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Just finished 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 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 parents were 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 a old 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.

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

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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