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On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of aging high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, wealthy women) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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, easy, on May 4th, 2015.

johnny_marzetti_casserole

If you’d told me a couple of weeks ago that a week or so after I returned from my trip, having had pasta about 10 times in as many days while in Italy part of the trip, I’d have thought you were crazy. In a general year, I don’t eat much pasta, as you may remember if you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time. I love the stuff, but I just try to limit those kinds of carbs.

But then, since I don’t think I’ve talked about it, my friend Cherrie and I both returned home with food poisoning. She was ill on her return flight. I didn’t get sick until the moment I walked into my house, and then I was just about down flat for 4 days, and only slightly better after that. She and I have pinpointed the culprit as a savory flan we both ordered at our “farewell to France” dinner, our last night in Paris. It’s the only thing just she and I ate at the restaurant meal. It took a full 10 days for that illness to work its way through my system. And I didn’t know it was food poisoning until I went to a doctor. I ate so much oatmeal, rice, yogurt, applesauce, toast and bananas that I don’t know if I ever want any of those things again. Well, except yogurt. I haven’t lost my love of yogurt. Anyway, finally, the day I made this, my tummy began to feel better and I hadn’t had any of those stomach-wrenching pains I’d been having for 10 days, and food began to sound good again.

And I craved pasta, but not just any pasta – I had in mind this casserole I used to fix years and years ago (back in the 60s and 70s). Over the years I’ve adapted it here and there, and never put it on my blog (I guess) because it’s such a simple dish. For me, though, it represented comfort food. I didn’t want mac and cheese, but I wanted some ground beef and tomatoes and pasta. So, it took no time at all to throw this together and I now have 4 more ample single-serving casseroles of it in the freezer.

This is just a combo of ground beef, onions, garlic, seasonings, canned tomatoes, cheddar (or Velveeta in my case because I had some in the refrigerator – because I’d tried to eat a toasted cheese sandwich one of my days when I was really sick) and Mozzarella. I also added a little jot of Worcestershire sauce too, though that was never in my original recipe. If  you do a search for Johnny Marzetti, I expect you’ll get about 6 million results. It’s spelled all different ways (like Marzett, Mazetti, Mazetter), and who knows who Johnny was, way back when. But a dish is named after him.

Casseroles in general are meal stretchers – this one with pasta and tomatoes in it, it resembles spaghetti. Actually, when I made it I scooped some into a single-serving casserole dish, topped it with Mozzarella and didn’t even bake it – I stuck it under the broiler in my toaster oven until it turned golden brown. But baking for about 15 minutes will heat it full, all the way through. If you’re in a gigantic hurry, don’t bother with the baking – just stir in the cheese until it melts and scoop it onto plates.

What’s GOOD: This is a really easy and simple dish to throw together in about 30 minutes or so. While the pasta water is heating, make the sauce. Once the pasta is done, combine everything, add the cheese and you’re done. Or bake for a little bit. It’s a kid-pleaser and will feed a crowd for not a lot of $$.

What’s NOT: it isn’t a sophisticated dish in the least – just good old plain food – but tasty. No down side that I can think of.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Johnny Marzetti

Recipe By: My own version of a very old recipe from a community cookbook, circa 1965.
Serving Size: 7 (or fewer if you have big appetites)

12 ounces pasta — your choice (penne, linguine, spaghetti, spirals)
1 pound ground beef
1 large yellow onion — diced
2 cloves garlic — minced
15 ounces diced tomatoes — including juice
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon dried oregano — crushed in your palms
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese — (I used Velvetta because I had it open)
12 ounces Mozzarella cheese — shredded

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add about a teaspoon of salt and stir well. Add pasta and simmer it until it’s not quite done, but just about.
2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet brown the ground beef until no pink remains. Add onion and continue cooking for 5-10 minutes until onion is fully translucent. Add tomatoes and juices.
3. Preheat oven to 350° F.
4. Add the garlic, seasonings, salt, pepper and Worcestershire.
5. Drain pasta well, then pour into the skillet with the meat mixture. Add the cheeses, saving some of the Mozzarella to sprinkle on top.
6. Pour into individual ramekins or into a 8×10 or other shaped baking dish. Top with cheese and bake for 10-15 minutes until cheese is melted. If you like the cheese browned, turn on the broiler just until the cheese begins to get golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes, then serve. Serve with a green salad and an Italian vinaigrette.
Per Serving: 603 Calories; 34g Fat (50.7% calories from fat); 31g Protein; 43g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 110mg Cholesterol; 637mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on May 4th, 2015:

    This is a favorite from my childhood growing up in Nebraska, a dish my children grew up on, too, and one I still turn to occasionally for a quick meal. We called it jamazetti, but Johnny Marzetti and other variations appear in local church cookbooks and the like. Our recipes are very similar–mine calls for tomato sauce instead of tomatoes, and I use basil rather than Italian seasoning. The cheese is only on top, not stirred in, and over the years, Velveeta, American, and sharp cheddar have all done cheese duty. The most significant difference, though, is the choice of pasta and its cooking method. After browning the beef, onions, and garlic (in a cast iron skillet), the seasonings are added, a can of tomato sauce is poured in, and then a can of water. Then twelve ounces of egg noodles go into the pans, uncooked. The noodles are stirred in, the pan is covered, and after ten minutes of simmering or so, it is uncovered, the contents stirred so any dry bits of pasta are covered, and it’s simmered, covered, until the noodles are tender. Cheese goes on top, then the skillet is baked uncovered until the cheese is melted and bubbly and starting to brown. If I’m in a hurry, I just let the cheese melt, as you do. A quick and easy one-pot meal, simple and comforting. It’s one of the first dishes each of my kids learned to make on their own.

    That’s a lot like mine, and mine has morphed over the years too. I don’t think I ever made it with the raw noodles stirred in, but why not? Makes it even more easy! My old community cookbook did call for tomato sauce, and I don’t remember if that was what I always used or not, but it didn’t sound good to me this time – I wanted something a tiny bit more soupy (although it really wasn’t soupy at the end). Anyway, good and tasty for sure! . . . carolyn

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on May 4th, 2015:

    I am so sorry to hear that you were so unwell and hope that you are now fully fit.

    No, I’m not fit at all. As if the food poisoning wasn’t enough (it IS better, but not gone completely) I’ve now come down with a sore throat and laryngitis. Can’t even speak today. I’m certain my immune system has been affected. Have ordered some new probiotics which should arrive by delivery tomorrow. It was something Cherrie’s doctor recommended – a particular brand. I take probiotics already, but not this one, so we’re hoping for good results. Particularly this one I ordered is directed to digestive health. . . carolyn t

  3. hddonna

    said on May 4th, 2015:

    I should have mentioned this: cooking the pasta directly in the sauce only works with egg noodles. I’ve tried it with penne and the like, and the pasta gets a bit gummy.

    Hmmm. That’s interesting. Well, I’ll probably not do it that way anyway. But thanks for the tidbit of info. . . carolyn t

  4. Toffeeapple

    said on May 6th, 2015:

    Wishing you well very soon, I hope the probiotics work for you.

    Thank you!

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