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Just finished a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you want that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

Also finished Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia. You know Julian Fellowes, the producer and writer of Downton Abbey? He lends his mind to a story about a family or two from the similar time period as Downton, who live in London. There’s some amount of intrigue, romance, observations from within the halls of wealthy Londoners and moderately well off tradesmen and their families. There’s affairs, shady business dealings, an illegitimate child, the comings and goings of the “downstairs” staff too, etc. The characters were well done – I had no trouble keeping all of the people identified. The story is somewhat predictable, but it was interesting clear up to the end.

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.

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.

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.

Scroll down to the bottom to view my Blogroll

Posted in Veggies/sides, on November 17th, 2011.

ital_sausage_mushroom_leek_dressing

Here you can see just the veggies
and the sausage the dressing contains.

OMGosh! Oh, my gracious was this dressing ever the cat’s meow. The be all, end all of dressings I’ve ever, ever had. I will be making this next week for our family’s Thanksgiving dinner. So, okay, what’s so different about it? Well, I’ll tell you that I have an Italian sausage dressing I’ve been making for a several years, but this one? Well, it’s going into #1 position. Part of it’s the vegetables (a lot of them). Part of it’s the moistness of it (it’s a relatively wet dressing) and another part of it is the gravy (oh-so tasty). And the fresh herbs. And the mushrooms (not exactly a common veggie in dressing). Oh, heck. It’s all of it put together as a whole. If I were a vegetarian, I’d gladly have this as my entrée (well, without the sausage, I suppose).

Several weeks ago my friend Cherrie and I went to a Phillis Carey class that was all about an Italian Thanksgiving menu. Everything in it was fantastic. The only thing I might not make is the pumpkin pie (a different take – and I’m just too hooked on the traditional Libby’s style Costco pumpkin pie). Otherwise I think I’ll be making the entire meal from this class (green beans with shallots, the artichoke Romano bruschetta, the Mascarpone mashed potatoes, the pancetta-butter basted turkey, and the gravy I’m writing up here, with the dressing.

It was several years ago I discovered how much I liked Italian sausage in my turkey dressing. And there’s been no turning back. I think my mother usually used Pepperidge Farms dry, packaged mix with her simple additions. And I made it the same way for many years, until I went to a cooking class and had some real, honest-to-goodness completely home made dressing, including the bread cubes. I had some with cornmeal one year. It was okay. But somehow cornbread didn’t fit in with my vision of a Thanksgiving dressing. But now, THIS one. Gosh. Made with fresh, torn bread cubes that are briefly baked in the oven. With oodles of veggies – onion, celery, including some of the green tops, leeks, and mushrooms. And the fresh herbs (sage, rosemary). And the Italian sausage, of course. Certainly there is ample bread in this dressing, but it’s almost more about the vegetables – of which there are lots – and the gravy. The gravy, the gravy. Pictured at right – you can see the little bit of cream added in at the end. Makes it so luscious. Back to the dressing – the one thing that’s a bit unusual in this dressing is the addition of EGGS. Phillis told us they’re not an absolute, but she thinks the dressing stays together better with them. So I’ll be adding those. So delicious.

So, if you’ve had any second thoughts about making your old standby, may I just suggest you try this one, okay? Read further below for the gravy write-up and recipe.

printer-friendly PDF (dressing)
Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open MC – 14 contains photo)

Italian Sausage Bread Dressing with Mushrooms, Leeks and Fresh Herbs

Recipe By: Phillis Carey, cooking instructor, Oct. 2011
Serving Size: 12

1 pound white bread — 3/4″ cubes (about 12 cups)
1 1/2 pounds Italian sausage — sweet, not hot
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 cups leeks — sliced (white and pale green parts only), about 2-3
1 cup onions — chopped
2 cups celery — with leaves, chopped
1/2 pound crimini mushrooms — sliced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons fresh sage — chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary — chopped
1/3 cup Italian parsley — chopped
2 large eggs — beaten (optional)
1 1/3 cups low sodium chicken broth — or turkey stock (approx.)

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Divide bread cubes between 2 large baking sheets. Bake the bread until slightly dry, about 15 minutes. Remove and cool completely.
2. Saute sausage (remove casings) in a heavy, large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through, leaving the sausage in chunks, using the back of a spoon to chop up the meat, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer sausage to a large bowl. Pour off the drippings.
3. Melt butter in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add leeks, salt, onions, celery, mushrooms and thyme to the skillet and saute until leeks and mushrooms soften, about 10 minutes. Mix in fresh sage and rosemary. Add mixture to sausage, then mix in bread and parsley. Season stuffing to taste with salt and pepper. (At this point you can prepare one day ahead; cover and refrigerate.)
4. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter a 15x10x2 inch baking dish (or 2 smaller casseroles). Mix beaten eggs into the stuffing and add enough broth to make a fairly WET mixture – it should almost be soupy in consistency. Transfer mixture to the baking dish(es). Cover with buttered foil and bake until heated through, about 45 minutes. If you prefer crispy-topped dressing, uncover and bake until top is golden brown, about another 10 minutes. Serve this with gravy liberally ladled all over the dressing.
Per Serving: 373 Calories; 24g Fat (58.1% calories from fat); 15g Protein; 24g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 89mg Cholesterol; 711mg Sodium.

Now then, the gravy. Not difficult, although there are two parts to it. You’ll make some really flavorful stock from what develops in the bottom of the turkey roasting pan. That part is essential! A part of it can be made while the turkey is roasting, and then once you’ve removed the turkey and it’s resting, all that good tasty broth is added to the pancetta flavored gravy mixture. It has to cook to just the right consistency and you’re done. The pancetta is part of what makes this – also the use of white wine in the gravy.

printer-friendly PDF (gravy)
Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click to open in MC – 14 contains photo)

Turkey Gravy

Recipe By: Phillis Carey, cooking instructor, Oct. 2011
Serving Size: 10
NOTES: If you have gravy lovers at your Thanksgiving table, you might want to make a double batch of this.

1/2 cup pancetta — thinly sliced, diced (about 3 ounces)
1/4 cup shallots — chopped
1/4 cup flour
3 cups turkey stock — (to be added to the turkey roasting pan) low-sodium, or chicken stock
1 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary — chopped
1 teaspoon fresh sage — chopped

1. As you prepare the turkey to roast, pour into the bottom of the roasting pan 3 cups of chicken or turkey stock (packaged is fine). As the turkey roasts, make sure the stock doesn’t evaporate – add more water as needed so the pan stays completely wet. After the turkey is finished, pour off the juices, including the fat, scraping any and all bits of things from the bottom of the pan, into a large measuring cup. Add water to make 3 cups of broth. Reserve at least 2 T. of the fat and try to remove the remainder of the fat (in a fat separator if you have one).
2. While the turkey is roasting you can start the gravy. Add just a bit of olive oil to a large saute pan and cook the pancetta until it’s beginning to crisp, about 5 minutes. Add shallots and saute for a minute. Reduce heat to medium.
3. Add flour to the mixture and whisk until it turns a golden brown, about 4 minutes. (If making ahead, set aside at this point.)
4. With the gravy mixture hot, add the 3 cups of turkey juices, including the 2 T. of reserved turkey fat, and the wine. Bring mixture to a boil, whisking frequently. Simmer until it reaches your desired consistency, about 5 minutes more. Add rosemary and sage, season to taste with salt and pepper.
Per Serving: 59 Calories; 1g Fat (24.0% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 8mg Cholesterol; 952mg Sodium.

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