When my friend Cherrie and I got together to make three of the flavor heroes, we made this tuna salad cracker for our lunch. Cherrie and I were both blown away by how flavorful it is. FYI: I buy the line-caught Wild Planet albacore tuna from Costco (blue can, in a stack of about 5).

But, I do need to tell you about Wasa crispbread crackers. I remember them vaguely from my youth – my mother used to buy them. I have no recollection what we ate them with. They come in various grain flavors – I bought the whole grain. They’re not a good cracker to eat by themselves – even Vivian Howard says they taste kind of like cardboard. But they have a very unique characteristic (not mentioned in the book) that once you pick up that little slate of cracker, piled with goodies, you can bite into it without risking cracking the whole cracker and making a big mess. It stays intact as you munch on down. I suppose you could make the tuna salad and use other crackers, but I’m certainly a fan now, of Wasa crackers. I don’t know whether all grocery stores have them – I finally found them at my small, independent market near me.

It’s been two days since I had this for my lunch, and as I write, I’m craving another serving of those tuna crackers.

What’s GOOD: (the flavor hero, the LGD): so unique, and I hope to find more ways to use it. The cookbook includes many recipes using small amounts of it. (The tuna cracker): it’s sensational. I’m craving it. So delicious. Once you have the LGD made, it’s so very easy to make the tuna salad and you’ve got a simple but flavor-packed lunch.

What’s NOT: well, if you’re not willing to put in the effort to make the LGD, then you won’t be able to enjoy the flavor of the tuna snack crackers. I’m telling you, you don’t want to miss this flavor puch. FOMO!

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

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

* * Exported from MasterCook *

Tuna Salad Snack Crackers

Recipe By: Vivian Howard, This Will Make It Taste Good
Servings: 4

10 ounces canned tuna — water-packed, drained, can use up to 12 ounces tuna
1/2 cup celery — finely diced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt — [might be too much – taste first]
1/2 cup Little Green Dress
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 large avocado — halved, pitted, peeled, sliced
Juice of one lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt — optional
8 whole Wasa Fiber Whole Grain Crispbread

NOTE: if you don’t have avocado, sliced hardboiled egg will do. One of the big benefits of Wasa crackers is that when you bite into them, they will not break apart in your hand.
1. Place drained tuna in a medium bowl and break apart some. Stir in celery, salt, Little Green Dress (LGD) and mayonnaise. Stir well. Set aside.
2. Cut avocado into slices and squeeze lemon juice over avocado and season with the 1/4 teaspoon salt. if needed.
3. Divide avocado slices on crackers and spoon tuna mixture on top. Serve immediately. Two slices make a very adequate lunch portion.
Per Serving: 327 Calories; 19g Fat (41.9% calories from fat); 21g Protein; 37g Carbohydrate; 16g Dietary Fiber; 27mg Cholesterol; 980mg Sodium; 1g Total Sugars; 1mcg Vitamin D; 81mg Calcium; 4mg Iron; 725mg Potassium; 134mg Phosphorus.

– – – – – – –

* * Exported from MasterCook *

Little Green Dress

Recipe By: Vivian Howard, This Will Make It Taste Good
Servings: 20 (approximate)

2 medium shallots — peeled
2 cloves garlic — peeled
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2/3 cup Castelvetrano olives — pitted
1 1/2 tablespoons capers — rinsed
2 anchovy fillets — oil-packed
1 bunch Italian parsley — about 1 cup
1/2 cup fresh mint — packed
1/2 cup EVOO
grated zest of one lemon
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon hot sauce — [I used Frank’s]
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

NOTES: Spoon on baked potatoes, dollop on steak, roast chicken, lamb, pork or fish. Add to salad with creamy cheese., on scrambled eggs, on top of soup, with guacamole on toast, in chicken, potato or egg salad, on top of deviled eggs, simmer with ground meat for tacos, spread on top of pizza, as filling for quesadillas. Or thin with oil to make a vinaigrette.
1. In a small food processor, puree shallots and garlic, then stir in a small bowl with red wine vinegar. Allow to pickle for awhile, about 20 minutes before continuing. Set aside.
2. Mince pitted olives, capers and anchovies in food processor. Transfer to a medium bowl. Pick leaves and smaller stems from parsley and mint and mince in the food processor. It may take awhile to get it all processed. Transfer herbs to the bowl with olive mixture.
3. Add vinegar-shallot-garlic mixture, olive oil, lemon zest and juice, hot sauce and salt to the bowl with everything else. Stir it all together and let this puddle of green sit for a minimum of 30 minutes. This will keep for a month in a sealed container in your fridge as long as you submerge it with a layer of olive oil.
Per Serving: 52 Calories; 6g Fat (92.7% calories from fat); trace Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; trace Cholesterol; 96mg Sodium; trace Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 7mg Calcium; trace Iron; 22mg Potassium; 4mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Cookbooks, on August 25th, 2023.

This Will Make It Taste Good: A New Path to Simple Cooking by Vivian Howard  | Oct 20, 2020 - Fieldshop by Garden & GunIt isn’t often that I devote a blog post to a cookbook, but this one is so unusual that I needed to. Everything about this cookbook, This Will Make It Taste Good, is unusual, IMHO.

So, let’s back up a bit . . . I really admire Vivian Howard. I have her first book, Deep Run Roots, which is more an homage to her unique little town, Kinston, North Carolina, than it is anything else. There are recipes, lots of beautiful photographs and plenty of down-south kind of stories about the bountiful produce and meat that come from the South. But more specifically to her locale. Kinston is a tiny, tiny town. When she and her husband (Ben, now her ex-husband) moved back to her home town they decided to open a restaurant. They did – she was the chef, and that’s the series A Chef’s Life she created for a year or two. That’s when lots of people fell in love with her witty, down-home, no-nonsense style. I had a reservation at her restaurant in 2020, and then Covid hit. No travel, no restaurant eating, nada. My trip to see one of my granddaughters graduate from Clemson got canceled. Well, we all remember – everything got canceled.

That year of mostly lock-down was so difficult. As a widow I struggled some with the loneliness. I waved to my neighbor occasionally. I saw people outside my car when I picked up online groceries and they delivered them to my car. A few times in those first months I took a drive in my car – just to get out of the house. There were hardly any cars on the road. It was eerie, like we’d just survived some gigantic earth shift or a global catastrophe. But other than that, was it a whole year we stayed at home? It was ugly. Just sayin’.

For Vivian, their Kinston restaurant closed (and has stayed closed since – I think she said somewhere that it was very difficult to get help because of the very rural outpost of a town it’s in). During Covid, she stayed home helping to raise their twins (and she was still married then) and she decided to write another cookbook, this one. She’s since opened a restaurant in Charleston.

THIS BOOK: Over the years of being a chef, she adapted recipes from lots of places and created lots of her own, obviously. She went about creating 8 or 9 “flavor heroes,” she calls them. These are recipes/concoctions she makes regularly that she uses to enhance all kinds of other things (finished dishes – other recipes, meaning they’re added TO something) from appetizers, main dishes, to salads and veggies, to desserts. She created them for the restaurant, and I think I remember correctly, she eventually had an employee make these up in gigantic batches. It was probably her full time job! She sells them online too (for a steep price) at Handy & Hot (in Charleston).

So far I’ve made three of them (the ones pictured). It’s a bit difficult to categorize this book – to explain the flavor heroes. All of them have very unusual names – not necessarily explanatory about what they are. Like the first one, the very first one she created, she titled “Little Green Dress.” In texture it looks kind of like pesto, but trust me, it’s NOT pesto.

Another one she called “Red Weapons.” It’s a tomato based concoction that separates into 3 layers once finished and the various layers are used in different ways, separately, or in various quantities in another dish. It’s very labor intensive to prepare, but you end up with double the amount you see at right (which is four cups – so it makes eight cups). My friend Cherrie and I got together for an entire day and made the three pictured here). Since Cherrie and I shared it, four cups is about right for me!

Another one is called “Herbdacious,” and that’ll be the one I’ll post first.  We made a wonderful tuna salad crunchy cracker thing for lunch for ourselves using herbdacious, and we prepared meatloaf using one of them. Might have been the first flavor hero one, LGD. Both are green, one more chunky than the other and totally different flavor profiles. I haven’t yet baked the meatloaf, but I’ll post all about it eventually.

There’s an unusual sauerkraut flavor hero, another with preserved lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruit (like preserved lemons that we know, but with the added other citrus fruits). Another one she calls “Community Organizer,” which has a very interesting provenance (you’ll have to read the book). Mostly that one is added to savory dishes, also tomato based. Another one is called “Quirky Furki Umami” which is seaweed driven. Another is called “R-rated onions” (mostly they’re caramelized onions).

So far I’ve only tasted the herbdacious used in the tuna salad on a cracker, and all I can say is that it was fabulous. I cannot WAIT to make it again – I think I have enough to do that from the leftovers. The herbdacious provided flavors that just burst in your mouth.

Vivian is a GREAT writer – she’s so funny. I can imagine she’d have been a handful as a child. She writes for the magazine Garden & Gun – (it’s one of my favorite magazines) and with every issue I can’t wait to see what her new column has to say. If you’re anxious to try something, you’ll find the recipe for LGD if you click through to the magazine. Her columns are not always about food – one was about the dating life of a well-known chef (herself) when you’re in your 40s and haven’t dated for mostly two decades. It was LOL funny.

SO, this book . . . if you have someone in your life who is a good cook, and likes taking on some relatively heavy-duty cooking projects, he/she might find this book well worth it. You wouldn’t have to tackle three of these in a day like Cherrie and I did – you could do just one. I’m looking forward to trying the Red Weapons in a baked dish with feta cheese and shrimp (or swordfish). Even if you’re not a cook, but you enjoy good food, you might enjoy reading the book just for Vivian’s witty writing all by itself. This cookbook might not be for everyone because each recipe for a flavor hero is a bit of a challenge (maybe except for the R-rated onions). I can’t wait to start using some of the flavor heroes in my everyday cooking. But first, I’m digging out the leftover tuna mixture and will make myself another lunch of crackers with it.

Posted in Cookies, Desserts, on August 18th, 2023.

Brownies – oh my – so rich and decadent. A different technique.

Today, I’m also philosophizing a bit about cookbooks. If you want to jump to the recipe write-up, scroll down further.

Lately, I’ve been having a talk with myself. About my cookbooks. My couple-hundred or three-hundred cookbooks. And don’t get me wrong, I love my cookbooks. But how often do I really go to those shelves to look or hunt for recipes? Truthfully, not all that often. Case in point . . . this recipe. I had decided to make some brownies. But as I looked through my MasterCook recipes on my computer, not a one jumped out at me. I wanted to try something new, and there were only about 5 or 6 brownie recipes that I hadn’t made before, and none suited me. So I went to my more recent cookbook purchases . . . so maybe I should say here . . . I still buy cookbooks, even though I tell myself not to. Sometimes I give in and buy one anyway. I’ve had to resort to storing my cookbooks in various other places in my house. Some are upstairs in my study (mostly cookbooks I can’t give up but rarely view), others are on various shelves and cupboards in my kitchen and family room. I’ve begun having to stack a cookbook or two sideways on top of a shelf full of cookbooks. I’m running out of room. And you may recall, about 3-4 years ago I donated at least 100 cookbooks, ones I almost never referred to. It’s an addiction. What can I tell you?

So, let’s talk for a minute about cookbook writing . . . in many of my older cookbooks there are very few author notes. In the cookbook world those are called “headnotes.” That little paragraph – tucked in between the title and the list of ingredients. In most of the recipes from the Joy of Cooking, there are NO headnotes. Even some of the old tomes from Betty Crocker and such, there are no notes to give you an idea about the recipe – you know, the things like “the reduced balsamic glaze is what makes this dish special.” Or, “don’t eliminate the almond extract even though there’s only 1/4 teaspoon in it.” I do love those headnotes, so going to my more recent cookbooks there were lots of headnotes. I grabbed one book after another, still hunting for just the right brownie recipe to try, not finding anything that I fancied. I have several books that are just about baking. Nothing there, either.

I’ve been thinking, that in my spare time (oh dear, do I really have any?) I should go through all of my cookbooks and mark them with sticky notes. Maybe I should add the actual recipes to my MasterCook online file. We’re talking thousands here! What a lot of work. I don’t know that I have it in me! Would you? But when I’m thinking about a recipe, what I don’t do, usually, is go hunt in my cookbooks. Part of that is the intervention of the internet. We need only go to a browser, put in a search term, “brownies” and the internet will provide hundreds. Likely thousands of recipes. Magazine recipes seem to come up first. Now that Bon Appetit and that group charge to access their recipe files, I’m no longer a fan. I subscribe to numerous food magazines so why wouldn’t I have access to the recipes online? When my subscriptions run out for a few of them I’m going to let them lapse. This practice annoys me. So far, Southern Living, Sunset, Food & Wine, and Garden & Gun are free for internet searching and browsing. If any of those begin charging a fee to access online I might just drop those subscriptions too.

I do have a subscription to EatYourBooks, a website that keeps track of all the cookbooks one owns (obviously you have to input the titles into your “library”), and as time has gone on, people have indexed all the recipes in most cookbooks out there. And so, let’s say I want to make lamb stew. I can go to my EatYourBooks website and hunt for “lamb stew,” and it will tell me what cookbooks I own contain a recipe for lamb stew. Then I have to go find the book and look it up. I was very enamored with the idea at first, and I used it quite often. But as time has gone on, I don’t research things there very much anymore. In this case, I could have gone there, input “brownies” and probably gotten a list a mile long for brownies. I just did a search and it provided me with 130 entries. Probably if I were to be searching for a recipe for brownies that contain sour cream, I could have done a more refined search and found fewer (a more manageable) number of recipes to locate. Some of the ingredients are listed along with the titles. In this case, I didn’t have a preconceived idea about ingredients in my brownies. So that website wouldn’t have helped me unless I were willing to devote a lot of time researching brownie recipes in my cookbook results. As it is, the cookbook I eventually used I don’t have listed in my “library.” Obviously I need to update the list!

So, I kept perusing my cookbook shelves and pulled out an old one. Actually I bought the book used, probably about 10 years ago, but it’s from 1987. The Nantucket Open-House Cookbook. Sarah Leah Chase is an accomplished chef and cookbook author. She likely has 8-10 cookbooks to her name, the most famous she co-authored with Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso (the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook and  Silver Palate Desserts). The work on those books put her on the map in the culinary world. She wrote two little cookbooks (on her own and all her other books are her own, not shared authoring) about bicycling, with food in mind, through France (in general) and the other one through Burgundy. I’ve made several recipes from those books over the years.

THE BROWNIES: There was one brownie recipe in this cookbook, and it was the headnotes that grabbed me front and center. Chase owns (or owned, I don’t know) a food shop/bakery on Nantucket, and these brownies were a regular on the menu. Everyone wanted the recipe – nobody could figure out what made them different. They were a bit crusty on the top but dense and almost wet inside. Finally, Chase decided to share the recipe in this cookbook. She explains that the recipe origin was Maida Heatter’s Palm Beach Brownies, but Chase made a few changes, mostly in the technique. When I went online, there is a bakery in Indiana with Chase’s original name from her Nantucket store, Que Sera Sarah. So maybe she’s now moved to the Midwest.

And, indeed, these brownies use three very unusual techniques. First, the 10-minute batter (sugar, eggs, extracts, espresso powder, salt) is whipped up at high speed in a stand mixer for 10 minutes (yes, TEN minutes). Set the timer; don’t guess. Secondly, they are baked in pure convection. Apparently that’s what creates the top crust of the brownie – it hardens almost. And lastly, the brownies must be refrigerated a minimum of 6 hours before even removing from the baking pan or cutting.

The batter is easy enough to put together – but as I mentioned just above, the sugar and egg mixture has to be mixed at high speed for 10 minutes. Makes the batter very airy. It’s interesting that you do that because the finished brownies are very dense. Once poured into a foil-lined and butter-greased 9×13 pan, they bake with pure convection for 25 minutes at 350°F. And they’re to be removed from the oven immediately. No guesswork – she suggests you stick a toothpick in and there should be WET batter on the toothpick. I used a metal pick and there were some wet crumbs, so I hope I didn’t over bake them.

When they come out, I guess, they’re way too soft to manipulate. They cool in the pan (so that probably took about 2 hours), then need to be refrigerated for 6 hours or overnight. I lasted about 4 hours before I removed the foil sling from the 9×13 pan (and because they were cold, they came out of the pan easily in a nice big slab) and cut off one end and sliced it up for the photo at top. I have to confess – I forgot to add the walnuts. Crazy me! I’d taken the walnuts out of the freezer, put them in a bowl and into the microwave just to take the frozen chill off of them. Then promptly forgot to add them to the batter. Oh well. I’ll probably freeze most of these brownies – there’s no reason they wouldn’t freeze well enough. I’m guessing you’re supposed to keep them in the refrigerator. Not sure, as the recipe doesn’t say. Just that the finished brownies must be refrigerated before removing from the foil sling and sliced up.

What’s GOOD: the brownies are really good. They’re very sweet – I might use a bit less sugar if I made them again (like 3 cups instead of 3 1/2 cups). The chocolate flavor certainly comes through, and the texture is almost fudgy, but it’s not fudge by any means. Hard to describe. Definitely these are not light, cake-type brownies; far denser than that. And yes, there definitely is a little crust on the top too. It’s not thick enough to be visible except from a side view, but yes, it has a bit of a bite to it. Guess you’ll have to make them yourself and come up with a better description of the texture. Help me out here if you do.

What’s NOT: only that it has some unusual techniques – the 10 minutes of batter-mixing, and the 6+ hour of refrigeration before cutting and eating. And you need a convection oven to make these exactly as the author does.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Brownies – Sarah Leah Chase

Recipe By: Sarah Leah Chase, Open-House Cookbook
Servings: 25 (or more if you cut them smaller)

8 ounces unsweetened chocolate
8 ounces unsalted butter
5 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons espresso powder
3 1/2 cups granulated sugar — [next time I would try 3 cups]
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour — sifted
8 ounces walnuts — (large halves) or large pecans, optional (chopped)

1. Preheat convection oven to 350ºF.
2. Line a 9 x 13 pan with foil. Butter the foil.
3. Place the chocolate and butter in the top of a large double broiler over hot water on moderate heat, or in a medium-sized, but heavy saucepan over low heat. Stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are melted and smooth. Do not let the chocolate burn on the bottom. Remove from the heat and set aside.
4. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the vanilla and almond extracts, salt, espresso powder, sugar and flour at high speed for 10 minutes. On low speed, add the chocolate mixture and beat only until mixed. Remove the bowl from the mixer.
5. Stir in the nuts and pour into the prepared pan. Smooth the top.
6. Bake for 25 minutes – the brownie will have a thick, crisp crust on top, but if you insert a toothpick into the middle, it will come out wet and covered with chocolate. Do not over bake.
7. Remove pan from the oven and let stand until cool. Refrigerate the brownie for a few hours or overnight, or place it in the freezer for at least 6 hours.
8. Cut the brownies using a long, heavy knife with a sharp blade. Serve as is, or in a square shape with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.
Per Serving: 336 Calories; 19g Fat (49.1% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 39g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 57mg Cholesterol; 122mg Sodium; 28g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 25mg Calcium; 2mg Iron; 143mg Potassium; 97mg Phosphorus.

Posted in Salad Dressings, Salads, on August 11th, 2023.

Can you tell I made this on the 4th of July?

I think I bought those salad servers for Sara about 10 years or so ago. They were perfect for this family gathering. See that lovely wedge of caramelized fennel in the center? THAT is the star of this dish, by far. If you’re not familiar with fennel, you should be. In its raw form I chop it up finely (or shave it with the peeler) in my regular green salads I have many nights of the week. Fennel has a kind of licorice taste – but it’s faint – don’t think licorice sticks at all. Once roasted, the fennel becomes smooth and satiny in flavor. Me-loves-fennel either raw or roasted!

Here’s the sheetpan of fennel, bacon and pancetta:

Salad: In this case I had baby spinach, arugula and some Romaine for the salad. The fennel, bacon (and pancetta, as I had both), garlic, brown sugar (I used Monkfruit), olive oil, salt and pepper are tossed together, then roasted on a sheetpan for about 30-40 minutes. You want the bacon to be crispy. After roasting let the pan sit out until you’re ready to dress the salad.

Meanwhile, make the simple red wine vinegar-lemon juice-honey and oil dressing. SOOO good all on its own, but it’s the perfect counterpoint to the salad. When you’re ready to serve, combine all the salad greens in the bowl, toss with some of the dressing, then add in the fennel and bacon (and pancetta), and add more dressing until just the right balance. Taste for salt and pepper (I don’t think it needed either). Serve immediately. My notes say that Phillis Carey made this at a cooking class. I don’t know why I never told you about this recipe before – since it’s so good! I found the recipe online (Giada) although she used only pancetta in her salad. Hence, since I had both bacon and pancetta, I used some of both.

What’s GOOD: oh, this salad was so unctuous. The fennel is the star, as I mentioned above. You’ll wish you had 3 or 4 wedges of it on your salad portion, it’s that good. The sturdy greens were perfect for the salad and the red wine vinegar dressing was just right to cut the richness of the bacon. Must of salad can be readied ahead of time.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. You do have to prep the fennel and roast the bacon and fennel together – that takes a bit of time, but it’s time well spent when you taste the finished salad.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Caramelized Bacon and Fennel Salad

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from a Phillis Carey cooking class, 2019
Servings: 4

1 bulb fennel bulb — halved and cut into 1/2-inch wedges
5 slices thick-sliced bacon — cut into thin narrow strips, or pancetta, or a mix of both
2 cloves garlic — minced
1 tablespoon brown sugar — (or Monkfruit Brown)
1 tablespoon EVOO
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 ounces mixed salad greens — about 6 to 7 cups to serve 4 (I used baby spinach, arugula and Romaine)
VINAIGRETTE:
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup EVOO

1. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, toss together fennel, bacon (and/or pancetta), garlic, brown sugar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place the ingredients on the baking sheet in a single layer. Cook until the bacon is crisp and the fennel is caramelized, about 25-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Can be made ahead an hour or so – allow to sit at room temp until ready to prepare the salad.
3. In a large bowl, place the salad greens, crumbled bacon and caramelized fennel. Toss the salad with the Red Wine Vinaigrette and serve immediately.
4. VINAIGRETTE: Mix the vinegar, lemon juice, honey, salt, and pepper in a jar with a tight lid. Add oil, screw the lid tight and shake to mix well. Refrigerate unless you’re using it right away. Season the vinaigrette, to taste, with more salt and pepper, if desired. Don’t overdo the acid (red wine vinegar and lemon juice) as you want the dressing to have a good balance. Dip a spinach leaf into the dressing and taste it to see if the dressing needs more oil or acid.
Per Serving: 331 Calories; 30g Fat (80.6% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 23mg Cholesterol; 739mg Sodium; 7g Total Sugars; trace Vitamin D; 51mg Calcium; 1mg Iron; 400mg Potassium; 101mg Phosphorus.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...