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Recently finished reading The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by 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. 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 angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. 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.

 

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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