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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, 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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