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Just finished The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

Read Grace Unshakled, by Irene Huising. From Amazon’s page, it says: “In the year 2025, 17-year-old Grace Duncan finds herself in shackles because of her faith in Christ. An obedient daughter and stellar student, doing time in jail was never on her mental radar, despite the changes in religious laws [this takes place here in the United States] over the past few years. Through twists and turns in circumstances, Grace and a small band of Christians in Newport Beach, California begin a journey to discover what it means to follow Christ with unwavering faith in the midst of increasing persecution. Facing the potential loss of all her hopes and dreams, would Christ be enough?” We read this for one of my book clubs, and it’s a scary thought about what it could mean if we take God out of our country. The author is a friend of a friend and she attended our book club meeting to share about how she came to write this book. I don’t often share my faith here on my website, but this book made me stop and think about the direction our government is going, removing more and more our ability to worship God. Or to worship in any religion. Will this book ever make waves in the book world? Probably not. My copy may be a pre-edited version, as it contained numerous typos and formatting errors. But they didn’t detract from the subject, just the cosmetics. The book doesn’t come to a resolution; in fact it leaves you hanging, as some books do. It was intentional (obviously), but left me wondering about the “end of the story.”

Also just finished reading The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Read The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently 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) – 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 Margaret of York (a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine),  who was 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 the 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. Just read this one first!

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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