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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

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 middle-aged 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, and wealthy) 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.

 

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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