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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby 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 (she arrived after the birth, actually). 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 father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. 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.

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 middle-aged 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, and wealthy) 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.

 

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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