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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 aging 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, wealthy women) 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.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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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