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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 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.

printer-friendly PDF, created using Cute PDF Writer, not Adobe
MasterCook 5+ import file – right click to save (remember where), run MC, File|Import

* Exported from MasterCook *

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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