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Since I’m a fan of Ann Patchett, it’s no surprise that I wanted to buy her most recent book, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. It’s a book of short stories, but not fictional ones – it’s a compilation of essays and articles she’s written over the course of her writing life. My favorite is the one in which she describes in intimate detail how she goes about writing a book. About the process, her thinking, and the the hard, hard work it entails. I loved every one of the stories. She is quite self-deprecating about the book – it likely wasn’t her idea to put it together as she never thought any of her essays were worth much. She wrote them to make a living. Each of the chapters (essays) has been updated and/or addended to, so she did have to put some spit and polish on all of them before sending this group to the publisher. She’s written essays for a very esoteric group of publications; some I’d never heard of. But I enjoyed the book from beginning to end.

Also just finished reading The Invention of Wings: A Novel by Sue Monk Kidd. What a story. Sometimes it’s a good thing to read the author’s notes before you read a book. I guess I’m glad I didn’t (in this case the notes were at the end of the book) because it was then, afterwards, that I read that one of the characters in this novel is fictional; the other two (sisters) were real. There’s a bit about the Quaker religion in this book too, which was different. This is a slavery story and about the beginnings of the abolitionist movement. Interwoven between the 2 sisters who make waves about anti-slavery is the poignant story of one particular slave and her hard, hard life. It’s heartbreaking in many respects, not just because of the violence and abuse heaped upon her. The book is almost a page-turner. Very glad I read it.

Also read The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice by Laurel Corona. It was recommended to me by a friend, and I enjoyed it a lot. It has a rather unusual story line, all envisioned by the author from reading a tiny line of elaborate script from a journal at what remains of a foundling hospital (run mostly like a convent by Catholic nuns) in Venice. It said something like Antonio Vivaldi purchased “a bow for Maddalena Rossa.” That started the author’s novel journey. Two sisters are raised at the Ospedale della Pieta. One becomes famous for her violin skills; the other for her voice. One is married “out” and the other stays cloistered her entire life. Then you throw Vivaldi himself into the mix, as he really was paid by the Ospedale for his compositions and for teaching some of the residents to play instruments. It’s an enlightening story about Vivaldi himself (a priest, with a lot of questions about his piety). It takes place in the early 1700s. Fascinating story and I want to listen again in total to Vivaldi’s very famous work, The Four Seasons, as a result of reading this. I’ve heard it many times before, but it will have new meaning now.

Also read The Time In Between: A Novel by Maria Duenas (translated). Apparently this book has been a runaway best seller in Europe as it deals with a little known, or I should say a part of WWII that you’ve probably never read about – Spain. The heroine is a Madrid seamstress, but is seduced by a young man to go to Morocco. She knows no one and is left high and dry when the lover disappears. She finds her way, makes friends, begins sewing couturier clothing in Morocco. The Spanish Revolution intervenes and merges into WWII. She becomes a spy of sorts (in Madrid) because she is coveted as a seamstress to the Nazi wives of Madrid. It’s a page-turner and informative. Good read.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: Our guest half-bath has a little tiny table with a pile of books that I change every now and then. They’re books that might pique someone’s interest even if for a very short read. The Art of Travel, a collection of essays about traveling (it’s not a how-to), gathering a variety of stories of some historic authors and where and why they traveled; The Greatest Stories Never Told; and Sara Midda’s South of France; also Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages (just the cutest book – with a miscellany of things – letters, grocery lists, notes, reminders, confessions the author discovered hidden inside the books he purchased for his used bookstore); and The Trouble with Poetry (Billy Collins).

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small engraved sterling silver tea spoons that I use to taste as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Chicken, Restaurants, on January 13th, 2008.

When my DH says this is a keeper, I listen up. He doesn’t say those words all that often. He enjoys my cooking and does tell me all the time how much he appreciates this dish or that. But those particular words just don’t come out of his mouth frequently. I heard them for this dish. He was intrigued enough by the appearance to ask me what was in it, how I cooked it. He keeps thinking that one of these days when he takes a several-day sailing trip on our boat, going out to Catalina, or one of the other islands within sailing distance of our shores, that he’s going to cook a nice dinner for his crew. (I’ve probably mentioned it before, but I don’t go on these jaunts because I get deathly seasick, or I’m so drugged up with Dramamine that I don’t function much, or suffer from very blurred vision if I use the scopalamine patch. All in all, I just don’t go. DH reminds me occasionally that he didn’t marry me for my sailing abilities. That’s for sure. He also didn’t marry me for my dancing style, either, but that’s another story.)

So anyway, he was curious about the chicken and nearly licked the plate. The recipe came from a restaurant out in our California desert – a French place called Cuistot. We’ve eaten there several times, and enjoyed the food. A reader wrote into the Los Angeles Times (December 12, 2007) asking them to get the recipe, which the chef provided. I believe the article said this is a common bistro kind of preparation. It’s easy – from start to finish it took me about 45 minutes, with 25 of those minutes the chicken was in the oven. You heat the oven to a phenomenal 500 degrees F. Yikes. But it works. If you have a heavy-duty skillet that can withstand that kind of heat, go for it (that’s what the recipe indicates). I wasn’t sure enough to subject my Look brand nonstick skillet to that temp, so after browning the chicken pieces I popped them in an ovenproof pan. Then I deglazed the browning skillet and made the sauce while the chicken was baking. It sped up the dinner process since I was able to take the chicken directly from the oven to the plate and spooned sauce on it immediately with a bit of the drippings from the blazing hot pan.

This is the kind of dinner you could throw together quickly – providing you have shallots on hand and fresh tomatoes. Most home kitchens would have the garlic, butter, red wine, vinegar and chicken broth. I forgot to add the garnish in my haste to get the plates on the table.

You see, I was late getting home – went to see Kite Runner at 3:55 and didn’t get out of the movie until 6:15. And, oh my goodness, was that a movie! I’d read the book a year or two ago, right after it came out. The photography was excellent – even though it was filmed mostly in China. The bulk of the real story takes place in Kabul, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but it certainly looked authentic. The story is heart-wrenching to say the very least about it. Highly recommended. And, of course, the book is better, but I thought the movie was exceptionally well done.

So, after a 30-minute drive home, it was late for dinner before I even started. Bang, clang, and I served it in a jiffy. And now this will go into the KEEPERS file. DH even asked that the next time this is on the menu, he’d like to make it. Now that makes this a real red-letter dinner! He’s never said that. Ever.
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Sautéed Chicken with Red Wine Vinegar Sauce

Recipe: Cuistot Restaurant, Palm Desert, California, via the Los Angeles Times
Servings: 4
Cook’s Notes: I sliced the garlic (as usual, I didn’t read the recipe real well when I started – sheepish grin here), but discarded it after baking, since it was for flavor, not eating anyway. I also used chicken thighs and breasts, because that’s what I had on hand. Surely in my cache of vinegars I have cabernet vinegar, but in my haste I decided not to hunker down on the floor perusing for bottles behind bottles. And, I cooked the sauce longer than I should have – I kept reducing the liquid, but I’d already put in the tomatoes, so they weren’t just flash fried and still fresh-looking. Tasted great, though. We had the leftovers for dinner last night. DH again mentioned this chicken was “wow” in his book. We both agreed, though, that more sauce is needed, so next time I’ll double that part.
The chef recommends Cabernet vinegar for the red wine vinegar in the recipe.

4 pieces chicken breasts — skin-on chicken breasts or whole legs
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter — divided
4 whole garlic cloves — skin-on
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
3 tablespoons red wine
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 cup chicken broth
2 whole plum tomatoes — peeled, seeded and diced
Chopped chives or parsley for garnish

1. Heat the oven to 500 degrees. Sprinkle each piece of chicken lightly on each side with one-eighth teaspoon salt and a grind or two of pepper.
2. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large ovenproof skillet. Add the chicken, skin-side down, along with the garlic cloves. Sauté over medium-high heat, until the skin is golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the chicken and repeat on the other side.
3. Place the pan, with the chicken skin-side up, in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes until cooked through. The meat will be firm and the juices will run clear, and a thermometer inserted will read 165 degrees.
4. Remove the chicken from the skillet, cover and set aside in a warm place. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of the drippings from the pan, and return to the stove over medium heat. Add the shallots, cooking until they caramelize, about 2 minutes. Add the red wine and vinegar and cook until the liquid is reduced by half, a few minutes. Add the chicken broth and tomatoes and stir to combine; adjust seasoning. Whisk in the remaining tablespoon of butter, swirling to thicken the sauce.
5. Return the chicken to the sauce and heat 1 to 2 minutes until warmed through. Sprinkle with chives or parsley and serve immediately.
Per Serving (assuming you consume the chicken skin, which we did not): 583 Calories; 33g Fat (52.7% calories from fat); 62g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 201mg Cholesterol; 443mg Sodium.

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  1. Anonymous

    said on January 15th, 2008:

    This the best recipe for Chicken I have ever cooked and tasted. I get my chicken from and this was a great way to cook what i got. I am always looking for cool new ways to cook my food, and this was really a change for the best!

  2. Carolyn T

    said on January 16th, 2008:

    So glad you enjoyed it. We sure did too, and it will become one of those go-to recipes when I’m in a hurry but still want something full of flavor.

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