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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 Chicken, on March 28th, 2017.

deep_dish_turkey_chili_pie

Casseroles are so comforting. This one is especially delicious – made with ground turkey, a bit of corn, tomato puree, oodles of grated cheese, and an unusual bottom “crust.”

I really do love casseroles. I wish they’d come back into fashion. In some circles, they’ve never gone “out.” When I serve them, I always get raves. This one will be a repeater on my menu whenever I feel the urge to make a casserole for friends or family.

Occasionally my evening bible study group gathers for dinner – this one was a potluck, and everyone brought other things to round out the menu. The dish serves 12 – I made two of those pies like you see in the above photo – and every single, solitary bite of it was gone. It served exactly 12, though a couple of my guests went back for seconds.

I don’t remember how or where I acquired this recipe – but it won a chili contest in 1988, so the story goes, and the home cook who made it won $25,000. Does that give you a clue as to how good this is? It’s a Texas recipe, and when the one friend in our group who is from East Texas had some, his wife said, yes, this was very much like a lot of Texas casseroles.

A couple of days ahead of bake-day, I made the meat sauce.  It begins with chopped red onion and red bell pepper, then jalapeno minced up, a bunch of garlic and parsley. The recipe calls for parsley flakes – well, I used fresh. The ground turkey is added in, along with paprika, chili powder, ground cumin, a bay leaf, some dry mustard, a little jot of unsweetened cocoa powder, beef broth and tomato puree (I used tomato sauce). Here, though. is where I veered off the recipe just a little bit – I meant to buy a bottle of Mexican beer at the store – I forgot – and I wasn’t about to make a special trip just for that. It tasted fine without it, I thought. You can use your own judgment – however – if you do add the beer, you’ll need to cook off the fluid so it’s a thick sauce. There’s also some corn in it, a tiny jot of honey too.

deep_dish_chili_pie_unbaked

There’s the casserole just before I slid it into the oven.

Meanwhile, you “make” the crust. THIS is what intrigued me – the crust. You mix up some crushed saltine crackers, cornmeal, a little vegetable oil, some Jack cheese shredded and a whole cup of water. Once the water is absorbed, this mixture is just plain odd. It’s not really a dough, although the original recipe called it that. You divide it between two deep pie dishes and kind of spread it around as evenly as possible. It gets baked for 15 minutes until golden brown. It cools slightly, then you add a bit of grated Jack cheese on top of the “crust,” then scoop in the hot turkey filling. Lastly, Jack and cheddar cheese is sprinkled all over the top. Into the oven it goes to get hot and the cheese gets a bit golden brown. DO let it rest for about 5-10 minutes before serving – it would burn your mouth!!

With a green salad, this is a complete meal. We had a slaw salad, a veggie-rich green salad, a kale salad and a Jell-O salad – all wonderful with this. The green salad went with it the best, I think. The recipe can easily be halved to serve 6.

What’s GOOD: it’s just a delicious, comforting meal – the turkey mixture is full of flavor, and you can pick up on the different texture of the “crust.” It’s delicious – almost has a tamale pie familiarity, although nothing like the thick cornmeal type casseroles my mother used to make. The crust in this is super-thin. Altogether wonderful and easy to make. Don’t fill the pies until you’re ready to put them in the oven, though. I think it would soften the crust on the bottom.

What’s NOT: can’t think of a thing. It was wonderful.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Deep Dish Turkey Chili Pie

Recipe By: This won a $25,000 chili recipe contest in 1988, by Rosalinda De Leon
Serving Size: 12

FILLING:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup red onion — diced
1 cup red pepper — diced
1 jalapeño pepper — finely chopped
3 cloves garlic — finely chopped
1 teaspoon parsley flakes — or 3x as much fresh parsley
2 pounds ground turkey
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 2/3 cups beef broth
1 cup tomato purée
3/4 cup beer — Mexican type
12 ounces canned corn — drained
1 teaspoon honey
CRUST:
2 cups saltine crackers — coarsely crushed
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 cup warm water
TOPPING:
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese — divided use
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1. FILLING: Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. When oil is hot, add the onion, peppers, jalapeño, garlic and parsley flakes; and cook, stirring until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. Add the turkey and cook, stirring until browned.
2. Add the seasonings and cocoa powder. Stir until the meat mixture is evenly coated with spices. Pour in the beef broth, tomato purée and beer, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. You want most of the liquid to simmer off.
3. Add the corn and honey, and simmer an additional 30–40 minutes until thickened, stirring occasionally. While the chili mixture simmers, prepare the cracker pie crusts.
4. CRUST: Heat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch deep-dish pie dishes. Use your hands to combine crushed crackers, cornmeal, vegetable oil, shredded cheese and warm water in a large mixing bowl until a coarse mixture forms. Divide the mixture in half, and then press each half evenly into a pie dish. Bake the crusts 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Set aside to cool briefly on wire racks.
5. Remove bay leaf from chili mixture. Sprinkle 1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese into each warm pie crust. Divide the chili mixture between the prepared crusts, sprinkle the remaining cheese over pies, and bake 10–15 minutes or until cheese is melted. Let stand about 5 minutes before slicing.
Per Serving: 558 Calories; 30g Fat (47.7% calories from fat); 28g Protein; 45g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 89mg Cholesterol; 1100mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on April 2nd, 2017:

    I wonder what the definition of a casserole is over your side of the pond? Here, it is any kind of stew cooked the oven in a covered casserole dish. Interesting, no?

    Here it’s more a baked dish that contains a combo of protein, vegetables and maybe a carb too. Stew, to me, means gravy, and a casserole is thicker, more sturdy, able to be cut into wedges, squares or spooned without dripping anything. Does that make sense? . . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on April 2nd, 2017:

    That crust is really intriguing. This sounds like just the thing for when the family comes for dinner. I, too enjoy casseroles, but I don’t make them very often. That needs to change!

    My Northern California family will be visiting in a month or so and this will be on the menu while they’re here. They like casseroles! . . . carolyn t

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