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Just finished 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 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 parents were 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 a old 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.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

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 Pork, on March 3rd, 2016.

pork_enchilada_casserole_serving

Mexican Comfort Food. Easy. Gooey with melting cheese, tasty with pork carnitas inside, and a bit of sour cream to make it over the top.

Of all the recipes on this blog, you can count only a few that are truly Mexican. Like Mexican restaurant combination plate items. Why? Because I have such wonderful Mexican restaurants within a few miles of my house, and their food is pretty darned good. In years past (prior to 1976)  I used to make Mexican dishes at home, but that was because they were: (1) relatively inexpensive to make; (2) could feed a lot of people; and/or (3) I couldn’t get decent Mexican food where I lived.

But now, and for the last 40 years I’ve lived close to a Mexican population and restaurants abound. However, none of them make casseroles. They make tacos, burritos, tortas, taquitos, enchiladas (chicken, beef or cheese) and tostadas. Oh, and chile rellenos (one of my favorites). Years ago I used to make a chile relleno casserole that used canned Anaheim green chiles filled with a mixture of cream cheese and Jack cheese, dipped in egg, then flour and briefly fried, then baked in the oven for 20-25 minutes. I haven’t made those in years. They don’t resemble the rellenos I get at my favorite local Mexican place, Jalapeno’s, on First Street in Tustin, CA. I eat there about once a week, where I often run into friends who read my blog (hi, Mary). It’s a very popular place in our neighborhood, and they make awesome Mexican food.

pork_enchilada_casserole_ready_2bakeSo why did I decide to make a Mexican dish? Well, I read the blog, Homesick Texan. Lisa Fain grew up in Texas, but has lived in NYC for a long time, and she misses her home town Tex-Mex food, big time. She regularly returns to Texas to visit, and her blog reads like a travelogue – she goes from restaurant to restaurant to stock up on her Mexican or Tex-Mex favorites. She can’t get enough of it. She created this casserole as an easy way to have pork enchiladas, but without the fussiness of filling and rolling up the corn tortillas and lining them up like soldiers.

All the ingredients that go into enchiladas are there, but she merely layered them in a casserole and you cut it into servings, kind of like lasagna.

I’ve now made this twice and have changed a few minor things: (1) I layered it 4 layers deep (not 3) which makes for a bit more  depth, obviously. (2) I added just a bit more cheese; and (3) I dolloped some sour cream inside the layers, not just as a garnish for serving.

poblano_salsa_verdeIf you go to Lisa’s blog, you can read her recipe which has you cooking your own pork. I chose not to do that merely because I’d have so MUCH pork left over, since I’m just a one person household now. So, instead, I stopped at Jalapeno’s one night and I bought 3/4 pound of carnitas, and they gave me the pork, but also a foam container of raw onions and a huge pile of cilantro. All things to use in this casserole too. Yippee! I did make the sauce, which was relatively easy. You could, if you live where grocery stores sell fresh tomatillo salsa, use that. Lisa’s salsa also has poblano chiles in the mix, which gives a lovely depth of flavor. I understand that some Mexican markets sell canned poblano (pasilla) chiles – I haven’t found them, but if so I’d just add one of those to the tomatillo salsa.

This casserole is SO easy to put together once you line up all the ingredients: the grated cheese, the shredded pork, minced onion, the salsa verde (see right), sour cream, and you merely need to soften the corn tortillas in a frying pan in a tiny, tiny bit of oil and put them in a casserole dish. Then you layer, and layer, and layer. Ending up with tortillas, salsa and heaps of cheese on top. Into a 350° oven it goes, and 30 minutes later you have dinner. Garnish with more cilantro and sour cream.

If I made this for a group, I’d definitely buy a pork shoulder roast and make the pork carnitas myself. Pork shoulder is one of the cheaper cuts of meat you can buy these days, and it’s pretty easy to do the long, slow cooking to get it to peak tenderness. Shred it pork_enchilada_casserole_wholeup, and just get all the ingredients together and the casserole all comes together in a jiffy. I’d serve this with a green salad with not too many vegetables (tomatoes, celery, green onions) and a vinaigrette of some kind. Have chips and salsa for an appetizer, and make Tres Leches cake for dessert. Done. Easy.

What’s GOOD: everything about this casserole is good – the pork, the cheese (yum), the tomatillo-poblano salsa, and all the cilantro, sour cream. Oh goodness, it’s just fabulous. Will definitely be making this again.

What’s NOT: making the pork from scratch takes a few hours; the salsa takes a bit of prep, but it will keep for a few days. Assembling the casserole is cinchy easy. Not much downside since I used pork carnitas from my local Mexican eatery.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Pork Enchilada Verde Casserole

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Homesick Texan (blog)
Serving Size: 8

TOMATILLO-POBLANO SALSA:
3 whole poblano peppers — washed (also called pasilla)
1 1/2 jalapeno chile peppers — washed
1 pound tomatillos — husks removed
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup cilantro
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
ENCHILADAS:
1 pound carnitas — shredded (pork shoulder, already cooked)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
12 corn tortillas
3 1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese — (16 ounces)
1/3 cup onion — minced (either red or yellow)
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup chopped cilantro — use some for garnish
3 tablespoons sour cream — for garnish

NOTES: You could easily use leftover pork (roast?) instead of making carnitas. It might not have quite the same flavor, but it would be close enough. Pork shoulder meat (long threads) would be more tender, so if using a roast, cut or tear into very small shred-like pieces.
1. SALSA: Turn on the broiler and place a rack 5 inches away from heating element. Line a cast-iron skillet or baking sheet with foil and place the poblano chiles, jalapeños, tomatillos, and garlic on the skillet. Cook under the broiler for 5 minutes, and then remove the skillet from the oven. Remove the garlic from the skillet and place into a blender. Turn over the poblano chiles, jalapeños, and tomatillos, and return the skillet to the oven.
2. Continue to broil the chiles and tomatillos for 5 to 7 more minutes or until they are nicely charred. After this time, remove the skillet from the oven. Place the tomatillos in the blender, and put the chiles into a paper sack or plastic food-storage bag, close it tight and let the chiles steam for 20 minutes.
3. Pour the 1/2 cup of water into the foil-lined skillet, swirl it around, and then pour this into the blender.
4. After the chiles have steamed, remove from the bag and rub off the skin. Remove the stems and seeds from the chiles and add them to the blender, along with the cilantro. Blend until smooth. You should have about 3 cups of salsa. Stir in the salt, taste and add more salt if you like.
5. CASSEROLE: Preheat the oven to 350°F.
8. In a skillet, heat up the vegetable oil on low heat. One at a time, heat up the tortillas in the skillet until soft and pliant, adding more oil as needed. After cooking, wrap in a cloth to keep warm. (It’s fine if you want to skip this step but note that the tortillas may get super soggy when they bake.)
9. To assemble the casserole, ladle 1/3 cup of the salsa verde into an oval ceramic casserole dish or a 9-inch cast-iron skillet. Place 3 of the tortillas in the pan, tearing in pieces to fill in any gaps.
10. Evenly top the tortillas with a third of the pork, 1/3 of shredded Monterey Jack, a third of the diced red onions, a third of the chopped cilantro, a drizzle of sour cream, and 1/3 cup of the salsa. Top that layer with 3 more tortillas and then add the rest of the pork, etc. Make 3 full layers, then top with the remaining tortillas, salsa and grated cheese.
11. Bake uncovered for 30-35 minutes or until the casserole is lightly browned and bubbling. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving. Serve warm topped with sour cream and cilantro.
Per Serving: 352 Calories; 21g Fat (53.4% calories from fat); 16g Protein; 26g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 51mg Cholesterol; 459mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on March 3rd, 2016:

    How clever of you to think of getting the carnitas from your favorite Mexican eatery! I’ve kind of been in the mood to make a batch of carnitas, and this would be a great use for the leftovers.

    I see we have another thing in common–a penchant for chiles rellenos. I especially like them made with poblanos, my favorite chile. I have not found a local Mexican restaurant that makes them to my liking, though–they tend to be soggy and grease-laden and I am usually disappointed in them. You are fortunate to have great Mexican food so readily available. I know there are better Mexican restaurants in St. Louis than those in my suburb, so have not given up the hunt yet! Meanwhile, I’ll make my own carnitas and look forward to trying this casserole.

    There’s a restaurant here in SoCal (in Pasadena, actually – about an hour’s drive) that used to make the most amazing stuffed poblano chiles. They used ground meat – am not sure which kind – probably beef – with corn, aromatics, probably some minced veggies – and oodles of cheese. They partially opened up the chile from the tip end, but leaving the stem end intact and baked it until it was cooked through. It’s been years since I had it there and have never forgotten it. I’ve tried making it, but without a lot of success. I do love poblanos too – they have a very unique flavor. . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on March 4th, 2016:

    I need to study Mexican cuisine, so many of the words used mean nothing to me, sad, isn’t it?

    Growing up in California, I suppose Spanish words just become part of the “landscape” of food. Our grocery stores have lots of Mexican food products, and all the border states – and many more moving northward – have lots of Mexicans and where they’ve moved, they’ve opened restaurants. Not always good ones, but there are lots of them here in the U.S. And I took Spanish in school, so I do know some of the language anyway – not that I can speak it – I can’t . . carolyn t

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