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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 Unsaid: A Novel by Neil Abramson. I think I read about it on amazon because I don’t remember anyone telling me about it. Perhaps amazon recommended it to me because I’ve read several books about African animals lately. The narrator of the book is the soul and voice of a woman who has just died of cancer. So she’s a ghost, of sorts, or an angel. But she’s hanging around her old life (her husband, her friends, her co-workers – she was a veterinarian) because she’s so very worried about her menagerie of animals she owned and worked with. The crux of the story is about a chimpanzee that is part of a U.S. government study – measuring the intelligence and sign language ability of this one chimp. The funded study is suddenly ended, and the intelligent and sentient animal (that word, sentient – I had to look it up – is used several times in the book – it means with “feelings”) is going to be returned to the general population of chimps used for maybe not-so-nice drug studies and likely would die from an inflicted disease. The widower is an attorney, and he’s thrown into battle with the U.S. government about saving the chimp. There’s a huge message here about the use of animals in drug studies and it’s hard to come away from this book without feeling “feelings” for the sweet chimp, whose intelligence was measured as the age of a 4-year old human. You’ll be drawn into the many other animals, the husband’s grief, and the team of people trying to save the chimp. Quite a story.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – many reader friends recommended it, and oh, is it good! If you’re at the end of your tether with reading WW II resistance stories, you’ll want to skip this one, but you’ll be rewarded if you do read it. It’s the story of 2 sisters who live in a remote area of France and both get caught up in the war. There are some very terror-filled moments in this book – I won’t kid you – the deprivation, torture, hunger, betrayal; all the things that make a book real, wartime real. The relationship between the sisters isn’t always good. One becomes a resistance fighter; the other is a mom whose husband fights for France, but is imprisoned for years. She eventually participates by shepherding Jewish children to safety. It’s a riveting book, and the 2 women are portrayed with great realism.

Also read The Secret Chord: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks. It’s a novelized biography of King David, the man who was a sinner from his youth. If you’ve studied the Holy Bible, then you’ll know that he reformed, eventually, and he is credited with writing most of the Psalms. If you’ve spent much time reading Psalms, then you’ll know there is so much angst contained within the poetic verses. David was a consummate writer and poet – no question about that – and he was a musician as well. But he had his appetites, which betrayed him over and over and over. He laments his bad character in the form of the Psalms. I can remember singing in our church choir one of the Psalms about Absalom, his beloved son, that he had killed. King David’s time was primitive, life for life, where trust wasn’t taken lightly. It’s a really fascinating portrayal of the man, his vices, and his eventual redemption.

If you’re already a fan of Molly Wizenberg, then you’ll know about her book Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage. Molly started off writing a blog some years ago, called Orangette. She wrote a book (part memoir and cookbook) a few years ago, and her prose is a delight to read. She’s a commander of words. This book is the story of meeting and marrying her husband Brandon, and their journey to realizing HIS dream of opening a pizza restaurant (Delancey) in Seattle. It’s a very interesting read since they built the restaurant in a questionable neighborhood; they had insufficient money. Let’s just say that along the road to getting the restaurant open, there are many hurdles, including her own belief in the project. I loved the book. And yes, there are a few recipes included too.

After I read The Elephant Whisperer (which was a fabulous book), I read online that Lawrence Anthony considered his best book The Last Rhinos: My Battle to Save One of the World’s Greatest Creatures. So I had to read that, of course. It’s the very sad story about his effort to extract 6 rare white rhino from deep in the jungle of Africa, in an area controlled by guerrillas. He’s unsuccessful, and now the only known white rhinos left are in zoos. They’ll likely be extinct in the next generation. I wasn’t as enamored with the book as I was with the elephant book – maybe because the mechanics of trying to find and negotiate to get the rhinos wasn’t as riveting as the elephant stories. Jungle politics, nighttime helicopter flights, slogging in the mud all play important parts. If you want to know more about rhinos, the rare northern whites, then you’ll want to read this book. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have one in your local zoo. Great literature this is not, but it tells an important story about poaching and why we must fight to eliminate it with education.

Also read, for one of my book clubs, Circling the Sun: A Novel by Paula McLain. It’s the biography of Beryl Markham, but only of her early life. Beryl’s own book, West with the Night has long been a favorite of mine, but she only wrote about her later life once she learned to pilot a plane and flew all over Africa. The McLain book is about her youth on her father’s horse farm, her coming of age and about falling in love (she was a philanderer from way back), her young adulthood, her marriages, her successes in life and her failures. It’s a VERY good book that I enjoyed reading from beginning to end. Markham is known more compellingly for her piloting career, but she led a fascinating life before she ever began to fly. Worth reading.

Read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Oh my goodness. When one of my book groups met to discuss this book, we all talked about the crying we did at the end. Oh yes, me too. This is a novel with a point to make (somewhat like Jodi Piccoult’s books). In this case it’s the right to die issue and it’s cloaked in a fast-paced page turner. A young woman who is a bit at loose ends, accepts a new job as a caregiver, something she’s never done before, to a young man who had recently become a quadriplegic. There are numerous sub-stories (about her family, her relationship with her sister, her boyfriend and her relationship with him, the patient himself, who is grumpy, and his relationships with his mother and father and ex-girlfriend). And, it’s about his wish to end his life. During the last 100 pages I could hardly put it down. I don’t want to jinx the story. It’s a romance of sorts. It’s gritty in a way, but charming. Loved the book. Now I’m going to order the sequel, the book the author never really intended to write, but so many people wrote her asking for one. I’m right there too. This book is being made into a movie.

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 November 18th, 2009.

coq au vin in bowl

A few weeks ago I attended a cooking class of Julia Child’s recipes. Everything was very tasty. And all fairly labor intensive too. In the course of conversation the instructor mentioned that she’d heard Ina Garten’s recipe (from her book ‘>Back to Basics) was also very good, and perhaps less time consuming. So I decided to try it out. I bought chicken thighs only, both bone-in and boneless; that way I’d get some of the good flavor from the bone. I didn’t have any of the tiny boiling onions, but I did have some regular onions that were very small, so I ended up quartering them (through both ends so they’d just maybe hold together during the cooking – they didn’t). I had carrots, red wine, and a pound of mushrooms. And thyme. And cognac, pancetta and chicken broth. So I was able to put this together – not exactly in a flash – but certainly more quickly than with Julia’s recipe.

In the book, Ina Garten explains in the preface to the recipe that she worked for a long, long time finding a coq au vin that would suit her, tasted right, and was easier than the more extensive French method. Her goal was to get it to taste as good as beef is in the bourguignon style dish. Finally someone suggested she take the bourguignon recipe and just adapt it to chicken. That she did, and this is the resulting recipe.

First the pancetta is sautéed in a bit of olive oil. It’s removed, then the chicken pieces are dried, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and browned in the oil. Then they’re removed too. Carrots, onions are added, until they caramelize a little bit, then garlic is added in, finally the cognac is added and ignited. All the chicken and pancetta are returned to the pan, then red wine is poured in, with some chicken broth (I use Penzey’s concentrate for all my chicken broth needs anymore – takes up a small space in the refrigerator), and some fresh thyme. I used my Le Crueset pot, so it was lidded and the pot went into a 250 oven (yes, really 250) for about 30-40 minutes, just until the chicken is no longer pink inside.

coq au vin in potThere’s the pot just out of the oven. The chicken is succulently soft and the veggies are still holding together at that point. I removed the bone-in chicken thighs to a bowl to cool slightly (and eventually I removed the bones and skin, just because it’s easier to eat). That chicken went back into the pot.

I made a roux (softened butter and flour mixed together between your fingers) and dropped those pieces into the stew, which was back on a very low heat on the stovetop. It took just a couple of minutes for the sauce to thicken up just some.

Then I heated up a large nonstick skillet, added some butter and sautéed the mushrooms (smaller ones were left whole – larger ones thickly sliced) until they were just barely tender. If they’re done over a fairly high heat they don’t ever get mushy from fluid. They were poured into the stew pot and just stirred in. I tasted the broth/sauce. For me it needed nary a grain of salt or pepper. I have reduced the amount of salt called for in the recipe because I think it would have been overkill. It was sublimely perfect as is.

The chicken was absolutely marvelous. Divine. Perfectly tender. Not dry. And the sauce? Oh my. I wish I had a bowl full of it. There was nothing else to do but sprinkle on some finely minced parsley (not in the recipe). And eat. And eat.
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Coq au Vin (Ina Garten’s version)

Recipe By: Ina Garten’s Back to Basics cookbook
Serving Size: 8
NOTES: According to Ina’s recipe, this serves 6. Usually a 3 1/2 pound chicken would serve 4, so I upped the servings. I used chicken thighs – a combination of bone-in and boneless. In Ina’s book recipe (this one came from the Food Network site), the Cognac is ignited when it’s added to the pan. I don’t know why that step was removed from the online version.

4 ounces bacon — or pancetta, diced
2 whole chickens — each cut in 8 pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound carrots — cut diagonally in 1-inch pieces
1 whole yellow onion — sliced
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup Cognac — or good brandy
1/2 bottle dry red wine — such as Burgundy, (375 ml)
1 cup chicken stock — preferably homemade
10 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tablespoons unsalted butter — at room temperature, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 pound frozen small whole onions
1/2 pound mushrooms — cremini, stems removed and thickly sliced

1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove the bacon to a plate with a slotted spoon.
3. Meanwhile, lay the chicken out on paper towels and pat dry. Sprinkle the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. When the bacon is removed, brown the chicken pieces in batches in a single layer for about 5 minutes, turning to brown evenly. Remove the chicken to the plate with the bacon and continue to brown until all the chicken is done. Set aside.
4. Add the carrots, onions to the pan and cook over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the Cognac, ignite it with a long match and STAND BACK until the alcohol burns off. Turn off any fan when you do this step. Add the bacon, chicken, and any juices that collected on the plate into the pot. Add the wine, chicken stock, and thyme and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and place in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is just not pink. Remove from the oven and place on top of the stove.
5. Mash 1 tablespoon of butter and the flour together and stir into the stew. Add the frozen onions. In a medium saute pan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and cook the mushrooms over medium-low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until browned. Add to the stew. Bring the stew to a simmer and cook for another 10 minutes. Season to taste. Serve hot.
Per Serving (recipe assumes you consume all the skin and bones, so it’s way too high): 970 Calories; 68g Fat (65.9% calories from fat); 70g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 359mg Cholesterol; 768mg Sodium.

A year ago: Yellow squash & zucchini “linguine” (a side vegetable)
Two years ago: Pink Sangria

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  1. Joanne

    said on November 19th, 2009:

    A good friend of mine went to a book signing by Ina Garten and surprised me by sending a signed copy of her new cookbook to me here in Geneva. I was like a little kid looking through all the recipes! One of the first recipes I made was the Coq au Vin. I followed the recipe and the results were amazing!!! My husband and two sons absolutely loved it and were vying over who would get the leftover portion. It’s funny that I read your blog this morning as I was thinking about making it for friends this weekend.

    I agree, Joanne. This Ina Garten recipe is just the best. I will become my forever go-to recipe from now on! . . .carolyn t

  2. cristina

    said on December 2nd, 2010:

    Hi, I was wondering if your sauce for Ina’s coq au vin was more like a soup/broth or was it more like gravy consistency. After I added the roux (her exact measure), and cooked down a bit, it still seems rather like soup consistency. Though it is delicious. Just wondering about it.

    Hi Cristina – it’s been awhile since I posted that recipe (and I’ve made it just once), but yes, I think it was a bit thin. If you prefer it thicker, make just a bit more of the roux. I might do that myself next time! . . . carolyn t

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