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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 November 3rd, 2016.

Image result for beef burritos

Nothing like a good, old-fashioned beef burrito. Laden with cheese and in a thickened chili and tomato spiced sauce inside and out. And mostly done in a slow cooker! Photo: recipeshubs.com

Since I’ve been working on this project of ridding myself of hundreds and hundreds (if not thousands) of recipe clippings and notes that date back to the 1960s, I’ve uncovered a bunch of recipes that I have made in the past, but they’ve laid dormant in these old files for a long time. A really long time.

In this case, the reason is simple. I have lived in California for ages. I was born and raised here in the 40s and 50s and went to college in the 60s, left for some years, then returned here in the mid-1970s. Lucky for me, Mexican restaurants abound in my neck of the woods. Excellent ones, as a matter of fact, because we have a heavy Mexican population, and many of them have opened cafes, walk-up counters, fast-food joints and sit-down restaurants. Most people who live in SoCal love-love Mexican food.

But during a 10-year span from the mid-60’s to mid-70s I lived in various places around the U.S. and had little or no access to Mexican food. So I had to improvise. If there were Mexican restaurants in those places, the food bore little resemblance or taste to what we were used to from living here.

Creating this recipe offered my family a taste of (California) home, and usually there was enough for my then family of 3 to have at least one or two additional meals of leftovers. Back in the days when I entertained quite frugally, this recipe also provided an inexpensive meal (then, not now since beef of any kind is pricey) rounded out with a big green salad, an appetizer and dessert.

Some Mexican restaurants (in fact, most) make beef burritos or beef enchiladas with ground beef. It’s easier, I’m sure. But back in the day, all I knew was shredded beef, so that’s what I created. If your family likes beef, then try this recipe.

The meat isn’t even browned – you just add all the beef chunks to a slow cooker, toss it around with the herbs and spices, a package of chili mix, and a little flour, then add beef broth. Let it slow cook for 8 hours (high) or 12 hours (low). If you can, make this the day before and shred the meat while it’s lukewarm and chill overnight with the sauce.

Before baking, reheat the meat and sauce together, shred the cheese, have a baking dish handy and start assembling. It’s pretty easy to do. You can freeze these, but because the tortillas are bathed in sauce, they tend to get really soggy if you freeze them. I’d suggest assembling them, freezing them dry (individually, on foil on a flat sheet), then defrost, heat the sauce to bathe the top, add cheese and proceed from there.

You can also make these as beef enchiladas, just use corn tortillas, use less filling and only put cheese on the top as they bake, with no cheese inside. I’d suggest not adding beans to the chili, either. I always made these as burritos, as I recall.

What’s GOOD: it makes a bunch. It’s easy in the slow cooker. You’ll have leftovers. Assembly is very easy, though don’t do it ahead of time because the sauce makes the tortillas soggy if you do so. Just add the sauce before baking, then cheese. Delicious.

What’s NOT:  you have to plan ahead to do this, but it can be made the same day you slow cook the beef.

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

Texas Chili Burritos

Recipe By: My own recipe I created in the 1970s
Serving Size: 12

CHILI:
3 pounds chuck roast — 1″ cubes
3 cloves garlic — chopped
4 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
4 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 tablespoon dried oregano — crushed in your palms
26 ounces low sodium beef broth
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
15 ounces canned pinto beans — drained (or more if desired)
BURRITOS:
12 large flour tortillas — 12″ or larger
3 cups jack cheese — shredded (or a mixture of jack and cheddar) or more if needed
GARNISH:
1 cup sour cream
1 cup cilantro — chopped
1 lime — wedges (optional)

NOTES: True Texas chili doesn’t contain beans, yet I adapted the recipe for chili to make burritos instead. I left in the Texas attribute just because it began as Texas chili.
1. Add meat, garlic, spices, flour, salt and pepper to a slow cooker. Stir so all the meat is covered with the spices. Then add beef broth. Cook on low heat for 12 hours, or on high for 8 hours, or until meat is falling-apart tender. During the last hour, add the beans. When cooked, remove all the meat from the slow cooker, and place on a large sheet pan or platter to cool. Cool the sauce too. If time permits, shred the meat while it’s lukewarm (it’s easier then, than when it’s chilled). Refrigerate overnight if time permits.
2. Shred the meat if you haven’t done so when the meat was cooling, heat the meat and the sauce together until it’s heated through.
3. Preheat oven to 350°F.
4. One at a time, heat each flour tortilla in the microwave for 10-15 seconds until it’s very warm and pliable. Place it on a large flat surface. Scoop about 1/2 cup or more of the meat/bean mixture into the center, add some shredded cheese and roll the edge closest to you over the meat, fold in the two sides, then snugly roll the burrito until it’s a nice cylinder.
5. In a large baking dish pour a little bit of the sauce (not meat) into the dish and add the burritos, fitted like snug sardines. Spoon some of the sauce (without meat if possible) over the top and add more grated cheese on top.
6. Bake casserole for about 20-30 minutes until the cheese is melted and the burritos are hot throughout.
7. Serve a burrito onto a heated plate and garnish with sour cream, cilantro and a lime wedge, if desired.
Per Serving: 581 Calories; 28g Fat (42.9% calories from fat); 30g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 74mg Cholesterol; 778mg Sodium.

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