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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, Pork, on November 6th, 2016.

beef_sausage_enchilasagna

Until a couple of weeks ago I’d never heard of a recipe mash-up. It’s when you take two different dishes and put them together to make something different, part of one and part of another.

The TV show I’d watched was an episode of Pioneer Woman, and she’d made a chicken enchilasagna. So, part enchiladas, and part lasagna. The dish sounded really good. My son and his family have moved recently from a town near me, to a town near Pasadena (east of downtown Los Angeles). That’s where my son works, and he’d been commuting for all the years he’s worked there (many). They hated leaving their home, but it was the right thing for them. They’ve bought a new home there and I went for the weekend to help them get more moved in. So I decided I’d make this casserole to take along with me to help feed us one of the dinner meals.

enchilasagna_cheese_mixtureI did make a departure from Ree Drummond’s original recipe. I’d been eating cubed-up turkey breast for about 6 straight days (in salad) and wanted a different protein. So I used ground beef and some Italian sausage instead. And, I read all the reviews on the Food Network site and took those comments into consideration as I made this. I used part whole milk ricotta and part cottage cheese, plus Jack cheese for the cheese filling (photo here). I didn’t use as much canned red and green enchilada sauce as directed, as many people said it was too loose and soupy. I used real onion (instead of onion powder) and real garlic (instead of garlic powder). My big baking pan didn’t hold 4 lasagna noodles, either, so I adapted the recipe with 3 layers of 3 noodles and the top layer I used 4 noodles overlapping so the top was a complete flat surface to hold the cheese and some more enchilada sauce.enchilasagna_unbaked

There at right you can see the almost finished pan full of it. I added one more layer of lasagna, sauce and a lot of grated sharp cheddar cheese. If you only eat one portion, the pan might feed 10-11, but if you have hungry mouths to feed, less, of course. enchilasagna_baked There at left you can see the finished (and fully baked) casserole.

What’s GOOD: Oh my goodness, was this ever delicious! I mean it was fantastic. The combination of flavors was really good. Very cheesy. Very flavorful. Gooey and comforting. After a day of unpacking things at their house, it was so nice to slide this into the oven and dress a green salad and there was dinner. The casserole is easier to make than lasagna because you don’t have to make a red marinara sauce.

What’s NOT: nothing really at all. I liked it so much I’ll definitely be making it again.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Beef & Sausage Enchilasagna

Recipe By: Adapted from The Pioneer Woman, 2016
Serving Size: 10

MEAT FILLING:
3/4 pound lean ground beef
3/4 pound Italian sausage — sweet
1/2 medium onion — finely minced
2 cloves garlic — smashed & minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
CHEESE FILLING:
3 cups Monterey jack cheese — grated
3/4 cup ricotta cheese — whole milk style
1 1/4 cups cottage cheese — whole milk style
1/3 cup parsley — chopped
PASTA and TOPPING:
13 lasagna noodles
2 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese — grated for topping
SAUCE:
10 ounces red enchilada sauce
10 ounces green enchilada sauce

NOTES: If you want to increase the amount of meat, cheeses and noodles, you can probably make 1 large casserole and 1 small one – then you’ll use up all the enchilada sauce, a full container of ricotta and cottage cheese, and probably a whole box of lasagna noodles.
1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. In a medium skillet saute the ground beef and sausage together over medium heat, chopping up the meat into small pieces as it cooks. Add onion and garlic, then cumin and chili powder. Continue cooking until all the pink is gone from the meat and the onion is cooked through.
3. Cook the lasagna noodles until al dente (they’ll cook further during the baking time). Soak in cold water so they don’t stick together. Set aside.
4. In a medium bowl combine the jack cheese, ricotta, cottage cheese and parsley.
5. Using a large rectangular baking dish, pour about 1/4 cup or less of each of the canned enchilada sauces over the bottom. Spread to cover all of the bottom surface. Drain the lasagna noodles and place 3 noodles in the pan. Add a third of the meat mixture, then a third of the cheese mixture and drizzle a little more enchilada sauce (both) over the top. Add two more layers of noodles, sauce and fillings. Place 4 noodles on the top, overlapping them a little bit. Drizzle with sauce so all the noodles have some sauce on them, then sprinkle the grated sharp cheddar cheese over the top.
6. If baking immediately, it will take about 25-30 minutes to heat through. If refrigerated (covered) before baking, plan on it taking about an hour. Cut into generous squares and serve.
Per Serving: 950 Calories; 44g Fat (41.8% calories from fat); 47g Protein; 89g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 137mg Cholesterol; 961mg Sodium.

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