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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

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 middle-aged 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, and wealthy) 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.

 

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, easy, on June 6th, 2015.

chicken_in_milk_sweet_potatoes

Aren’t we all busy as can be sometimes and we need a quick dinner without a lot of prep? Here’s one.

Defrosting a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts was all I’d done in preparation for dinner. I glanced through my to-try file, and knowing that I had a sweet potato, cilantro, milk, ginger, garlic and Dijon . . . well, that constituted enough to try to make a riff on a Jamie Oliver recipe I had. Really, about all I used from his recipe is the technique, the milk, garlic and cinnamon. The rest I made up as I went along.

You do need to know that when you cook milk, it separates. It just does, and Jamie (and many other great cooks) have shared recipes for meat simmered in milk, so it’s not a new idea by any means. But something chemical in the milk doesn’t allow it to be simmered (boiled) without separating. (If you use heavy cream, it won’t separate even when you boil it, but milk, yes it will.) You could add flour to it to make a thin-type sauce, which would avoid the separating, but I was too lazy. I could have dipped the chicken in some seasoned flour and that would have provided some thickening to the sauce too, that might have kept it from separating. But again, I was lazy and didn’t. I wanted to try it as-is, Jamie’s way. It provides a kind of lumpy, thick-and-thin sauce that’s not exactly pretty. But it tastes good, and especially if you have some kind of carb to put it on.

I had some zucchini too, that needed fixing, so that went in another pan with a chopped up slice of bacon and cooked away slowly while I made the chicken. First you brown (light golden-brown) the chicken in a bit of butter in a big skillet (that has a lid). Once golden brown, you remove it and set it aside. Then you add a shallot, cook that a bit, then add some big chunks of sweet potato, uniformly sliced about 1/2” thick, though, so they cook evenly. Those got slightly browned, then I added in the milk. I also added a little jot of cream – hoping it might help the milk from separating (no, it didn’t). Then I added my seasonings: Dijon mustard, garlic, salt and pepper, and the cinnamon. Jamie called for a stick of cinnamon – I didn’t feel like hunting for it, so I just used a pinch or two of ground cinnamon instead. Once simmering, I added the lid and let it cook slowly for about 10 minutes, until the sweet potatoes were just barely tender. You don’t want to overcook them. The chicken is added back in, simmered for 3-4 minutes is all – until it’s tender and juicy. Don’t overcook those either or it’ll be inedible. (I ordered a Cobb salad the other day, and the chicken meat served on it was so dry I almost choked on it – what a waste.) Just know that chicken breasts don’t need hardly any cooking – check it frequently to make sure you don’t overdo it.

In the cooking time, the sauce, as I mentioned, separates. It’s kind of like curds and whey. You can see some of the curds on the sweet potatoes in the photo. The milk becomes a kind of broth, almost, with the curds in it – my solution was to kind of mush-up the sweet potatoes a little bit, then eat a bit of that, with a bite of chicken and some of the milk sauce. All together. The flavors are subtle – even with the garlic – I expected the garlic to be pronounced, but it wasn’t. I made 2 servings and used 3 garlic cloves, mashed.

What’s GOOD: I loved the taste, that’s what’s important. The visual, well, not so good, and I’d probably not serve this to guests, just because people might be put-off by the separated milk/sauce. I was fine with it, especially since Jamie Oliver tells you right up front about what happens to the milk in his recipe. Milk is a lovely tenderizer of meat, even though the chicken didn’t spend that much time bathed in the milk. It was good. It was simple. All good reasons to make it again. Is it fabulous? Well, no, I wouldn’t put it in that category. It was quick, that’s what I was looking for.

What’s NOT: the only thing is the sauce – some may not like it. I can see children saying “ew, Mom, what’s that?” But if you mush up the potatoes (or serve rice on the side) and the sauce goes on the carb, they might not notice.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chicken in Milk with Sweet Potatoes

Recipe By: A major riff on a Jamie Oliver recipe.
Serving Size: 4

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 chicken breast halves without skin — drained, blotted dry
1 small shallot — minced
2 medium sweet potatoes — peeled, halved, 1/2″ slices
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons grated ginger root
2 pinches ground cinnamon — (or use a whole stick)
3 cloves garlic — minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons cilantro — minced (garnish), or parsley

NOTES: If you have chicken with skin, by all means use it. Even better, use bone-in chicken. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts was what I had on hand. And chicken breasts cook in a flash, so be careful not to overcook them. You’ll NOT be happy with the results.
1. In a large skillet (with a lid) melt butter. When it begins to sizzle, add the chicken breasts and brown gently on both sides until they show golden color, about 2 minutes per side. Remove to a plate.
2. Add shallot to the skillet and cook for about 3-4 minutes until it’s translucent. Add the sweet potatoes and allow them to brown on both sides, just a little bit, 3-4 minutes.
3. Pour in the milk and cream, then add Dijon, mustard, garlic and cinnamon. Mix well, blending in the mustard. Bring to a very low simmer, cover and cook slowly for about 10 minutes, until sweet potatoes are nearly done. Test them with a knife – you want them to stay together but be barely edible at this point.
4. Add the chicken pieces in the skillet, cover and simmer for 3-4 minutes, until they are cooked through. Do NOT overcook them or they’ll be dry.
5. The sauce will have separated – it’s not exactly a pretty picture – but it tastes great. If desired, slightly mash the sweet potatoes with a fork or potato masher, place chicken on top of the potatoes, then pour the lumpy sauce over both. Garnish with fresh cilantro or parsley and serve immediately.
6. You can also make the chicken without sweet potatoes, but prepare rice or mashed potatoes – and drizzle the separated sauce on top.
Per Serving: 353 Calories; 15g Fat (37.7% calories from fat); 32g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 113mg Cholesterol; 155mg Sodium.

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  1. KalynsKitchen

    said on June 6th, 2015:

    I know how amazing pork chops cooked in milk are, so I bet this is just as good. And it doesn’t look bad at all to me!

    Seems like I only learned a year or so ago about some other meat dishes that are braised or simmered, or long-baked with milk. That technique just hadn’t been on my radar! . . .carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on June 6th, 2015:

    Loved Jamie Oliver’s chicken baked in milk and a succulent pork roast cooked in a similar fashion. I like the idea of using sweet potatoes in the dish. This sounds quite good. I think I’d use some thighs (my favorite piece) along with some breasts, which my husband prefers.

    I like the idea of the chicken thighs. I prefer them too. . . carolyn T

  3. hddonna

    said on June 13th, 2015:

    Great “riffing”, Carolyn! Made this for supper last night. I had bone-in skin-on chicken breasts, and they were just over a pound each, so I added them back in to the milk mixture right away instead of cooking the sweet potatoes on their own for a few minutes as directed in the recipe. They took about 20 minutes. It was delicious! Mopped up the juices with crusty bread–yum! I was pleased by how quickly the dish went together and how little clean-up there was. I’ll do this again, for sure.

    Oh, I’m glad you liked it. The technique, and resulting dish isn’t to everyone’s taste, but I thought it was quite tasty and easy, as you learned! . . .carolyn t

  4. Madonna

    said on June 16th, 2015:

    Just an fyi – I have made this and I know what you mean about the appearance. I took my immersion blender to the broken sauce – fabulous. I hope you don’t mind my two cents. I have not tried the sweet potatoes. I will give it a try.

    What a great idea to use the immersion blender! Why didn’t I think of that. I’ll try that. Thank you very much for the suggestion! . . . carolyn t

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