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Just finished reading The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

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 middle-aged 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, and wealthy) 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.

 

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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