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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, 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

  3. hddonna

    said on June 30th, 2017:

    Did this when my sister came to visit last week. She and I loved it, but it was too spicy for my husband; it’s hard to reduce the spice when the sauce is based on dried peppers as a main ingredient. But my chicken breasts were quite large, so I pulled off the tenders and trimmed the rest down to a nice sized serving. The extra went into another bag and was cooked along with the chile chicken. It still made for some very tender and juicy chicken. Next time I would think ahead and figure out a way to season it. I’ll make this again. It’s a great way to keep chicken breast meat moist.
    I’m glad it worked out – if you change things, let me know what you do so I can try it too! And I’ll write it up here on my blog! . . . carolyn t

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