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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 September 9th, 2016.

meatloaf_ital_sausage_parmigiano

What makes meatloaf Italian? The addition of Italian sausage, Italian seasonings AND some grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, of course! Was it good? Yes, indeed!

Family was visiting – the part of my family that’s likes the basics – a good hunk of meat, carbs, veggies and maybe a salad. The first night of their visit we had grilled pork chops with a cold orzo salad. Nothing fancy. The next night I decided to make meatloaf – I hadn’t made it in ages. As a widow/single person, making a meatloaf sounds like 5 dinners in a row and I’d be bored with it after about two. I could have used my old-favorite recipe, Meatloaf with Sweet and Sour Sauce, which has been a family favorite for decades. But I thought I’d change it up a bit. Not knowing what to do exactly, I went on the ‘net and searched for how all the Food Network chefs make their meatloaf and I picked and chose amongst the variations and made up my own. I suppose it could be said that as long as the basics are there, it’s hard to screw up a meatloaf, no matter what you put in it.

meatloaf_raw_readytobake

This one . . . first I minced up carrot, celery and onion and sautéed it in a little oil until the veggies were completely wilted. Meanwhile, into a big bowl I added lots of lean ground beef, some Italian sausage (actually what I had was turkey Italian sausage that I squeezed out of its casing), a heaping handful of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, seasonings (including a hearty bunch of Slap Yo Mama Cajun seasonings), bread that I soaked in milk and squished up with my hands so there were virtually no visible pieces left, 3 eggs and the cooled veggies. I mushed that up, as you do have to do with meatloaf and I literally poured it into a big oval baking dish. I shaped it a bit and topped it with loads of Heinz ketchup (my favorite brand, when I do use ketchup, which isn’t all that often) and baked it for 1 1/2 hours until the internal temperature reached about 158°F. Websites say to remove meatloaf between 155-160°F.

Usually mashed potatoes are my carb of choice for meatloaf, but I made lime cilantro rice instead (recipe coming up soon) which actually was a very nice side dish for it. It was a hit.

What’s GOOD: I really, really liked this mixture. The addition of Italian sausage added a different flavor component – I could taste it – it was probably the fennel that was what I tasted that made me think of Italian sausage since I’d used turkey Italian sausage. But I also added the grated Parmigiano too, and oodles of Italian seasonings. The bread/milk mixture lightened the meatloaf – it was amazingly tender when sliced, and although you really couldn’t taste the carrots and celery and onion, you could barely see them peppered throughout the meatloaf. An altogether great recipe. I’ll make it again for sure.

What’s NOT: hmmm. I can’t think of anything I didn’t like about this. My family enjoyed it – no complaints from them.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Meatloaf with Italian Sausage

Recipe By: My own combination, 2016
Serving Size: 10-12

2 pounds lean ground beef
1 pound Italian sausage — removed from casing (pork or turkey)
3 large eggs
2/3 cup onion — diced
2 small carrots — finely diced
1 cup celery — finely diced, including leaves
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons dried basil
1/2 teaspoon Slap Yo Mama seasoning — or other spicy Cajun-style dry seasoning
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 slices white bread
1/2 cup milk — (may need slightly more)
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
2/3 cup ketchup — for topping

1. In a small bowl break up the white bread with milk and let sit about 5-10 minutes. Using your fingers, break up the mushy bread so there are almost no visible pieces.
2. In a medium saute pan heat the canola oil and add the vegetables (onions, carrots and celery). Cook them until they are completely limp. Set aside to cool.
3. In a very large bowl combine the meat, eggs, thyme, basil, Slap Yo Mama seasoning, pepper and Parmigiano cheese. When vegetables have cooled sufficiently, pour into the bowl along with the bread/milk mixture. Gently massage the meat until there are no streaks of egg or any chunks of bread and more-or-less the mixture is homogenous. The less you “work” the meat, the more tender it will be.
4. Preheat oven to 350°. Use a large, rimmed baking dish and carefully pour the meatloaf mixture into the dish, using your hands to mush it into a very long and wide oval. Press ends in so they are not pointed, if possible. Pour ketchup over the top of the meatloaf and spread out to the edges without it dripping down the sides (it will burn there). Bake for about 90 minutes, or until the meat reaches 155-160°F on an instant read thermometer. Remove from oven and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes, tented with foil. Using a baster, remove the grease from the pan and carefully, using 2 large spatulas, remove the meatloaf to a serving dish larger than the meatloaf. Or, slice the meatloaf in the baking dish. Once meatloaf is cool it will be easier to remove and store leftovers. Makes wonderful sandwiches.
Per Serving: 418 Calories; 32g Fat (69.0% calories from fat); 22g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 140mg Cholesterol; 557mg Sodium.

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