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I’m going to write up an entire blog post about this book. It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Florence as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

Also finished The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel by Gabrielle Zevin. It popped up on a list I subscribe to and was available for $1.13 as an e-book. As it begins, you’re hearing from A.J., a grieving widower who owns a bookstore on an obscure island off the East Coast. He’s angry, rude and every other negative adjective you can imagine. A book rep comes to visit and he’s awful to her, yet she perseveres and manages to sell him a few books. You get to know his friends (a friendship with him is full of sharp points) and one day an abandoned toddler is found in his bookshop. In between the story line about A.J., the book rep, the little girl and others, you will learn all about A.J.’s book tastes. If you’re an avid reader, you’ll really enjoy that part. It’s a charming book; loved it.

Also read a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you need that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

 

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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