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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, 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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