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Just finished a stunning book, The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives (don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read and is reviewed below) and really liked it. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

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 April 27th, 2017.

sheetpan_chix_cabbage_onions

Have you joined the sheet pan dinner craze? I have to admit, until this dish, I hadn’t tried it. I’m now a convert if this recipe is any indication!

My friend Linda is such a good cook. She is a single person and cooks most nights. Maybe she has a few leftovers now and then, but she believes in a good, varied, veggie enhanced meals. And without shortcuts necessarily. She and I were working on a MasterCook issue she was having – her program had “lost” her special format for printing her recipes (the way my recipes look when you print out the pdf here). So she emailed me a couple of recipes with “the problem.” This recipe from Food52 was one of them, and she happened to mention that it was really delicious. So good that she could hardly keep her fork out of the sheet pan after she’d eaten her dinner. That kind of praise merited me trying this one myself.

From the gold and brown photo above, you might not be able to tell there’s a chicken thigh in the foreground (boneless, skinless), and what’s behind it are kind of bedraggled combo (but over the top in flavor) of cabbage wedges and some slivers of onion. All of this overlaid with a delish “dressing,” or vinaigrette with an oil (see next paragraph), rice vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce and sriracha. It’s drizzled on the chicken and the veggies before baking. The chicken is baked for 10 minutes all by itself, then the vegetables are added to the pan, to nestle in and around the chicken, and it continues to bake for another 20-25 minutes. And bingo, it’s done. Depending on the size of the cabbage, it may need another 15 minutes or so of baking. Mine didn’t – it was done after the 20-25. If you cook it further, you remove the chicken from the sheet pan and keep it warm while the cabbage continues to roast.

The original recipe calls for coconut oil. Which is a congealed fat, and it’s difficult to make a dressing out of it – like trying to mix shortening into a salad dressing. A no-go. I heated it up so it would mix, but as soon as it cooled to room temp, the coconut oil congealed again. I think next time I’d use olive oil, which is optional in the original recipe. I couldn’t taste the coconut oil at all.

What’s GOOD: This dinner was SO easy, and so off the charts delicious. But then, I love chicken thighs. I love cabbage (especially roasted like this) and I added onion just to give it a bit more flavor. The dressing was easy enough to mix up – I guessed as I poured in the ingredients. A winner of a recipe. If you are sensitive to chile-heat, reduce the amount of sriracha. I thought it was perfect just the way it is. Make twice what you’ll eat the first time and you’ll have a second complete dinner (I did).

What’s NOT: Nary a thing – everything about this dish was great. Next time I will cover the sheet pan with foil first – kind of a messy cleanup, but it’s really just one pan . . . plus one bowl to mix up the dressing and toss the chicken, then the veggies.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Roasted Sheet Pan Chicken Thighs with Cabbage & Onion

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Food52 (I added onion)
Serving Size: 4

1 teaspoon canola oil — for greasing the pan
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 cup coconut oil — melted, or olive oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce, low sodium if possible
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sriracha sauce — optional
8 pieces skinless chicken thighs
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
1 head cabbage — 2 to 3 lbs.
1 large yellow onion — peeled, halved and cut in thin wedge slices

NOTE: If you’re using coconut oil, it’s a firm fat (like shortening). It doesn’t mix very well in the dressing, so I heated the “dressing” in the microwave until the coconut oil melted. Once it was poured onto the chicken [cold] it congealed again. It doesn’t seem to matter – it all mixes up fine once it begins to bake.
1. Preheat the oven to 425ºF. (If you want an easy clean-up, line the large sheetpan with foil.) Pour a teaspoon of neutral oil over a rimmed sheet pan. Rub to coat.
2. In a small bowl, stir together the sesame oil, coconut oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sriracha, if using. Place chicken in a large bowl. Season all over with salt and pepper. Pour ¼ cup of the prepared mixture over the chicken and let marinate while the oven preheats. (Chicken can marinate longer, too, but try, if time permits, to bring it to room temperature before cooking—the coconut oil will solidify in the fridge and look clumpy, which is fine.)
3. Cut the cabbage in half through the core. Cut again through each core and repeat this process until you are left with many wedges, no greater than 1-inch wide. Cut up the onion and place both in a large bowl, season all over with salt and pepper, and toss with the remaining dressing.
4. Place chicken on prepared sheet pan spreading it out evenly. Roast for 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven, and nestle cabbage wedges and onion all around the pieces, tucking it under if necessary—it will feel like a lot of cabbage. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes more or until chicken is golden and cooked through. Remove pan from oven, transfer chicken to a platter to rest. Return cabbage to the oven to roast for 10 to 15 minutes more, or until juices have reduced and edges of cabbage wedges are caramelized.
Per Serving: 346 Calories; 24g Fat (61.4% calories from fat); 28g Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 115mg Cholesterol; 988mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on April 27th, 2017:

    Sounds like the dressing really makes this one. I’d have to leave out the sriracha for my husband, but could probably segregate his portion on one end and add the sriracha into mine. With foil, one could even make a ridge down the middle to keep things completely separated. Haven’t done many sheet-pan meals, but this one looks like a winner. I’m a cabbage fan, too. Remember a while back I mentioned that I couldn’t find savoy cabbage here? Well, I happened to get a chance to go to a Whole Foods Market recently–it’s inconveniently located, but we were eating out nearby, and I thought of the cabbage. They had it. It’s taken me two years to find it!

    Your idea of the ridge in the middle is a good one! You’ll hardly notice the heat anyway, but perhaps he could detect it. And yes, I remember your savoy story – so happy you found some!! . . .carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on April 27th, 2017:

    Now then, over here we have what we call roasting tins – which, I presume, will take a higher heat than a sheet pan. Well, the French do call us Les Rosbeef, so we are known for our roasting.
    http://www.pyrexuk.com/products/roasters/plat-a-four-rectangulaire.html

    Your pan really is a roasting pan. These pans, the sheet pans with a rim, are only about 3/4 inch or maybe an inch high around the edge, so plenty of the oven heat circulates. These pans, the better quality ones like I have, can take really high heat without bending.
    https://www.amazon.com/Bellemain-Heavy-Duty-Aluminum-Sheet/dp/B01AGQ027S/ref=sr_1_2?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1493651131&sr=1-2&keywords=flat+sheet+pan

    The link isn’t to the brand I have, but it looks very similar. Am sure you could use your roasting pan for this dish in either case! . . . carolyn t

  3. Toffeeapple

    said on April 27th, 2017:

    You have changed your picture back!

    I think you’re the only person who has noticed. The other picture, the professionally done photo, looked a bit too “twee,” to me, too posed, maybe? So I switched back. I like the other one, the one up now, better anyway.

  4. hddonna

    said on May 1st, 2017:

    My husband often asks if I’ve put in something hot even when I haven’t! With Sriracha, I can’t imagine putting a whole tablespoon into anything–maybe half a teaspoon if I feel daring.

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