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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 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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