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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, on December 31st, 2015.

steak_pizzaiola_sauce

Usually, I don’t think of a steak in any other way but grilled – with a sauce maybe, or an herb rub. And I don’t think about steak with a kind of Italian tomato sauce, served on a bed of pasta. It would make a lovely dinner – even a weeknight. Since the meat is sliced thin, it will feed more people than usual. At least a normal sized steak would feed at least 2 people.

Years ago, my DH always wanted to have top sirloin as his steak of choice. He’d order one when we went out to eat too. I was never as crazy about it as he was (I think it’s too chewy) – he liked the more beefy flavor of it. Me? I prefer ribeye. Or a tenderloin. Or a porterhouse. I finally swayed him in favor of a ribeye, and that’s what’s still in my freezer – I have several pounds of them. I need to invite some friends over to help eat them since they’re over 2 years in the freezer. Not so good! I’d definitely use one of the ribeyes for this dish – it would feed 2 people without any problem since you have a bed of pasta underneath, and some mushroomy sausage sauce to serve on top. I hardly ever fix a steak for just ME!

This dish cooks in no time. I was prepared to be ho-hum about it, as Phillis Carey prepared it at a class a couple of months ago. I mean, a kind of an Italian tomato sauce cooked in about 20 minutes. Really? I’m more old-school, believing that a classic sauce like that needs much longer to develop its flavors, etc. Well, I was proven wrong. Although this sauce comes together fairly quickly, it has good flavor. Phillis did use a top sirloin steak, and my take on it was that it was very much like a top sirloin – chewy. Which is why I’d make it with a ribeye instead. Or even a flank steak, perhaps.

What I’m really saying is that this is a very delicious sauce for only simmering for a very short time, and the cooking of the steak is almost foolproof. It’s pan seared, then finished off in the oven. What’s kind of unusual about this recipe is that you must start with a steak that is exactly 1 1/4 inches thick. If you do, then the cooking method will yield a perfectly cooked steak that’s medium rare in the middle. Then you slice it across the grain into thinner slices, about 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick and put it on top of some cooked pasta, then top with the sausage and mushroom sauce. Sprinkle with a bit of Parm is you’d like to. Done.

What’s GOOD: how easy this is to make. Good enough for a company meal, yet it’s comfort food too. It’s quick, for sure. Tasty.

What’s NOT: I can’t think of anything at all – I’d just recommend that you use a ribeye, not a top sirloin as the original recipe recommended, so that makes it a more expensive meal, for sure.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click on link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Steak Pizzaiola with Sausage Mushroom Sauce

Recipe By: From a Phillis Carey cooking class, 9/2015
Serving Size: 4

1 1/2 pounds steak — ribeye, New York (see NOTES) 1 1/4″ thick exactly
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil — divided use
3 cloves garlic — minced
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
4 ounces Italian sausage — crumbled
1/2 pound mushrooms — sliced
1/2 cup onion — sliced
1/2 cup green bell pepper — slivered (optional), or may use red or yellow peppers
1/2 cup dry red wine — or dry white wine
28 ounces crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated (garnish)
1 tablespoon Italian parsley — chopped (garnish)
Pasta of your choice, to serve with steak

NOTES: RECIPE BASED ON A STEAK EXACTLY 1 1/4″ THICK. Phillis used a sirloin steak. Some sirloin is not tender, so I’m suggesting a tender ribeye or New York steak. You could also use ground chuck and make this with thick burgers. The burgers will probably cook in less time – use an instant read thermometer to cook it to about 130-140°F, and do make them thick.
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Prepare a big stock pot of water for cooking the pasta.
2. Heat 2 T olive oil in a medium-sized skillet (don’t use a nonstick skillet as it won’t develop the flavor you need from searing the steak) on the stovetop over medium-high heat. Season the steak with salt and pepper and sear it well in the hot pan for 4 minutes per side. It will still be raw in the middle – it will finish in the oven. Transfer steak to a rimmed baking sheet or a large casserole dish.
3. Add remaining olive oil to same pan, along with the garlic and red pepper flakes. Toss for 30 seconds. Add sausage and cook, stirring often, crumbling into small pieces until just about cooked through (can still be pink in the middle). Add mushrooms, onions and peppers, and continue cooking until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Add wine, stirring to scrape up any bits from the bottom of the pan. Add crushed tomatoes and oregano, and bring to a simmer. Cook for 8-10 minutes to develop the flavors. Taste for seasoning.
4. Spoon the sauce over the top of the steak. Place steak, uncovered, in oven for 8-10 minutes, or until steak is cooked to desired temperature. For rare, remove when it reaches 122°, for medium rare, about 125°, and 130° for medium. Remove steak to a carving board, cover with a piece of aluminum foil for about 5 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, cook pasta of your choice until it is al-dente, with just a little tiny bit of bite.
6. Place pasta on individual heated plates (or all of it on one platter, but individual plates are better), slice steak in thin slices, arrange on the pasta and top with the tomato sauce. Sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and parsley. Sauce is thick, not loose as with a traditional “spaghetti sauce.”
Per Serving: 678 Calories; 50g Fat (67.0% calories from fat); 33g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 117mg Cholesterol; 561mg Sodium.

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