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Just finished 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 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 parents were 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 a old 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.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

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 March 13th, 2017.

pork_shank_osso_buco

Might you think I’ve made a typo? PORK Osso Buco? Yes, it’s pork, not veal.

Ever since I had osso buco the first time (probably in the 1980s) I’ve loved it. But as time has gone by, less and less have I purchased veal, for one thing (on general principles) but also because veal is so gosh-darned expensive. SO, when I was watching some food tv show recently they mentioned making osso buco with pork shanks. What a great idea, was my reasoning.

The next dilemma was finding pork shanks. I’d certainly never seen them in the pre-wrapped packs at the grocery store. And having no idea they’d be a problem, I sought out the butcher at two upscale markets I go to. No, they didn’t have any, and wouldn’t ever be getting any, because most markets only get the hog body, without legs. Really? The butcher kind of leaned over the high counter and said quietly, go to a Mexican butcher; they’ll have them. He said they’re called a bodega. (I thought a bodega was a Spanish bar? It must mean “market.”)

So, sure enough, because we have a large Hispanic population where I live, it took me no time at all to locate a Mexican butcher shop. A bodega. A tiny place, where Mexican music was blaring inside, and filled with a variety of mothers and children, all speaking in rapid Spanish. I approached the meat case. The butcher spoke great English, and after clarifying what I wanted, he said SURE, come back on Wednesday. We get the legs in that day, come after 3pm. I did – he showed me a big, frozen shank bone and we discussed what part of the shank I wanted. I wanted meaty shanks. I also asked where the pork came from (I didn’t want to buy pork imported from Mexico). He assured me it came from the Midwestern U.S. Good! I asked him to cut them crossways about 3” thick. He did exactly that.

The shanks were frozen, so I left them that way until I was ready to prepare them. Meanwhile, I’d located a recipe online, from Jeff Mauro, at the Food Network. I also printed out my old, regular veal osso buco recipe, and compared them, side by side. They’re very similar. I haven’t made veal osso buco since I started my blog in 2007, so I’m going to print the recipe down below, even though I’ve not made it for this post. I’ve had osso buco in countless restaurants, and none have compared with the ones I’ve made here at home using the recipe down below.

A few weeks ago, when I made this, I was out in the desert (the California desert), and the night I made this dish it was greeted with great accolades from my friend, Ann, who was with me. She is home in Idaho now, and says she’s going to make it for friends. She LOVED it. So did I. It’s made just like making it with veal – it’s a braised dish. Easy. After browning the sides, the meat is baked (covered) in a slow oven for about 3 hours with the veggies and aromatics. The recipe indicated 2 hours at 325°. It wasn’t done after 2 hours, so I reduced the temp to 300° and cooked it another 45 minutes or so. I also didn’t have twine – once the shanks are cooked to perfection, they literally fall off the bone, so you do want to wrap them in twine if possible. I managed to hold them together by using a big slotted spoon.

While the shanks baked, I made the gremolata. Now, I must tell you – do NOT make this without the gremolata – I think the lemon zest, and orange zest if you use it, are key ingredients to the overall taste of osso buco. There’s something about that fresh zest that gives this dish a finished zing. I prefer to make the gremolata shortly before it’s needed, so the zest is still super-fresh off the fruit itself.

If I’d had a stick blender, or even a regular blender, I would have whizzed up the veggies and braise liquid, but there wasn’t one where we were staying. So it was just served with some of the braising liquid and veggies spooned on top of both the meat AND the lovely mashed potatoes we made to go with it. Traditionally you serve creamy polenta with this, but I had potatoes, and I thought they were just great with it. Maybe easier than making polenta. The gremolata is a garnish.

What’s GOOD: comfort food at its finest! Falling off the bone, luscious, tasty, tummy warming. Easy. A definite keeper. My friend and I licked our plates clean.

What’s NOT: only that you have to wait a few hours to eat it – it requires a few hours of baking time. Very easy otherwise.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Pork Osso Buco

Recipe By: Adapted from Food Network, Jeff Mauro
Serving Size: 4

4 pieces pork shank — (each about 3″ high) tied with twine
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup carrots — diced
1 cup celery — diced
2 large yellow onions — diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 cloves garlic — minced
2 cups dry white wine — (vermouth works here)
2 cups low sodium chicken broth — warmed
14 ounces crushed tomatoes — or fresh, chopped
2 whole bay leaves
GREMOLATA:
1 cup fresh parsley — finely minced
2 teaspoons lemon zest — using a rasp grater
1 teaspoon orange zest — optional, using a rasp grater
2 cloves garlic — grated on a rasp grater
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 300°degrees F. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Liberally season all sides of the shanks with salt and pepper. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil to the pan and sear the shanks until golden brown on all sides, about 5 minutes a side. Transfer to a plate.
2. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the Dutch oven, then add the carrots, celery and onions. Season with salt and pepper and saute until the vegetables are slightly soft and browned, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste and garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the wine to deglaze, scraping all the bits off the bottom. Add the shanks, any accumulated juices, the warm broth, tomatoes and bay leaves. Cover, transfer to the oven and cook until the shanks are extremely fork-tender, about 3 hours. Remove the shanks and tent with foil on a plate.
3. If the braising liquid is a bit thin, right before serving, simmer the remaining liquid until thickened slightly, 5 to 10 minutes. Add additional salt and pepper if necessary. If possible, use a stick blender in the liquid to puree it. Cook’s Note: The shanks can be stored for up to 2 days in the braising liquid.
4. On each plate, place a warm shank with a ladle of rich braising liquid, then top with the fresh Gremolata.
5. Gremolata: Mix the parsley, lemon zest, orange zest and garlic together in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
Per Serving: 286 Calories; 11g Fat (44.3% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 1mg Cholesterol; 477mg Sodium.

printer-friendly PDF (below recipe) and MasterCook 15/16 file (also for recipe below)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Osso Buco (Veal)

Recipe By: adapted slightly from Tarla Fallgatter, at a cooking class in the 1980s
Serving Size: 6

10 pieces veal shank — meaty ends, tied with twine to keep it intact
1 1/2 cups dry white wine — vermouth is fine
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups onions — minced
3/4 cup carrots — minced
3/4 cup celery — minced
1 teaspoon garlic — minced
1/4 cup butter
4 cups veal stock — or chicken stock
1 1/2 cups canned tomatoes — drained, measured after draining
6 sprigs parsley
4 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon salt fresly ground black pepper to taste
GREMOLATA:
3/4 cup Italian parsley — minced
3 tablespoons lemon zest
1 1/2 tablespoons garlic — minced

1. Dry meat with paper towels and season with salt and pepper, then dust with a little flour. Brown the shanks, a few at a time, in the butter/oil mixture until golden brown, top and bottom. Remove shanks from the pan and set aside. To the pot add wine, cooking it over high heat, scraping up the brown bits sticking to the bottom and reduce the mixture to about 1/2 cup. Pour mixture out and set aside.
2. In a flameproof casserole, just large enough to hold the veal shanks in one layer, saute the onions, carrots, and celery until soft and lightly colored along with the garlic and additional butter. Add veal, the reduced wine mixture and chicken stock – just enough to almost cover the shanks, or about 1/2 way up. Spread tomatoes on top and add herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer over moderately high heat.
3. Place pot in a 325°F oven for 2 hours, or until the veal is tender.
4. Transfer veal with a slotted spoon to a serving dish; remove strings and keep warm. Strain the pan juices into a pan and puree the vegetables in a blender or food processor. Cook the juices and the vegetables together until reduced to about 3 cups of liquid. Baste the veal with some of the reduced juices and bake it, basting 3-4 times with the juices, for 10 minutes more, or until the veal looks glazed. Remove to a hot serving platter and pour some of the juices around it, then garnish with the gremolata.
5. GREMOLATA: Combine ingredients and mix together.
Per Serving: 740 Calories; 33g Fat (42.4% calories from fat); 84g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 331mg Cholesterol; 1477mg Sodium.

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  1. Leslie Christon

    said on March 13th, 2017:

    This looks heavenly, and my husband loves pork shank. I must try! Thanks for another great recipe!

    You’re so welcome – hope you enjoy it as much as I did! . . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on March 22nd, 2017:

    I think this is what we would call ‘pork leg’ and easily available in any High Street butcher’s shop.

    Well, it’s not here, except as a smoked or cured ham type bone. It will just require me to go to a different market to buy it when I do it in the future! . . . carolyn t

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