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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.

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Posted in Chicken, on June 8th, 2013.

pecan_crusted_chix_blueberry_corn_salsa

You’ve heard me say it here before – if you trust my judgment – you’ve got to make this chicken dish. It was SO good. I love it when I find a recipe that combines some new flavor combination – who’d have thought corn and blueberries were a match – they are when you combine them with pecan and panko-crusted chicken.

The recipe has been in my to-try file for awhile. I found it over at Charmian Christie’s blog, now called The Messy Baker. I love the photo – the contrast of the dark blueberries and the bright yellow (white) corn. We have fresh corn in our markets now – probably comes from Latin America because I don’t believe local corn is big enough yet to harvest. The corner farm stand, where they grow corn every year is about 4 1/2 feet tall right now, but certainly no corn yet.

Charmian credits this dish, which is called a Milanesa (I changed it from Pecan Milanesa to Pecan Crusted Chicken Breasts, so you’d know from the get-go what it is). In Latin and South America a Milanesa just means a breaded cutlet. It’s not an Italian word, but of Austrian heritage (think: milanese, and weiner schnitzel). Anyway, the recipe comes from a new cookbook Charmian acquired called The New Southern-Latino Table: Recipes that Bring Together the Bold and Beloved Flavors of Latin America and the American South. Charmian gave the book some good kudos, with this recipe being one of the reasons she was loving it. I must be a sucker for salsas. Being raised in Southern California, salsa has been part of my cooking repertoire since I was young.

So here’s what’s involved. Pound the chicken to an even thickness, about 1/3 inch worked for me – don’t pound the thin ends as they’re already thin enough. Set out 3 plates – one for seasoned flour, one for eggs and water mixed up, and the third for finely minced pecans and panko crumbs. The original recipe called for dry bread crumbs – I didn’t have anything but panko and they seemed to work just fine. Dip the chicken in the flour, then eggs, then pecans and fry in a medium-hot pan with olive oil (or canola – I used olive this time because I wanted the flavor) just until browned on both sides. I put this in my toaster oven, actually, at 350° for 10 minutes. I lined the baking pan with foil.

Meanwhile, I mixed up the salsa – the recipe you see below serves 6. I made it to serve 2, so I ended up improvising a little bit on the proportions in the salsa, and I’ve made those minor changes in the recipe you see. I added a bit more sweet (I used agave nectar, not honey), more lime juice (what good is half a lime sitting around?), corn from one medium fresh corn cob, and probably a few more blueberries. I also added some slivered fresh basil – only because we have a thriving bush in our kitchen garden and it’s so flavorful right now. I made a green salad, and that was dinner!

What’s GOOD: everything – but particularly the salsa – bright and tangy from the lime juice (I drizzled all the juice over the top of the chicken breasts too – if you eat it right away it doesn’t make the breading soggy. Also liked the crunchy texture and taste of the pecan crust. The chicken was just perfectly cooked through – tender and so juicy! This is a definite make-again dish – it’ll be going onto my Favs list (see tab at top). It would also make a very good company dish – you just have to do the browning and baking at the last minute, though.
What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of. It’s a keeper.

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Pecan Crusted Chicken Breasts with Blueberry Corn Salsa

Recipe By: adapted slightly from The Messy Baker Blog
Serving Size: 6

CHICKEN:
6 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups pecans — toasted and ground (see note)
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
2 eggs — lightly beaten
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup vegetable oil — [I used EVOO]
SALSA:
1 1/2 cups corn kernels
1 cup blueberries
1/4 cup sweet onion
1 small serrano pepper — very finely minced
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro — chopped
2 tablespoons fresh mint — finely minced
2 tablespoons fresh basil — finely sliced [my addition: optional]
3 tablespoons lime juice — approximate
2 tablespoons agave nectar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper — to taste

Note: Toast pecans on a baking sheet in a 350°F oven for 5–8 minutes, or until fragrant. Transfer them to a plate to cool completely. Once toasted, pecans can be frozen in an air-tight container for up to 4 months. Chop them very finely with a sharp knife. The nutrition count includes fat from the nuts, but that’s a healthy fat! If you want to cut some of the fat, use more panko and less pecans for the crust.
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Fit a baking sheet with a metal cooling rack; set aside. [I didn’t do this – I just foil-lined a baking sheet; worked fine. The rack just assures the bottom of the chicken is cooked through.]
3. Pound the chicken breasts with a meat mallet to 1/3-inch thickness; set aside. On a plate, combine the flour, salt, paprika, and pepper. On another plate, combine the pecans and bread crumbs. In yet another plate, use a flat whisk to mix the eggs and 2 tablespoons water.
4. Dredge each cutlet in the flour mixture, shaking off the excess, and dip both sides of the cutlet into the eggs. Dip both sides of the cutlet into the pecans, pressing gently so they adhere well. In a large skillet, heat 1/4 cup of the oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, fry the cutlets for 2–3 minutes per side, or until golden brown (add more oil as needed; reduce the heat if they brown too quickly). Transfer the cutlets to the prepared baking sheet and bake for 10–12 minutes, or until cooked through (no longer pink).
5. In a medium bowl, combine the corn, blueberries, onions, serrano, cilantro, mint, basil, lime juice, and agave and stir until well incorporated; season with salt and pepper. Serve the chicken topped with salsa. Drizzle the lime juice over the chicken as well – if you eat it immediately it won’t make the chicken soggy.
Per Serving (much of the fat comes from the nuts): 622 Calories; 40g Fat (57.3% calories from fat); 35g Protein; 33g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 139mg Cholesterol; 361mg Sodium.

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