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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, Sous Vide, on June 14th, 2017.

sous_vide_red_chile_chicken

I know most of you don’t have a sous vide, so just skip this one. But if you do, you DO need to try this recipe. It’s a winner.

Now that I’m a family of one, I don’t use my sous vide very often. My DH and I were just at the point of perfecting steak on the barbecue, but pre-cooked in the sous vide. I very rarely make steak for myself (alone), but if I did, I might try it again. Sometimes it’s just easier to use the older method (searing, then putting it off-heat in the barbecue, closed, until it reached about 120°, then quickly searing it again for a minute of so until it reached 125-128°F).

Anyway, I’ve subscribed to Milk Street, the new magazine from Chris Kimball (formerly the geeky guy from Cook’s Illustrated – he started the company many years ago). He got ousted by their board and started up his own, very similar business model. No TV shows yet, but they say it’s coming. The magazine is different than C.I. in that the articles are shorter, and it’s filled with color photos, which I like. It’s the identical format (shape, size and frequency of issues) and I also listen to the podcasts from the new Milk Street kitchens.

Image result for ancho chilesSo, anyway, the May-June issue had a double-spread about sous vide. In it J.M. Hirsch writes that you can make a perfect poached egg in 45 minutes at 145°F. I may have to try that one. There are much cheaper sous vide instruments (using your own container) than when I bought mine. Mine was several hundred dollars. New immersion pods start at $79 (Sous Smart) and $129 (Anova). And another new one that uses a phone app to run it (they liked that one a lot, called Joules) for $199. They perfected this chicken recipe and it sounded so intriguing I just had to try it. I halved the below recipe (using one packet of boneless, skinless chicken breasts from Costco, which contained 2 nice-sized breasts) and I actually  used ordinary ziploc bags instead of digging out my vacuum sealer. You lower the filled bag in water until it reaches the zip portion (but it’s unzipped at this point), then press out all the air and zip it. Am not sure the zip tab type would work for this. Anyway, that worked just fine using Ziploc. Picture at left from chefsinfo.com.

sous_vide_chicken_in_bagI made one other change – I didn’t have any ancho chiles (dried) in my pantry. Anchos are dried pasilla chiles, which have such a very unique flavor. I need to get some, because I’ll be making this recipe again. So instead, I used guajillo, which are mild flavored and similar. Otherwise, I followed the recipe except for browning the chiles. Seems kind of redundant to me. The sauce you make is quite easy to do and it’s full of flavor, but hardly any heat at all. I refrigerated the chicken packets for an hour or two while I heated up the sous vide, which should have kind of marinated them. I have a rack for my sous vide and I used it to make sure the chicken packets were kept submerged completely. Timer set for 1 1/2 hours and then I made the sauce and cooked some fresh asparagus and my dinner was done.

Oh my. The chicken was SO tender, and absolutely perfectly cooked through and juicy. I could practically cut it with a fork, though I did use a knife. Loved the chile flavor, the smokiness of the dried cumin. Couldn’t taste the cinnamon. The chiles completely dissolve in the sauce (because you whiz it up in the food processor). The sauce was an absolute cinch to make and dinner was ready with a bit of cilantro on top. Don’t dilly dally once they’re done as the chicken is hot and you don’t want to eat it lukewarm. A definite make-again dish.

What’s GOOD: everything about it was good. The chicken was PERFECTLY cooked and as juicy as chicken could possibly be. Easy to do in the sous vide. You could easily make the marinade/sauce ahead of time and combine them just before cooking. I have a second packet left over and from the article I understand it will be just as tender and good as the first time. Loved the sauce – mild and very flavorful. Not hot because anchos or guajillos are mild chiles.

What’s NOT: not much unless you don’t like the hassle of cooking sous vide.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Sous Vide Red Chile Chicken

Recipe By: Milk Street magazine, 2017
Serving Size: 4

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil — or canola oil
2 ounces dried ancho peppers — stemmed and seeded
2/3 cup water
1 tablespoon dried oregano — Mexican type if available
2 large garlic cloves — smashed
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
SAUCE:
2 tablespoons butter — salted if available
1 tablespoon lime juice
GARNISH:
1/3 cup cilantro — chopped

1. Preheat sous vide to 145°F. (And yes, after 1 1/2 hours of immersion, the chicken breast will be perfectly cooked, even though the water temp is below the usually accepted cooked chicken temp.)
2. In a medium skillet, heat oil until it shimmers, then add chiles and toast until lightly browned, about 20 seconds (I skipped this step). Transfer to a food processor, saving the oil in the skillet. Process until coarsely chopped (I had to tear some of the pieces into smaller ones), about 30 seconds.
3. In a small saucepan bring the water to a boil. Add the chile mixture, oregano and garlic. Cover and remove from the heat and set aside for 15 minutes.
4. In the food processor combine the sugar, vinegar, salt, pepper, cumin, cinnamon and the little bit of reserved chili oil from the frying pan. Add the chile-water mixture and process until smooth, about a minute, scraping the bowl as needed.
5. Place each chicken breast into a vacuum-seal bag and add an equal portion of the chile mixture to each one. Squeeze the bag a bit to coat the chicken evenly. Seal each chicken breast, then refrigerate for a few hours if time permits. If not, place breasts in sous vide. Chicken packets must remain completely under the water, not floating. Once the temperature reaches 145°F again (usually just a few minutes), set a timer for 90 minutes.
6. When chicken is cooked, remove from sous vide. Pour the juices from inside each bag into a saucepan and simmer until liquid is thickened slightly, about a minute or two. Off heat add the butter and lime juice. Serve the chicken drizzled with the sauce. Garnish with chopped cilantro.
Per Serving: 322 Calories; 15g Fat (42.5% calories from fat); 30g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 84mg Cholesterol; 1484mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on June 14th, 2017:

    Oh, goody, a sous vide recipe to try! I got my Sansaire just a few months ago and am always looking for something new to try. The first time I used it, I did a whole meal–creme brulee, then steak, a cabbage dish, and a potato dish. The creme brulee and the steak were great, but I wasn’t impressed with the vegetables. The potatoes weren’t done enough to mash well, and the cabbage was almost impossible to submerge–had to weight it down with a brick! I look forward to trying the chicken breasts because I need ideas to keep them juicy–I’d rather eat thighs, but my husband prefers white meat. He doesn’t like spicy, but I think I could get by with anchos or guajillos.

    I was really happy with this recipe – you’ll be pleased with the tenderness and juiciness of the chicken. Hope you’ll be pleased! . . . carolyn t

  2. hddonna

    said on June 15th, 2017:

    What did you think about the saltiness? Two and a half teaspoons of salt seems like a lot for 4 servings, unless it was kosher salt. Would it be a mistake to cut back a bit?

    I’m trying to remember – I probably didn’t use that much, but I really can’t recall! It can’t hurt anything to reduce it. . . carolyn t

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