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Just finished The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

Read Grace Unshakled, by Irene Huising. From Amazon’s page, it says: “In the year 2025, 17-year-old Grace Duncan finds herself in shackles because of her faith in Christ. An obedient daughter and stellar student, doing time in jail was never on her mental radar, despite the changes in religious laws [this takes place here in the United States] over the past few years. Through twists and turns in circumstances, Grace and a small band of Christians in Newport Beach, California begin a journey to discover what it means to follow Christ with unwavering faith in the midst of increasing persecution. Facing the potential loss of all her hopes and dreams, would Christ be enough?” We read this for one of my book clubs, and it’s a scary thought about what it could mean if we take God out of our country. The author is a friend of a friend and she attended our book club meeting to share about how she came to write this book. I don’t often share my faith here on my website, but this book made me stop and think about the direction our government is going, removing more and more our ability to worship God. Or to worship in any religion. Will this book ever make waves in the book world? Probably not. My copy may be a pre-edited version, as it contained numerous typos and formatting errors. But they didn’t detract from the subject, just the cosmetics. The book doesn’t come to a resolution; in fact it leaves you hanging, as some books do. It was intentional (obviously), but left me wondering about the “end of the story.”

Also just finished reading The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Read The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome (the Pope) – he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of Margaret of York (a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine),  who was a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read 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 free-lance 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 family was 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 an old (wild) 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. Just read this one first!

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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