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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 May 3rd, 2016.

chix_breasts_santa_fe_style

As I keep saying, I never have enough recipes for chicken breasts, making them some new or different way. I have dozens and dozens of tried and true recipes, but I get tired of repeating them. So, here’s a new recipe for a boneless, skinless chicken breast stuffed with Boursin cheese, then oiled, coated in Panko and baked. Then served with a really high-profile sauce or salsa.

This recipe has been residing in my to-try file for a long time. I changed it up just a little bit, but only to make it easier, I think. The original recipe was given to me by an old friend, Karen B, and she found it in a Sacramento Bee article in 1988. So, see, it’s “old.” As I read the recipe, I concluded that maybe Boursin cheese didn’t exist in 1988. You think? I don’t really know, but instead of using soft goat cheese and making the herb and garlic filling with freshly bought or harvested herbs and minced garlic, I just bought one of the little round discs of Boursin (the garlic & herb one) and used it! To make 4 servings (4 breasts) you’d use the whole 4-ounce container. I halved the recipe, and actually I ate only half of the chicken breast pictured above, so will have 3 more meals out of the 2 breasts.

First you need to make the sauce, or salsa, so it has time to marry the flavors. It was easy – chopped up fresh tomatoes, basil, cilantro, green onions, red wine vinegar, EVOO, salt and pepper, and a little bit of minced jalapeno chile. To give it some zip. I didn’t refrigerate it – but you could easily make it a few hours ahead. I have some left over, but am not sure the cilantro will last very long sitting in the sauce.

The chicken breasts are boneless and skinless. I removed the chicken tenders for another use (no, I don’t know what – maybe I’ll treat my kitty-cat to some in his dinner). The breasts then were flattened (pounded) gently, between pieces of plastic wrap, until they were uniformly about 1/4 inch thick. I cut the Boursin cheese to fit down the middle, lengthwise, of the breast, and folded it on itself, kind of pinching the edges together. If you’re concerned – or have difficulty – fork-whip an egg and use it as glue on the edges to hold them together. I also lightly salted and peppered the interior of the chicken.

santa_fe_breasts_stuffed_rawThen, I lightly oiled the outside of each of these sort-of rolls and gently dipped them into a bit of Panko crumbs. I didn’t truly coat the outside, but used just enough to give it some crunch. Then I placed the rolls on a rack on a baking sheet – see photo at left – (lined with foil, although there weren’t any drips – but there could be and it might not be very easy to clean up). Put the seam side up and gently press the ends in so the cheese doesn’t ooze out the ends. Into a 375° oven it went and baked for about 30-40 minutes. The chicken didn’t slump or open up at all – I was almost surprised, but it didn’t. I tested the chicken with an instant-read thermometer, and once it reached 155° in the thicker part (inserted into the chicken, not the cheesy interior) I removed the pan and let it rest for just a couple of minutes.

Since each breast was rather large (the Costco ones are pretty big), you could slice the chicken on the diagonal and fan them out onto a heated platter (but then the cheese would ooze out, I think) or serve a half of one, or a whole one to hearty eaters, with the sauce spooned over the top. It made a lovely, juicy, cheesy (but not overly so since there isn’t all that much cheese in each portion) entrée. I loved the sauce – wish I’d had more of it. Next time I’ll probably make more, so I’ve increased the amount of sauce in the recipe below, just so you’ll have plenty. If you know you’re going to have leftovers, my suggestion is to hold out the cilantro and add it only when you’re ready to serve, and only use enough of the sauce that you’ll use at that meal. That will preclude the cilantro from becoming gooey in the sauce if you keep it a day or two.

What’s GOOD: A lovely presentation. Very juicy, as long as you don’t bake it past 155°F. Loved the sauce/salsa. I liked the crunch of the little bit of panko crumbs on the outside. Easy to put together, easy to bake. Would be nice for a company meal.

What’s NOT: pounding the chicken is really very easy, although not to everyone’s taste. It does take just a bit of fussy work to get the cheese down the middle, sealed, oiled and panko-crumbed. But only a few minutes, really. Worth doing according to me! IF you check the temperature while baking the chicken, you’ll be assured of a juicy entrée. If you don’t, it could very easily get over-cooked and dry.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chicken Santa Fe Style

Recipe By: Adapted from a newspaper article, 1988 (Sacramento Bee)
Serving Size: 4

4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
4 ounces Boursin cheese — garlic & herbs type
Salt & pepper to taste
Olive oil for coating, and panko crumbs
SAUCE:
3 large tomatoes — peeled, seeded and chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 green onions — minced, including some of the tops
2/3 cup cilantro — chopped
1 tablespoon jalapeno pepper — minced
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

1. SAUCE: Combine ingredients and chill. Taste the sauce for seasonings. If it seems too tart, add a smidge more oil. If too bland, add a smidge more vinegar. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. CHICKEN: Remove tenders if attached to chicken breast and use for another dish. Place each breast on a flat surface with a piece of plastic wrap under and on top. Using a pounder, gently flatten the chicken at the thicker end only so it measures 1/4″ thick and about 5″ across (and about 6″ long). Do not pound so thin you make a hole anywhere as you need the breast to remain intact to retain the cheese filling. Cut pieces of the Boursin and place a narrow rope of it down the middle. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Pull both sides together and they should more-or-less hold their shape, with the seam at the top. It will be approximately round in shape. If desired you can rub the seam-edges with beaten egg to help them hold together.
3. Drizzle the outside of each breast with olive oil, then roll the breasts in panko crumbs, without allowing the seam to open up.
4. Place stuffed breasts, seam side up, on a rack on a baking sheet lined with foil.
5. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until an instant read thermometer, inserted into the meat (not the cheese) registers 155°F. Let cool slightly. You may slice the chicken diagonally and fan the pieces onto a hot serving platter or serve the rolls individually, spooning the sauce over the top.
NOTE: If you’re making more than you’ll eat at one meal, I’d advise not adding the cilantro to the sauce, and only use part of the sauce. Cilantro, once exposed to liquid, tends to get slimy, so add it in just before serving. Alternatively, you could sprinkle it on the finished dish, or pass cilantro at the table and people could add their own.
Per Serving: 524 Calories; 41g Fat (69.2% calories from fat); 31g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 102mg Cholesterol; 288mg Sodium.

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