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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip,  sitting in a Paris restaurant.
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Just finished reading a really sweet memoir, called Champagne Baby: How One Parisian Learned to Love Wine–and Life–the American Way by Laure Dugas. The author is very young, considering she’s written a book already (good for her, I say!). She was born to an old Champagne family in France, and paid little attention to anything regarding the wine business until her uncle (the CEO) offered to send her to the United States to do a 6-month tour with the vineyard’s distributor. She was fresh out of college and hadn’t really decided what she was going to do exactly. She’d be the spokesperson (brand ambassador they called her) for the family. Despite having a boyfriend, she made the leap anyway. Each chapter tells the story of her journey in America (with little language skills) or about what she learned about wine. And what she learned about long-distance relationships too. If you’ve never experienced much French wine, this would be a good introduction (she explains all about the different French wine regions and how/why they raise the grapes they do), but it’s woven into the very interesting life she led, living on a shoestring, meeting other French ex-pats in New York, and her thoughts on going to California, Boston, Memphis and other cities. When her 6 months were up, she wasn’t ready to go home. You’ll have to read it to find out what she did then. I liked the book immensely.

If you’ve been reading this sidebar much over the years, you’ve rarely seen mysteries here. Great for an airplane read, maybe, but I don’t find them (usually) gripping enough. But one of my book clubs is reading a book by C.J. Box, called Open Season (A Joe Pickett Novel). Joe Pickett is a game warden in the wild country of Wyoming. He’s a good man. A family man. A good husband. AND a dogged investigator whenever anything goes awry in the hills. Usually it’s a murder of some kind. He writes a really good book that incorporates the mystery, lots of character study, some family stuff, but also a lot about the animals, the flora and fauna of the parks and land, and this one is also about an endangered species. I could hardly put it down. I’m SO glad I read this, and yesterday I visited my local library and checked out two more of his books. They’re easy reads; not overly long. But very absorbing. You’ll fall in love with Joe Pickett’s daughter Sheridan, too.

A page-turner of a book, Before the Fall by Noah Hawley grabbed me nearly from the first sentence. A small group of people take a private jet out of Martha’s Vineyard. Sixteen minutes later the plane crashes into the ocean. Two survive, a 4-year old boy and a single guy, an artist/painter, who ended up on the plane almost by happen-chance. What might have looked more like a fluke accident turns a bit sinister when you begin to learn more about the passengers on the plane, and the crew; the parents of the young boy, and a few others. Each person is scrutinized through the author’s lens and his/her culpability is analyzed. The painter and the boy form a bond because the man rescues the child and they swim miles and miles to shore. It’s just riveting. It’s not a James Bond type of thriller, but a real-life kind of drilling down into the core of each person on the plane. What I will mention, though, is that once you’ve read this, there isn’t a whole lot to discuss as a book club read, which is often the case for mysteries. Once the case is solved, there isn’t much to talk about except the characters, perhaps.

Also read another book by Haruf, called Eventide. It’s a bit of a carryover from Haruf’s book Plainsong (see review a paragraph or so down). Haruf is a “spare” writer. There is sufficient description. You definitely get a sense of place and the people, but there isn’t much emotion elicited. You have to scratch it out in between the lines. He’s a wonderful writer IMHO. I’ve now read 3 of his novels. This book takes place in high and deep Colorado country, and it’s a small town, with small town kinds of goings-on. There are some unsavory characters, and the heartwarming ones too which make the book worth reading. Good over evil, for sure. Worth reading. Too bad Haruf died in 2014. His books will be missed.

Eight Hundred Grapes: A Novel by Laura Dave. I bought it because it’s about Sebastapol, a cute little town in California wine country, in Sonoma County, although it’s on the fringes of the more mainstream wineries. A daughter of a friend of mine recently moved there, and when I visited her a few months ago, I was charmed by the cute downtown and the small village feel to it. Anyway, although the backdrop of the entire book is about the winery, the wines, the fields, the processes of wine making, it’s more about the family relationships. It seems that everyone (mom, dad, 2 sons, wife of one, a daughter [who is the protagonist] and her fiance and his ex-girlfriend) is in the midst of extreme turmoil. I swear, when I think about authors as they toil away in their aeries writing, they compile a big long list on a huge whiteboard of all the different awful things (divorce, affairs, fistfights, love lost, love gained, screaming and yelling, public drunkenness) they can make happen in one book and they pick and choose, yet make every effort to pack in as many of them as they can. No one in this family is immune from high levels of emotion and action or acting out about something or many things. I enjoyed the book despite those character flaws which occur on nearly every page. You have compassion for each one of them. Yet they’re a close family nonetheless. I haven’t read any of Laura Dave’s other books, but I suspect this one will be a winner. It’s not on any best-seller lists, but amongst book club readers, I believe it’s a strong contender.

When one of my book groups gathered last week, we discussed a bunch of books that we might read for our next Sept-August “year.” We select them all, for the whole year, in advance. On the list of 18 possible ones (we’ll read nine only) was an old classic – I guess you could call it a classic – Plainsong – by Kent Haruf. Since it was published some years ago I dropped by the library, and sure enough, they had a copy. I came home and devoured it in one fell swoop. What a story. Tender, yet harsh in some respects. It tells the story of a group of small-town people (a teacher – a man separated from his wife, but he has the 2 boys who both play prominent roles in the book; a single woman caring for her aging and Alzheimer’s driven father; a young teenage girl who should have known better, but got pregnant; a couple of very old brothers, both single, struggling along with their ranch). All this takes place in a small town in eastern Colorado. I laughed. I cried. I wanted to reach through the pages to some of these characters to give them a hug. It’s a winner of a book. I may have to read more of Haruf’s books. The prose is spare, yet you can feel the anguish, the pain, the love, the caring. What a book!

 

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 February 6th, 2008.


Here’s the mustard and herb chicken as it was served on the plate, on a bed of red onions, with cauliflower on the side.


Here’s the chicken after baking. Note bread crumb crust.

Those of you who regularly read my blog will remember that a few days ago I felt so proud of myself after spending many hours clipping and filing recipes. It needed doing. Then yesterday I went into our laundry room, which has two tall shelves that are completely full of kitchen equipment that won’t fit in my kitchen. And I went to a 8-inch stack of handouts from cooking classes I’ve been to, and was hunting for a specific recipe that was lacking a topping. Out came the stack and I set it on the washing machine and began looking for the Joanne Weir class where she served that particular dish. And what did I find in this stack? Oh my. More recipes that had been torn out of magazines and newspapers. From about 2004 and 2005.


And yet again, one recipe floated its way to the top and said “fix me.” I’ve only begun sorting and piecing together recipes in this new stack.

Sometimes the simplest of recipes are just over-the-top good. That’s the story about this recipe. It came together in less than 30 minutes, and while the chicken was baking I was able to throw together some pan-sauteed cauliflower to serve with it. And to saute the onions that served as the bed under the chicken. The recipe came from Food & Wine, February 2006. According to F&W’s website, this was a “staff favorite.” I understand why.

You make a crumb crust from fresh bread. The recipe calls for 2 slices of country bread. Well, we don’t have country bread on hand in our house – I buy good multi-grain bread at the Corner Bakery every week or so and slices are individually wrapped and frozen. So I used one slice of that bread plus some panko crumbs to make the topping, which also contains Parmesan cheese, garlic, fresh rosemary (I dashed outside, in the dark, mind you) and a bit of olive oil to hold it together. The chicken thighs (I only had skinless, boneless, not what’s called for in the recipe) are seasoned, then browned briefly in a large saute pan that can go in the oven. Once you flip them over you slather them with some Dijon mustard, then carefully mound the crumb mixture on top before popping the pan in the oven at a high temp to bake for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile I started the cauliflower, and about 7-8 minutes before the chicken was done I sauteed the onion, sugar and lemon juice mixture that goes underneath the chicken. DH and I both just l-o-v-e-d it. Really l-o-v-e-d it. I’ll make this again and again. The thighs were perfectly cooked. And the onions were still just slightly crunchy, which we both liked. The best part is that it came together in 30 minutes.

Cook’s Notes: The recipe says it served two (two thighs each) but for us, one thigh, with the onion bed, and another veg on the side was plenty. So for me, I’d say it served 4 if the thighs are moderate sized. I used a red onion. Any kind would likely work.
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Mustard-and-Herb Chicken

Recipe: Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski, Food & Wine, 2/06
Servings: 4
NOTES: This recipe makes a strong argument for using fresh bread crumbs. Unlike store-bought ones, which can be powdery, fresh bread crumbs get toasty and crispy in the oven, making them especially delicious as a coating for these mustard-smeared chicken thighs.

1 slice country bread — crusts removed, bread torn
1/4 cup panko [my addition in lieu of a 2nd piece of bread]
2 whole garlic cloves — minced
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary — finely chopped
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese — finely grated
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 whole chicken thighs
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion — thinly sliced [I used a red onion]
1 Pinch sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1. Preheat the oven to 400°. In a food processor, pulse the bread until finely shredded. Add the garlic, [panko], rosemary and Parmesan, season with salt and pepper and pulse until combined. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil olive and pulse just until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Transfer to a small bowl.
2. In a medium, ovenproof skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and add them to the skillet, skin side down. Cook over moderately high heat until golden, about 6 minutes. Turn the chicken and spread the skin with the mustard. Carefully spoon the bread crumbs onto the chicken, patting them on with the back of the spoon. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast the chicken for about 15 minutes, until the crumbs are golden and crisp and the chicken is cooked through.
3. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add the onion and sugar, season with salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat until softened, 6 to 7 minutes. Add the lemon juice and cook until the liquid has evaporated, 2 minutes longer. Spoon the onion mixture onto 2 plates, top with the chicken and serve.
Per Serving: 425 Calories; 36g Fat (75.3% calories from fat); 20g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 98mg Cholesterol; 271mg Sodium.

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