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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 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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