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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, Salads, on April 25th, 2015.

zuni_cafe_roast_chicken_easy

Oh my gracious! This salad. This salad is going to knock your socks off! Trust me. Bread salad with lots of nice greens, some pine nuts, a few chopped raisins, a tart vinaigrette, and on top – well, just the most delicious chicken I think I’ve ever had. Bar none.

Having guests over for dinner a week before I left on my trip was maybe not the best idea I’ve ever had – I was kind of frantic getting everything done, items packed, friends and neighbors notified, bills paid, taxes done and paid for, and yet, I’d been wanting to have these friends over, and figured oh well, a week before my trip I’ll be fine. And really, it was. Joan brought marinated tomatoes. Jackie brought a delicious blueberry custard dessert. I made the main dish and an appetizer. I brought out one of Dave’s favorite wines from the cellar, an Amavi Syrah, which was wonderful with the chicken. Also served a Zaca Mesa Viognier for two of the guests who preferred white wine. I set the table, of course, chilled the water, made the appetizer the day before, and did the shopping 3 days before.

There is a caveat, however, about this recipe. You absolutely MUST start this at least 24 hours before you want to serve it. And 48 hours are still okay too. It’s not hard to do that step, but it’s imperative you do it. The whole chicken is drained, dried off, salted and peppered and a few sprigs of fresh herbs gently slid underneath the breast skin and the thigh skin. Then it’s left to sit in the refrigerator with just a paper towel over the top. It’s like dry brining. It just sits. See, I said that part was easy. It probably took about 10 minutes of prep to find the right dish to hold 2 chickens that would fit in my garage refrigerator. And 4-5 minutes to dry off the birds and pat the salt all over them. The cold air in the frig helps dry out the skin, but then the salt helps protect it and hug in the juices. Such a chemical term – hug in the juices. I don’t know how else to describe it.

It’s a recipe I’ve been wanting to try for a long time. I’d heard, many years ago, about the fame of Judy Rodgers’ roasted chicken. It was epic to her San Francisco restaurant fans when she published her cookbook with the beloved recipe contained within for her roast chicken. Judy Rodgers died a couple of years ago. Chefs and fans mourned grievously. She was a rock star in the chef world. I don’t own her cookbook – The Zuni Cafe Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco’s Beloved Restaurant [Hardcover] [2002] First Edition Ed. Judy Rodgers, Gerald Asher. The link just provided goes to an older edition that isn’t available for purchase, but you can find it in hardback. Amazon’s link is broken, somehow. Her cookbook is noteworthy for chefs, and very experienced home cooks. It’s not meant for the weeknight family dinner. You can find Rodgers’ roasted chicken full recipe online.  I copied it off from the ‘net, but wasn’t so sure I’d ever make it, as it’s an extremely complex masterpiece.

But, when I found an easy version of Rodgers’ famous chicken and bread salad, I downloaded it in a jiffy from a blog called NW Edible. It’s been in my to-try file for several years. Gosh, what a shame I hadn’t made it before since it’s such a winner!

Here’s what’s involved. Once you have done the dry brine, and a couple hours before you want to eat, bring out the bird(s) to reach room temp. Chop and oil the rustic bread and broil or bake until crispy but not hard. Make the vinaigrette. Get all the other ingredients ready. NW Edible used cast iron frying pans for her chickens. I don’t own 2 of them, so I opted to use my big Teflon coated turkey roasting pan, which was a perfect fit for 2 Costco chickens I’d prepared. I pre-heated the pan to 475°F. Now, that’s not a typo. The chicken IS roasted at 475°. Really. Once the pan was heated, I took it out and plopped the 2 chickies in the pan and they did sizzle. Probably not as much as in a cast iron skillet, but it worked fine in my book.

Into the oven the birdies went and I set the timer for 80 minutes. Meanwhile, I served an appetizer and wine and we would occasionally catch a whiff of the chicken roasting away. Once out of the oven, right on time – the chicken breast was at 170°, a little high, but it was fine. With help from Joan, we each poked a utensil into each end of the chicken and allowed the juices and fat to drain out into the pan. You also slice the skin near the legs to allow all those juices to drain. Then the chickens went onto a big carving board while I worked on the salad. The big roasting pan was drained (and saved) for of all its juices. I used a fat-separator, as I didn’t want the fat, just the juices. For the 2 birds, I think there was about 1/2 cup of juices and fat. That was set aside to do it’s separating and I went back to the pan. It went onto a stovetop burner and once heated up, with the residual fat in the pan, I added fresh garlic and pine nuts and they took a minute or two to get barely golden. Then 1/4 cup of the juices were poured in. That got poured over the top of the bread croutons in a big bowl. They are allowed to just sit for a minute or two – you want those pan juices to soak into the bread. The raisins were added (currants are called for, but I didn’t have any, so I used regular raisins chopped up fine) into the vinaigrette. A couple of huge wads of salad greens were added. The recipe calls for arugula, but Trader Joe’s was all out of arugula (gosh, that stuff is popular), so I used a multi-colored greens mixture that contains quite a bit of arugula anyway.

Meanwhile, I asked one of the guys to carve, which Don did, very kindly. I could have done it, but I thought I’d ask for help. Tom was the sommelier, we decided to call him and he kept our wine glasses filled. The two husbands handily stepped in to fill Dave’s shoes. Once the salad was tossed – the greens and the soaked bread, it was all on the big white platter you can see up top, and then Don put the chicken pieces – some thick breast slices, some dark meat and a drumstick or two on top, and it was ready. Done.

Almost always when I serve dinner, I serve it buffet style in the kitchen. On my huge island. Then everyone takes their plate into the dining room. We had a lively conversation about a variety of things. Travel, politics, religion. Two of those somewhat no-no subjects. We talked about our families, grandchildren and their busy schedules, travel destinations, etc. Anyway, it was just great fun, and the chicken was magnificent.

What’s GOOD: there is absolutely nothing that isn’t GREAT about this recipe. It takes a bit more prep than some, and you do have to start at least a day in advance. The vinaigrette is fabulous. The salad and slightly soaked crispy bread is magnificent. And the chicken. Well, it’s in a league of its own. Make this. It’s going onto my Carolyn’s Favs list, if that tells you how good it is.

What’s NOT: only the part about needing to start it at least a day ahead.

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Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

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Easy Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken and Bread Salad

Recipe By: NW Edible blog, 2013
Serving Size: 9

CHICKEN:
6 pounds whole chicken — 2.5 – 3 pounds per chicken
8 sprigs thyme — soft tip-sprigs, each about 1-inch long or rosemary (or both)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
BREAD SALAD:
16 ounces bread — thick sliced, rustic style (like ciabatta)
olive oil — as needed
1/4 cup pine nuts
4 whole garlic cloves — chopped (2 to 3)
A few handfuls of arugula or similar greens washed and dried
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
VINAIGRETTE:
2 tablespoons dried currants — or raisins, chopped
2 tablespoons red onion — or shallot, finely minced
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
1/4 cup chicken juices, drained from the hot roasted chicken

1. CHICKEN PREP – A day or two before you intend to roast your chicken, sprinkle it all over with kosher salt and a little black pepper. A 3 pound bird will use about a tablespoon of kosher salt. Slide an herb sprig under the skin pocket of each breast and thigh. Tuck the wingtips behind the neck but do not truss the bird.
2. Refrigerate chicken, lightly covered with a paper towel or two, for 24 hours to 3 days. This gives the salt an opportunity to season and tenderize the meat.
3. An hour or so before you want to start roasting your chicken, and about two hours before you want to eat, preheat your oven to 475° F and bring your chicken out of the frig so it can come to room temperature.
4. Preheat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat for several minutes, until quite hot. (I used a large roasting pan, that happens to be Teflon coated and 2 chickens sat in the pan perfectly.) Place the resting chicken, breast-side-up, in the hot skillet. It should sizzle. Transfer immediately to the hot oven. If your skillet isn’t well seasoned, and you worry about sticking, add a bit of olive oil or lard to the skillet just before you add your chicken the skillet.
5. Roast chicken for about 40 minutes to an hour, until fully cooked but still juicy. (If you have a 5-pound bird, it may take 75-85 minutes.) The skin should be beautifully golden and paper thin across the thigh, and the thigh joint should feel lose.
6. When chicken is cooked, using a utensil poked into each end of the bird, carefully tip the bird so the cavity is down and drain the juices from the chicken. Slash the skin between thigh and breast to let out any trapped juices there. Transfer chicken to a platter to rest. Whisk the pan juices in the skillet to release any caramelized bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, then transfer juices to a fat separator if you have one (or use a small bowl) and set aside for 5-10 minutes to allow the fat to rise to the top. You’ll use about ¼ cup reserved juices (not the fat); if you have more, save extra for another purpose.
7. SALAD: While chicken is roasting, prepare the bread salad.
8. VINAIGRETTE: For the vinaigrette, add the currants and minced red onion to a bowl. Add red and white vinegar and set aside for about ten minutes, to allow currants to plump. Then, add Dijon mustard and olive oil and whisk until well blended. Set aside. This can be made a few hours ahead.
9. BREAD: Brush all bread slices liberally with olive oil and salt to taste. Place toast slices under a preheated broiler or in a dry skillet set over medium heat and toast until golden brown. Some darker and lighter spots are fine. (I cut the bread into cubes, and toasted them, lightly tossed with some olive oil in a 375° oven for about 12 minutes until golden brown.)
10. When toasted bread is cool enough to handle, tear into rough, bite-sized hunks if you didn’t cut the bread into cubes at the beginning. Some larger and some smaller pieces are fine. Put toasted bread pieces in a large bowl. (You can make the bread a few hours ahead, but once cool, place them in a sealing plastic bag to keep them crispy.)
11. Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a pan. Add the smashed garlic cloves and pine nuts and warm all over medium heat until the pine nuts are toasty but not burnt and the garlic has softened.
12. Add garlic, pine nuts and any olive oil from the pan to the bowl with the toasted bread pieces. Set aside until you are ready to finish the salad.
13. FINISHING: Gather the bowl with the toasted bread, the vinaigrette, the reserved pan juices from the roast chicken and 4-6 handfuls of arugula.
14. Toss the bread with the chicken juices and add about half of the vinaigrette and stir to combine. You want the bread to soak up those juices, so give it a minute if needed. Add in the arugula, toss, and taste for seasoning. Adjust by adding salt, pepper, more vinaigrette, or a tiny splash of red wine vinegar if needed. (Mine was perfect, using about 3/4 of the vinaigrette.)
15. Serve the chicken pulled into pieces, over the bread salad. Good hot or room temperature. If you have extra vinaigrette (I did), serve it at the table and allow guests to pour a bit of it on top of the chicken pieces, if desired.
Per Serving (disregard it all – it shows high calorie because the recipe assumes you consume all the skin, and fat and the sodium is high because of all the salt patted on the bird during its dry brining): 730 Calories; 47g Fat (58.5% calories from fat); 44g Protein; 31g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 188mg Cholesterol; 1688mg Sodium.

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