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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 January 27th, 2018.

baked_chix_rice_mushrooms

A stellar recipe – with the mushrooms playing a star role, but all the comforts, too, of a simple, home cooked kind of casserole with chicken and rice.

This recipe has legs. Well, maybe I should qualify that – this recipe, which makes a lot – can be made into 3 different meals if you’re not feeding 8-10 people at the beginning: (1) the first, a casserole; (2) with more mushrooms as a 2nd serving (microwaved); and (3) mixed with broth, more mushrooms and peas, as SOUP.

The original, which supposedly feeds 8, makes a bunch. The pan above in the photo is a 5” high sided nonstick pan I use a lot. Since I’m a family of one, it was probably more than I needed. But my cousin Gary was visiting over Christmas, and before he got sick and only wanted soup, I made this. I’m glad I did, as he ate lunch from it twice when I was off with family for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Then, a couple of days later I took a bunch from it and gave it to my dear friend Gloria and her husband for a dinner. She had enough for a dinner AND a lunch portion. Once Gary flew home, I re-invented it once again. I bought another 8 ounces of fresh brown mushrooms and made another batch of the mushroom topping and ate it as a reheated plate (microwaved) with more hot-water-rinsed peas on top. When there was STILL a small amount left, I made it into soup with more of that mushroom broth concentrate stuff. Oh, was that good, too.

baked_chix_rice_closeupI think this dish would feed 10 (unless they’re hungry teen-agers). The recipe came from the New York Times, and was designated as one of the top 10 for 2017. It may not look like anything special, but it was really, really good. For me – since I added more mushrooms to it (because I like them) – it was comfort food, for sure. It was filling and it was pretty. The making of it is easy enough – most of it is done in the one big pot (chicken, mushrooms and rice with lots of added flavors like wine, thyme, onion). Then it’s baked for a brief time and while that’s happening, you sauté some additional mushrooms (the more varied the mixture, the better). I didn’t go shopping to different stores to find oddball mushrooms (I used brown and shiitake), and when I re-made it with the leftovers, I used only brown crimini mushrooms.

Thinking about this . . . if I make this again I think I’ll use some of the riced cauliflower as the “rice” in this dish. I’d need to adapt the cooking times, but it would be a whole lot less carbs. Just food for thought.

What’s GOOD: the overall flavor is marvelous. One might not think such simple ingredients could yield such umami flavor (must be the mushrooms?) but it did. If serving to guests, I’d double the amount of mushroom topping too (it gives it a really pretty “look”). Read recipe for how to use the left overs. Just know that this dish is very rice-centric.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. Altogether good recipe, worth making.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

Baked Rice With Chicken and Mushrooms

Recipe By: adapted slightly from New York Times, one of the best recipes of 2017, by David Tanis
Serving Size: 9

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs — cut into 1-1/2-inch chunks
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion — diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 large sprig thyme — plus 1 teaspoon freshly chopped leaves or use half the amount of dried thyme, pressed firmly in your palms
1 bay leaf
1 cup white wine — vermouth would work here
2 cups basmati rice — soaked for 20 minutes, rinsed and drained
16 ounces mushrooms — use a mixture of mushrooms, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/4 cup dried mushrooms — reconstituted in water
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth — heated
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup frozen peas — rinsed in hot tap water for 30 seconds
2 small garlic cloves — smashed to a paste with a little salt
3 tablespoons chopped parsley — with extra for garnish, if desired

1. Place chicken pieces on a baking sheet and season generously with salt and pepper. Set aside. Heat oven to 350°F.
2. Pour olive oil into a 4-quart enamelware Dutch oven or similar heavy pot and set over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, until nicely browned, 8 to 10 minutes, then season with salt. Add chicken, thyme sprig and bay leaf, and continue to cook, stirring, for 2 minutes more.
3. Add wine and simmer briskly until reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
4. Add reconstituted mushrooms, the rice and a large handful of the fresh mushrooms and stir to combine. (Reserve most of the raw mushrooms for garnish.) Add broth and bring to a simmer. Check broth for seasoning and adjust.
5. Cover pot and cook for 10 minutes over medium heat. Transfer pot to oven and bake, checking after 10 minutes to see if the rice is cooked through, but may take up to 15 minutes. Finally, remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes off heat.
6. While rice is baking, sauté remaining mushrooms: Melt butter in a large skillet over high heat. Add mushrooms, season with salt and pepper (add more garlic if you’d like) and cook, rapidly stirring, until they have softened and browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Add peas, if using, and heat through. Turn off heat, then add reserved chopped thyme, the garlic and the parsley. Toss to coat well.
7. Fluff rice (and remove the bay leaf if you can find it), then top with sautéed mushrooms and serve with more parsley on top.
CAROLYN’S NOTES: I prepared this with double the mushrooms (original recipe called for 8 ounces but I’ve upped it in the recipe here). For the 2nd serving a few days later, I bought another 8 ounces of mushrooms and created the mushroom topping again and was lazy, heating the chicken/rice part in the microwave, topping with the extra mushrooms then adding the rinsed-in-hot-water peas to make it pretty. Then with what was left, I made it into soup by adding yet more mushrooms and some mushroom concentrate (broth), then sprinkling the top with some Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and parsley. If you’ve had enough of it by then, you could make the soup and freeze it for a few weeks later.
Per Serving: 414 Calories; 16g Fat (34.6% calories from fat); 29g Protein; 40g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 86mg Cholesterol; 246mg Sodium.

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  1. Marlene

    said on January 28th, 2018:

    I skipped right over this on NY Times Cooking, Carolyn, thinking it was too boring. Now that I’ve read what you did with it, I’m saving it! Thanks for the variations, too. I’ve got lots of dried mushrooms that would work well with the fresh and add depth of flavor.

    I really liked it – but I love mushrooms so I did add more and kind of made them the focus of the dish. Yet there’s lots of rice too. . . Carolyn T

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on January 30th, 2018:

    Yum, anything with mushrooms in is fine by me!

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