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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 aging 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, wealthy women) 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.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) 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 Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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 April 7th, 2017.

chicken_pudding_pea_gravy

This recipe has such an interesting story, I just had to post it. Have leftover chicken? This makes a nice (and different) way to serve it, and get in a bunch of veggies.

Having mentioned before that I’m in P.E.O., a women’s organization, I’ve probably also mentioned that our chapter does very fun small-group fund-raising events. We, as an organization, help an all-women’s college in Missouri (Cottey College). We support a variety of other charitable causes as well, but each year every P.E.O. chapter is asked to donate money to the school. Our chapter’s method is to have small gatherings of our members (everything from a tour of some museum, or historic home, to lunch in someone’s home, or a game with lunch, or a wine-tasting, for example) and our members bid chix_pudd_bakedon attending. The money raised goes to Cottey College (we generally raise about $2000 a year for that). So, all that said, one of my other P.E.O. members (sisters, we call one another) had an event at her house – a lunch and a talk about George Washington (we love it when our events are educational). These gatherings are some of the most fun things we do, IMHO.

Chris searched for some recipes online that would have been in George Washington’s time. She came across this chicken pudding recipe from Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. She made the dish according to the online recipe, and served it with a light chicken gravy (not in the original recipe, but she thought it needed something on it). When I quizzed her about the dish, she thought maybe next time she’d spice it up a little more (cooks back in those days didn’t have many herbs and spices – they were quite dear), and she thought some veggies added into it would be a good enhancement.

onion_celery_carrot_medleyThe recipe just sounded so different – a chicken pudding? Really? If you do a search online you’ll find many, all somewhat similar.  I thought veggies in it sounded good too. I added in some onion, celery and carrots, thickened it, then made a chicken gravy as well. BUT, I thought the dish needed something more colorful on top (the carrots in the pudding weren’t all that visible), so at the very last minute, I added in some frozen green peas to the gravy. Voilà.

cream_gravy_peasThe night of the Oscars, I invited 2 friends over. With my remote control in hand (we muted nearly all the acceptance speeches because we didn’t want to hear political vitriol – thankfully there wasn’t much of that this year). Anyway, I set up TV trays, served this with a salad provided by Judy, and later dessert provided by Nancy. We had a fun evening.

What’s GOOD: this is a different way to use up cooked chicken – it helps a small amount go a long way. Even though I used some spices, I think it could be spiced up even more. Thyme and parsley were about it. The gravy is simple enough to do – just be sure to add the peas during the last minute of cooking so they stay bright green. This dish isn’t going to bring “wows” to the dinner table talk – it’s a simple dish. Nice enough, though.

What’s NOT: There are several steps to making this, but none is hard, just time consuming. It probably took about 30-40 minutes to do all the prep and cooking of both parts, pudding and gravy, then about 50 minutes for the pudding to bake. I did most of it ahead of time, left them on the stove and reheated them every half an hour to keep bacteria at bay. Next time I’d make the pudding just before baking it, and make the gravy while the pudding was cooking.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chicken Pudding with Pea Gravy

Recipe By: Adapted significantly from a Colonial Williamsburg recipe, c. 1827
Serving Size: 9

PUDDING:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup yellow onion — finely minced
1/3 cup celery — finely chopped
1/2 cup carrots — finely diced
5 tablespoons all purpose flour
4 large eggs
2 cups half and half
2 1/2 cups cooked chicken — cut in 1/2″ cubes
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme — crushed between your palms
2 tablespoons fresh parsley — chopped
GRAVY:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
11 ounces low sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons dried onion — (minced type)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup frozen peas

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Melt butter, then add the onion, celery and carrots. Cook for about 10-15 minutes until the vegetable are soft. Add flour and cook a few minutes over low heat.
3. In a medium bowl beat eggs well, then add half and half and mix well. Add to the pan along with the seasonings. SLOWLY bring this mixture to a simmer and cook briefly until mixture thickens. If you cook it too fast, the eggs will start to scramble in the sauce.
4. Spread chicken in a greased 9″ square baking dish (use glass or ceramic), then pour the pudding part on top.
5. Bake 45 to 50 minutes until set. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
6. GRAVY: Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Whisk in flour, and cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Whisk in broth and remaining ingredients (except peas). Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, about 2 minutes, or until mixture thickens.
7. Run cold water over the frozen peas, drain briefly, then add to the gravy and cook for about a minute. Serve pudding on individual plates, and spoon the pea gravy on top. Garnish with additional chopped parsley if desired.
Per Serving: 343 Calories; 24g Fat (61.8% calories from fat); 20g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 183mg Cholesterol; 189mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on April 7th, 2017:

    This looks like something my family would enjoy. Colonial comfort food! As it happens, my husband and I plan to take our grandchildren and their parents to Colonial Williamsburg after my dulcimer retreat in Sandbridge, VA, this fall, and I want to prepare them by reading to them about it. This gives me the idea to do some food-related activities as well. I’ll look forward to trying this with them.

    How fun, Donna. Just don’t expect something all that exciting – food in that time, I think, was relatively plain! And this dish is a bit on the plain side. Wholesome, different, etc. Let me know what you think . . . carolyn

  2. hddonna

    said on April 7th, 2017:

    I enjoy plain, old-fashioned dishes now and then. I don’t know whether the kids will like it, but it will be educational!

  3. Toffeeapple

    said on April 12th, 2017:

    This is what I imagined when I read Chicken Pudding:
    http://www.food-mag.co.uk/chicken-and-bacon-suet-pudding/

    We are fond of suet puddings in England and Wales especially in a cold winter. I quite like your version too though.

    Well, considering that early American settlers were often from England, it stands to reason many similar recipes would have found their way into our culture. . . carolyn t

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