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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 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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