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Recently finished reading 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 December 18th, 2007.

You’re really missing out on something wonderful if you don’t make chicken and dumplings once in awhile. One day a year or so ago, in reading The Orange County Register, the Food Editor Cathy Thomas wrote up all the joys and virtues of chicken and dumplings. It set my mouth to watering, and I promptly made hers. Oh my. Was it ever GOOD. Actually, the chicken was Jamee Ruth’s version, from the book The Cookware Cookbook (had never heard of it, actually). It’s relatively simple, although it calls for ingredients I don’t often have on hand (6 leeks, for example and 6 shallots). The gravy/broth is just delicious, helped along with the addition of apple juice of all things. This is worth a trip to the grocery store. A good recipe for a chilly winter’s evening. I like to remove the chicken from the bones (and remove all the skin too so DH won’t eat it). Just reheat briefly.

Serve it in a wide soup bowl, with the light dumplings on top. And I highly recommend Marion Cunningham’s recipe for Feather Dumplings which has fresh bread crumbs and onion in them. The minced onion gives a nice little crunch in the dumpling. Something a little different, but they’re worth making. From her book Lost Recipes: Meals to Share with Family & Friends. Although surely this dish is one you ordinarily think of as homespun, it would be wonderful to share with family, and good friends. Here it is in the bowl with the dumplings.

If you have leftovers, when reheating, put the chicken mixture in a saucepan, heat just to a low simmer, then gently lower in the leftover dumplings. Top with a lid and allow to simmer very slowly for just a few minutes, then serve. I also find that the broth/gravy can have some added water. When I made the chicken and dumplings this time, after completing all the cooking (except the dumplings), I ladled out about 7/8 of the leeks with some broth and whizzed them up in the food processor. That made the gravy a bit thicker, which is a good thing.
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Chicken and Dumplings

Recipes: Dumplings – Marion Cunningham; Chicken – Jamee Ruth
Source: Cathy Thomas, Orange County Register
Servings: 8
NOTES: If you prefer, you can remove all the chicken from the bones – in which case it’s not necessary to do the dredging, etc. Just brown the chicken pieces.
Serving Ideas: Serve this in a wide and deep soup bowl. The broth is just fabulous, which you want to consume with every bite.

CHICKEN:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper to taste
4 pounds chicken pieces — skin-on
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon canola oil
6 whole leeks — cleaned and sliced
6 whole shallots — diced
5 whole carrots — cut in 3″ pieces
3 stalks celery — diced
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
5 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup apple juice — or pineapple juice
[Optional: green peas and mushrooms]
FEATHER DUMPLINGS:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup onion — finely minced
1 whole egg — beaten
2 tablespoons butter — melted
1 tablespoon Italian parsley — minced
Black pepper to taste

1. Prepare the chicken (called the soup): In a shallow bowl or pan combine the flour, salt and pepper. Lightly dredge the chicken pieces in the flour mixture, shaking off any excess flour. Melt butter and oil in a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot on medium-high heat. Cautiously add half of the chicken using tongs. Do not crowd the pieces. Brown nicely on both sides, about 5-7 minutes. Transfer to a plate and brown remaining chicken and remove to a plate.
2. Reduce heat to medium, add leeks and shallots, scraping up any brown bits at the bottom. Cook for 3-4 minutes, or until softened and starting to brown or caramelize. Add the carrots, celery and thyme. Stir and cook an additional 3 minutes. Add the broth and fruit juice and bring to a boil on high heat. Add the chicken on top, reduce the heat, partially cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes (no more than that, or the chicken will dry out and get tough). Remove from heat and cool. The goal is to remove the fat from the broth, so you can separate the vegetables and put the broth in a flat pan to cool faster. Chill, remove fat, then you can reassemble the dish with the chicken on top. Reheat to a simmer.
3. Dumplings: In a small mixing bowl stir together the flour, bread crumbs, baking powder and salt. In another bowl lightly beat the milk, onion, egg and melted butter. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ones to make a wet paste. Don’t over mix. Add parsley and pepper and mix just until combined. Drop small spoonfuls (about 12) onto the top of the bubbling soup. [Add mushrooms here.]Cover and reduce heat to a slow simmer and cook for 20 minutes without lifting the lid. [If adding peas, heat frozen peas under hot-hot tap water and add a few to each bowl. If you cook them in the stew, they turn gray/ugly.] Ladle soup, vegetables, chicken and a dumpling or two into wide soup bowls.
Per Serving (probably not accurate, too high): 445 Calories; 15g Fat (30.7% calories from fat); 35g Protein; 42g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 151mg Cholesterol; 1013mg Sodium.

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  1. Jancd

    said on December 19th, 2007:

    I made your Bishop Bread today and it turned out great. I was surprised that there is no butter or oil in the recipe, but I trusted the recipe and am happy I did. I had it in four small loaf pans and will be giving three away for Christmas treats. Thanks for the recipe. Jancd

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