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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 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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