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While I was on my 3-week trip to Europe, I read 5 books. Of them all, Sgt. Reckless: America’s War Horse by Robin Hutton, was by far the best story, a true story about an American Marine. Many books have been written about Sgt Reckless, this rather nondescript, small Mongolian mare that was purchased by American forces in Korea in the height of the war. She was reared as a race horse, but she spent her career as an heroic soldier for our military, saving countless lives as she willingly delivered munitions from one place to another. Everyone who came in contact with her loved her. She became a regular soldier, mostly so they could requisition food for her. Sometimes she survived on next to nothing to eat. She aimed to please, and please she did, as in one 24-hour period she ferried ammunition up steep slopes (too steep for soldiers to climb) and she did it all by herself. When the Marines unloaded her cargo, she immediately worked her way down for more. She knew what she was supposed to do. She was highly intelligent, amazing many people over the course of her life. If you love animal stories, you’ll love this one. Have a Kleenex box nearby.

When I load a book onto my Kindle, I don’t keep a note about where or how I heard about it. Did someone suggest it to me? Did I read about it on amazon’s site? I wish I kept track. Hence I don’t know why I ordered Born Under an Assumed Name: The Memoir of a Cold War Spy’s Daughter by Sara Taber. Probably the title intrigued me. And the book was interesting, I’ll give it that. Sara Taber grew up in places all over the world as her father, actually a spy, but commonly called a diplomat for the State Department, wherever he was stationed. Much of the book is about her inability to fit in. She was always the new girl in school, or the neighborhood. She was shy. Didn’t have a lot of self-confidence. She lived in Taiwan, Washington, D.C., The Hague, Malaysia (Borneo) and Tokyo. I probably missed a couple in there. She learned to love moving. She adored her father, and some of the story is about his career, though she only learns as a teenager what he really did for a living. Part of the book is her coming-of-age story, part angst about herself and yet she eventually finds success as a writer. And she is a very good writer – a kind of lyrical style. She repeats herself a bit too often and a few words were repetitive throughout. But overall, it was a very interesting read.

For years I used to read a travel column in the Los Angeles Times by Susan Spano. She wrote wonderful stories about her travels. I envied her life. One time she visited Paris for awhile, writing a series about eating and living in France. When that series ended, she didn’t want to come home. So she stayed. And she wrote for other publications. She’s written several books (one on divorce [hers] and another on divorce from the man’s point of view). This book, French Ghosts, Russian Nights, and American Outlaws: Souvenirs of a Professional Vagabond compiles some of her newspaper stories and she weaves in some new ones as well. She’s quite an outdoors woman – loves climbing mountains. I certainly admire that about her. One of the stories was so cute I read it aloud to my group of traveling buddies as we sat around in our Lyon, France flat having a glass of wine one evening. If you enjoy travel writing in general, you’ll enjoy reading this one.

Another really riveting story, one I could hardly put down, is The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam. My friend Joan recommended this one to me. Most likely  you’ve never read anything about Chinese immigrants living in South Vietnam during the war there, right? Neither had I. And you have to keep track of who is who, and the politics of the time. The Vietnamese don’t like Chinese people, so there’s that going on. The Chinese man runs an English school somewhere near Saigon. He has a right hand man who may or may not be what he appears to be. The Chinese man has a son who gets himself into trouble. Oh, webs woven every which way. As I said, I could hardly put it down. Will make a very good book club read.

And lastly, and probably my least favorite, but it certainly tops many charts for its pulp factor, The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty. The premise, a letter written by the husband, is found by the wife, supposedly to be opened after his death, but he isn’t dead, and she opens it anyway. Out springs Pandora’s box. It’s like Peyton Place on steroids. Oh my gosh. How much calamity can happen in a few pages. I wasn’t impressed, but it made for a good airplane read, I suppose.

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).

 

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, 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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