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Just finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome/the Pope because he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, Margaret of York, later titled Countess of Salisbury, but a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many.

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Tasting Spoons

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

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Posted in Beef, on February 24th, 2015.

beef_in_barolo

 

Can’t you just tell how fork-tender that roast is? It cut like soft butter, and oh, was it full of flavor! It’s marinated overnight in a red wine mixture, then cooked on low, or in a slow cooker for hours and hours. Then the marinade, which was the cooking liquid also, became the sauce. Hope it’s okay that I use the word “yum.” Such a trite and over-used word, but, gosh it was.

It’s been ages since I’ve fixed a chuck roast. I mean ages. I have a recipe here on my blog from 2010 for a French pot roast, that’s just succulent and wonderful. Worthy of a company meal. I’ve been making that version for 40+ years – it’s on my list of favs, it’s so delish. This one is similar, but it’s an Italian version and done in the slow cooker. It uses Italian wine, pancetta, veggies and Tuscan herbs. And the sauce, oh my yes, that gravy was divine. I’d have liked to have that as a bowl of that gravy as soup, except it’s probably too rich for that. The recipe came from Diane Phillips, at a class my friend Cherrie and I took recently. Diane prepared recipes from one or more of her books. Diane has authored a whole bunch of cookbooks. She’s a blond Italian, and owns a home in Umbria that she and her husband/family visit with regularity. Every time she comes home she has a whole bunch of new recipes to try. I’ll be sharing several other recipes from the class. This was the stand-out, although everything she made was really good.

Cooking for one doesn’t lend itself very well to making this, unless I cut it way down in size and just ate it for a couple of meals. It would be better for a company meal. As I’m writing this, it’s been a couple of weeks ago that we went to the class and had this, and I’m craving it. Maybe I’ll have to plan a small group dinner and if I plan ahead, perhaps I can do it all. But really, this is done in the slow cooker, so how easy is that?

beef_barolo_1The meat is marinated overnight in a Barolo wine mixture with herbs and garlic. The marinade later becomes the cooking liquid and is also the sauce for it too. The meat is browned, then all the other stuff is added in (pancetta, onions, carrots, celery, dried porcini mushrooms [Diane adds this because she thinks a little bit of porcini mushroom bits – dried – add a lot of succulent flavor to long, slow cooked meats] and some demi-glace or a beef soup base. You can do this on the stovetop (instructions for both are given below) or in a slow cooker.

After the beef has become soft and tender, it’s removed, then  you make the gravy by adding a little beurre manié (butter kneaded with flour). If you like a thicker gravy, just make more of that mixture to add in and cook it a bit longer. Diane recommended this be served with garlic mashed potatoes, buttered noodles or some Tuscan white beans (recipe to come). I’d have liked to lick the plate if that tells you how much I loved this.

What’s GOOD: everything about it was wonderful. You do have to plan ahead since it marinates overnight. The beef becomes so tender, and the vegetables are still slightly visible (and colorful) so you can do with the meat/gravy, a carb and a salad or a vegetable, not both. Worth making and as I mentioned above, it’s elegant enough for a company meal. Doing it in the slow cooker makes it a no-brainer. The wine in this is the star of the show, really – it’s what flavors this throughout.

What’s NOT: only that you have to start this the day before.  And you’ll need to make the gravy at the last minute, but it will only take a few minutes.

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Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Italian Marinated Beef in Barolo (Slow Cooker or Stove Top)

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, cookbook author and instructor
Serving Size: 8

MARINADE:
1 bottle Barolo — (Italian red wine) 750 ml
4 cloves garlic — minced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary — finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried sage
2 whole bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
BEEF ROAST:
4 pounds chuck roast — boneless, trimmed of excess fat
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces pancetta — finely chopped
2 large yellow onions — finely chopped
4 medium carrots — finely chopped
3 stalks celery — finely chopped, including some of the leaves
2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms — crumbled
3 tablespoons Penzey’s beef soup base — or other soup base paste (or use demi-glace)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Italian parsley — chopped

1. STOVE TOP METHOD: In a large Ziploc plastic bag combine the marinade ingredients, then add the beef roast to it. Seal tight and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, or up to 24 hours, turning it over a couple of times. Remove the roast from the bag and SAVE the marinade. Pat dry the meat with paper towels.
2. In a large Dutch oven, heat oil over high heat and brown the meat on all sides. Remove meat to a plate and set aside.
3. Add pancetta to the pan and allow it to render fat, then add onions, carrots, celery and porcini mushrooms. Saute for 3-4 minutes, until the onion begins to soften. Add the reserved marinade and soup base (or demi-glace) and bring to a boil. Return the meat to the pot, cover and simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours, until the meat is FORK tender.
4. Remove meat from pan and cover with aluminum foil to keep it hot. Discard the bay leaves (this is important as you don’t want anyone to choke on the bay leaf hidden in the gravy) and skim off excess fat – use a couple of paper towels gently scrunched but still kind of flat, and wipe the towels across the top of the liquid and it will pick up most of the fat. Discard paper towel. Bring the sauce to a boil. Meanwhile, combine the softened butter and flour in a small bowl and using a whisk, slowly add the roux to the liquid in the pan. Continue whisking until sauce returns to a boil and is smooth and thickened. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the parsley – reserving just a little bit to sprinkle on top when served. Carve the meat and serve with the sauce on the side. This is wonderful served with buttered MASHED POTATOES, buttered NOODLES, or WHITE BEANS cooked with Tuscan herbs.
1. SLOW COOKER METHOD: In a large Ziploc plastic bag combine the marinade ingredients, then add the beef roast to it. Seal tight and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, or up to 24 hours, turning it over a couple of times. Remove the roast from the bag and SAVE the marinade. Pat dry the meat with paper towels.
2. In a large skillet (or if you have the kind of slow cooker with a removable metal pan, do this step in that insert) heat the oil and brown the meat on all sides. Place meat in the slow cooker. Add pancetta to the skillet, reduce heat to medium and cook until it renders some fat. Add onions, carrots, celery, and porcini mushrooms and saute for 3 minutes, or until the onion begins to soften. Add the marinade to the skillet, add soup base (or demi-glace) and bring to a boil. Continue boiling for 3 minutes, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Transfer to the slow cooker.
3. Cover and cook on LOW for 8-9 hours, until the meat is fork-tender. Remove meat from slow cooker and cover with aluminum foil. Discard bay leaves (important) and transfer the contents to a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Combine the butter and flour in a small bowl and whisk mixture into the sauce. Continue whisking until the sauce returns to a boil and is smooth and thickened. Season with salt and pepper and stir in most of the parsley. Carve the meat and serve with the sauce on the side. Sprinkle remaining parsley on top. If the sauce isn’t thick enough, add another small amount of butter/flour mixture until it’s thickened sufficiently. This can also be made with a beef brisket. This is wonderful served with buttered MASHED POTATOES, buttered NOODLES, or WHITE BEANS cooked with Tuscan herbs.
Per Serving: 660 Calories; 46g Fat (63.8% calories from fat); 43g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 149mg Cholesterol; 1681mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on February 24th, 2015:

    There’s a chuck roast in the freezer. Just need to get the wine, and this will go on the menu soon. My mouth is watering!

    It’s really good. I made it yesterday and will re-heat it for a big dinner I’m doing tonight. Potluck, so all I had to do was make this roast. Easy. . . carolyn

  2. hddonna

    said on February 26th, 2015:

    I’ll bet it went over well! I may not be able to find a Barolo at my local supermarket, and I don’t have a wine shop I can get to easily. Guess I’ll look up the characteristics and figure out what might make an acceptable substitute. I hope to do this within the week.

    I made it with a Chianti. Not authentic, but I couldn’t find a Barolo in my DH’s wine cellar, nor could I find one at the upscale market I visited before I made this. The gravy was a lighter colored, but the flavor was just fine. And yes, it went over very well! . . .carolyn t

  3. hddonna

    said on March 4th, 2015:

    Made this last night, and it’s great. I love that it makes lots of sauce. I served it with noodles, but that luscious, rich, flavorful sauce would be so good on mashed potatoes–I may serve those with the leftovers. I expect a third meal out of it, so perhaps then I can do the beans you feature in today’s post! Being unable to find a Barolo, and not being familiar with that wine at all, I looked it up and based on the description of it as a big wine with plenty of tannins, I decided to go with a cabernet sauvignon albeit an inexpensive one (but drinkable–to me, at least, if not to a wine connoisseur). My only source for the porcinis on short notice was my local supermarket, and as a half ounce cost $4, I limited myself to an ounce instead of two in the recipe. They still packed a lot of flavor, and I was very pleased with the result. But this will have to be a special occasion dish hereafter–a worthy one, however!

    So glad you enjoyed it. I didn’t have any porcini mushrooms either, so I used some other dried mushrooms instead. It was fine. Costco sells a very tall plastic bottle (about 12 inches high, 5 inches square approx) of mixed dried mushrooms. I’ve had that jar/bottle for at least 5 years and have only used about 1/4 of them. They don’t seem to deteriorate. You might check to see if you have that at your Costco. My recollection is that it was quite inexpensive. I don’t love the taste of reconstituted dried mushrooms if they’re used in any quantity, but hidden in a soup and using just some, they’re perfect. . . carolyn t

  4. janet

    said on March 11th, 2015:

    I just took a class from Mary Ann Vitale at Great News. She ground dried porcini mushrooms into a powder and used them to flavor a brown butter sun dried tomatoOh, Oh, my goodness ….. fantastic. You can do that with the dried mushrooms from Costco….. I think you will really like it Carolyn!
    Janet

    Yes, I’ve done that before – just not with this recipe. Thanks. . . carolyn t

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