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Just finished reading The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

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.

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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