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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, on May 3rd, 2011.

burgers_bacon_feta

This is one fantastic recipe. The kind that if I were a swearing person I’d be saying OMG! But I don’t say that, so just take my word for it! I cannot tell you how absolutely off the charts this was. I created the recipe myself – I had fresh baby spinach – and I’d defrosted some lean ground beef. And a new favorite recipe was made.

burger_mixtureFirst of all, you mix the ground beef with a few slices of very finely minced raw bacon. In reading a recent cooking magazine it was mentioned that some East Coast chef was frustrated with his bacon burgers because the bacon slices fall off or out of the burger (this being one with buns, I suppose). So he started adding raw bacon to the raw meat. There was no recipe – it was merely mentioned in an article. That got the idea brewing in my head. I decided to try it myself. I mixed the finely minced raw bacon, some dried thyme, salt, pepper and eggs with the ground beef and made patties. I let them rest in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, then lightly they were dredged in flour before frying them in grapeseed oil.

Meanwhile I made the spinach – I sautéed some red onion finely minced up – then added the spinach just before the burgers were done – so the spinach was barely wilted. I added some salt, pepper, ground nutmeg, a tiny little drizzle of cream, a bit of feta cheese and lastly a speck of butter.

The burgers were crisped up in the pan, then removed to a heated plate. Be careful not to over cook them! I poured off all but a speck of the oil, then added some vermouth. It bubbled away until it turned to a light slurry. Then I added a little splash of sherry vinegar, cooked that for a minute or two, and off heat I added a tablespoon or so of unsalted butter. On each individual dinner plate I scooped some spinach, placed the burger on top, spooned the sauce over each one, then sprinkled the top with some additional feta cheese. Voila! If I’d wanted to serve anything else with it I’d have made mashed potatoes. If so, I’d have increased the volume of sauce so there would be enough to drizzle over some of that potatoes. I think I would have placed the spinach and the potatoes side by side, put the burger right smack in the middle, and drizzled the sauce over both – but mostly it goes on the burger.

This would make a scrumptious company meal – the only problem is it must be cooked at the last minute. But the flavors were superb, if I do say so myself. Maybe I’ll try making these with ground turkey, or half turkey and half beef. Maybe it could be done with a chicken breast too. I’ll let you know how that tastes!

Some of the idea for this came from my old standby, French Hamburgers, a Julia Child recipe I’ve been making for about 45 years. At least, the sauce did. The rest of it just came to me as I was cooking along. I do hope you’ll give this a try. So very delicious!

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Beef Burgers with Bacon, Thyme and Wine Sherry Sauce on a Spinach Bed

Recipe By: My own creation.
Serving Size: 6
Notes: This can be a complete entree, but you might want a carb to go along with it. A small serving of mashed potatoes would be ideal, or heated bread. This is SO worthy of a company dinner – but the cooking must be done at the last minute. The sauce is rich and very tasty. If you like more sauce, increase the quantity of wine and sherry vinegar. It’s quite stringent at that point, but once you add butter to it in whatever quantity, it smooths it out.

2 pounds lean ground beef
4 slices bacon — smoky, very finely minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
WINE SAUCE:
2/3 cup vermouth
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons feta cheese — crumbled
SPINACH:
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
1 small red onion — minced
16 ounces baby spinach
1/4 cup water freshly grated nutmeg to taste
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons feta cheese — crumbled

1. In a medium sized bowl combine the ground beef, raw bacon (cut it up with scissors to get it small enough) salt, pepper and eggs. Mix by hand, making sure the egg has been mixed in thoroughly. Gently form the meat into 6 patties about 1/2 inch thick. Set them on a piece of waxed paper on a flat plate, cover with another piece of waxed paper and chill until ready to cook, up to 4 hours.
2. Heat a nonstick frying pan (use two if needed) to medium high and add grapeseed oil.
3. Dredge the meat patties in flour or use your hands to gently pat a light coating of flour on both sides. Add meat to hot pan and sear at fairly high heat until a crust forms on the one side, about 1 1/2 – 2 minutes. Turn over, reduce heat to medium and saute the patties on the second side until a crust forms, another 2 minutes. Cook meat for another 1-2 minutes, turn back over on first side for one more minute and remove to a heated plate.
4. SPINACH: While burgers are cooking, In a large frying pan heat the grapeseed oil until shimmering. Add the minced onion, reduce heat and cook for about 5-10 minutes, until the onion is soft but not brown. Add the spinach and water and stir while the spinach wilts. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add cream and butter and heat through. Spinach should be completely wilted but don’t cook any further than necessary. Add feta cheese and stir just to combine. Keep warm over very low heat until ready to serve.
5. WINE SAUCE: Meanwhile, in the burger pan, pour out all the oil, but don’t clean the pan. Add the wine. The pan should be hot enough that the wine will bubble and reduce down to about 3-4 tablespoons, and will become slightly syrupy. Add the sherry vinegar, cook for about one minute. Turn off heat, then add butter, about 2 teaspoons of it at a time. Swirl with a spatula until butter melts, then add more until all the butter is added and melted. The sauce should be smooth and will glisten.
6. Divide the spinach among the six plates, place burger on top, then spoon sauce evenly over them and sprinkle with the crumbled feta cheese. Serve immediately.
Have all your ingredients ready and at hand before starting to cook.
Per Serving: 677 Calories; 51g Fat (71.5% calories from fat); 34g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 215mg Cholesterol; 531mg Sodium.

A year ago: Greek Style Halibut
Three years ago: Broccoli with Mayo Mustard

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  1. Stacey

    said on May 15th, 2011:

    My mouth was watering as I read this recipe. I remember how much I loved the French Hamburgers you made for Russ and me. Can’t wait to try this one!

    Our mutual friend Cherrie made these a week or so ago. She thinks the sauce wasn’t enough, but hers was too thin. So am not sure if my directions were clear enough. She couldn’t taste the bacon (well, neither could we, actually) but I assume it provides lots of moisture to the burger. Cherrie wants to come to my house and watch me make them. They’re not hard, for sure. But maybe the sauce is a little tricky. . . carolyn t

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