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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 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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