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Just finished The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

Read Grace Unshakled, by Irene Huising. From Amazon’s page, it says: “In the year 2025, 17-year-old Grace Duncan finds herself in shackles because of her faith in Christ. An obedient daughter and stellar student, doing time in jail was never on her mental radar, despite the changes in religious laws [this takes place here in the United States] over the past few years. Through twists and turns in circumstances, Grace and a small band of Christians in Newport Beach, California begin a journey to discover what it means to follow Christ with unwavering faith in the midst of increasing persecution. Facing the potential loss of all her hopes and dreams, would Christ be enough?” We read this for one of my book clubs, and it’s a scary thought about what it could mean if we take God out of our country. The author is a friend of a friend and she attended our book club meeting to share about how she came to write this book. I don’t often share my faith here on my website, but this book made me stop and think about the direction our government is going, removing more and more our ability to worship God. Or to worship in any religion. Will this book ever make waves in the book world? Probably not. My copy may be a pre-edited version, as it contained numerous typos and formatting errors. But they didn’t detract from the subject, just the cosmetics. The book doesn’t come to a resolution; in fact it leaves you hanging, as some books do. It was intentional (obviously), but left me wondering about the “end of the story.”

Also just finished reading The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Read The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome (the Pope) – he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of Margaret of York (a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine),  who was a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

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 March 24th, 2010.

Over the years of my cooking history, I’ve made Country Captain from a recipe in one of my homespun cookbooks. And it just never tasted all that great. All I remember was the volume of tomatoes. And in a gloppy watery tomato-ey sauce. It just didn’t hit any taste buttons for me. So after trying two similar recipes (this would have been in the 60’s or 70’s, I guess) I never looked at any Country Captain recipe again. Until now!

Why now? Well, I bought a new cookbook – like I need more cookbooks – but never mind that, since I have no reason when it comes to cookbooks – from Cook’s Illustrated, called Cover and Bake. (Apparently this book is so new it isn’t up on their website yet.) I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I entertain, it surely helps to be able to do some things ahead. Or do more one-dish meals. I thought this cookbook would help in that endeavor. Once I got this cookbook I started at the beginning and scanned through every recipe in the book. I put little pink stickies at the top of every page I wanted to try (I do that so I can easily find them when I’m searching for something new to try).

Fond? What’s that?

It’s the brown stuff that sticks to your skillet after browning anything – that’s where the best flavor comes from. Just make sure it’s not burned, but suitably golden brown!

As with most things related to Cook’s Illustrated, they wrote up a nice article before sharing each recipe. With an in-depth explanation of how they came about preparing each dish the way they did. I always like reading that part. It’s kind of like an ah-ha moment when you read that, for instance in this recipe, they decided to leave the chicken skin on while browning them, but then the skin was removed. They thought nobody really eats skin anymore, especially after being simmered in liquid, but the dish was decidedly bland without that step. So, browning with skin allowed the chicken to have more flavor.

The history of the dish is interesting – nobody is certain, but they think it was from one of two sources: (1) a British sea captain bringing spices from India to the New World (the early 1800’s) introduced the residents of Savannah, Georgia, to curry powder, paprika and cayenne pepper; or (2) a captain of Indian troops (called country troops) served the dish to British soldiers, also in the early 1800’s. In any case, it became a frequent dinner dish in Savannah, and apparently still is! Country Captain came into great favor when President Franklin D. Roosevelt served it at his “Little White House,” in Warm Springs, Georgia. Including General George Patton. It’s well known that FDR really liked this dish.

Some recipes call for bacon and orange juice, but Cook’s Illustrated decided they didn’t enhance the stew at all. They added both curry powder and cayenne, as well as bay leaf and thyme. And they also added sweet paprika and fresh mango to the stew. Some recipes call for mango chutney, but they decided that made the stew too strong and sweet. So fresh mango was tried and remained in the finished recipe. They also added raisins.

As with many curries, they’re usually served with a variety of condiments. In this case Cook’s Illustrated offered the stew to their testers and decided there are five that met their ultimate taste tests: toasted, sliced almonds, fresh banana, shredded sweetened coconut, Granny Smith apple tidbits, and scallions. I added fresh yogurt to the mix because the curry was w-a-r-m. And yogurt tempers spicy-heat very well.

Recipe Tip:

Be sure to use bone-in chicken thighs – with skin. Those bones and skin add lots of flavor to a stew. The skin is removed once the chicken is well browned.

Making a double batch took me longer to complete than I’d anticipated. We had 9 for dinner and it took a leap of faith that this dish would be appreciated by our guests – not everyone likes curry! You don’t want to crowd the pan with chicken as it will steam rather than brown, so it took me 4 batches to brown 16 thighs. At 5 minutes per side per sauté. Nothing about the recipe is hard – it helps to gather all the ingredients ahead of time and have everything all chopped and ready to add when needed. Nearly all the cooking is done in the oven, although I decided to use my large All-Clad stainless skillet for the browning – rather than the Dutch oven – then I deglazed it with water afterwards to get all that fond off the bottom.

Adding some Penzey’s chicken soup base (it’s a concentrate) to the water allowed me to make that the broth added to the stew. Eventually everything went into my big Le Crueset pot and into the oven. The chicken must be submerged in order to become tender and not dry.

When the dish was baked sufficiently, the sauce seemed a bit watery to me (no watery Country Captain allowed!) so I removed all the chicken pieces and reduced (boiled down) the remaining sauce (about 10 minutes) until it was nicely thickened to my liking, stirring frequently. Since it was going on top of rice, I wanted it to be more sauce-like than soup-like. That step, not in the original recipe, worked perfectly. The chicken pieces were put back into the sauce and cooked until it was almost falling apart.

This chicken was stupendous. A real winner, thanks to the folks at Cook’s Illustrated. There were multiple layers of flavors, and I liked every one of them. And, incidentally, I’d use all of those condiments again – they really added a lot to the finished dish. I happened to use medium-hot curry powder, and it had a bit of a kick to it. Everyone liked it, I’m glad to say, and some of our guests had no idea I was going to serve a spicy curry for dinner. Once the yogurt was mixed in (on top) and the condiments added to most bites, it tamed the heat quite well. Use your own discretion about the heat volume.
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Country Captain Chicken

Recipe By: Cook’s Illustrated’s cookbook, “Cover and Bake”
Serving Size: 4

Notes: The condiments mentioned MAKE the dish – don’t eliminate them. The original recipe also called for sweetened shredded coconut too. If the sauce is not thick enough after baking, remove all the chicken pieces and reduce the sauce until it’s thick enough to your liking. Then add the chicken pieces back into the sauce. If you use a spicier curry powder you may not need the cayenne.

8 whole chicken thighs — bone-in and with skin (skin removed later)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 large onions — peeled, coarsely chopped
1 medium bell pepper — (I used red; recipe calls for green)
2 medium garlic cloves — peeled, mashed and minced
1 1/2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 tablespoon curry powder — Madras style (or any kind)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
14 1/2 ounces canned tomatoes — diced
1 whole bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup raisins
1 whole mango — peeled, pitted and cut into 1/4 inch dice
1/4 cup Italian parsley — chopped

CONDIMENTS:
1/2 cup sliced almonds — toasted
1 whole Granny Smith apple — peeled, diced very small
4 whole green onions — thinly sliced
1 whole banana — peeled, diced very small

1. Adjust oven rack to the lower-middle shelf and heat to 300.
2. Trim the chicken thighs of extra or hanging fat. Dry them with paper towels, then season with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large ovenproof Dutch oven over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Carefully add the chicken thighs, just a few at a time – don’t crowd the pan or they won’t brown properly. Saute/brown them skin side down for about 5 minutes without moving them at all. Turn them over and brown the other side. Remove to a large plate and set aside. You may need to do more than one batch of the browning. Once the chicken has cooled enough to handle, remove all the chicken skin and discard.
3. Discard all but about a tablespoon of oil (fat) in the bottom of the pan. Add the chopped onions and bell peppers. Cook for about 5 minutes, then add the paprika, cayenne, curry powder and garlic and continue cooking briefly, about one minute. Add the flour and stir to combine it carefully with the vegetables, without burning, for about 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes, bay leaf, thyme, raisins and mango.
4. Bring this mixture to a boil, then add the chicken pieces, submerging them all below the surface. Bring to a simmer, cover and place in the preheated oven for about 1 1/4 hours, or until the chicken is fork tender, but is still clinging to the bone. (Don’t overcook.)
5. Remove from the oven, stir in the parsley, discard the bay leaf and adjust the seasonings as needed. Serve immediately with garnishes of your choice. It’s traditional to serve it over rice.
Per Serving (assuming 2 thighs per person – at our dinner most people ate just one because they were medium-to-large size): 767 Calories; 44g Fat (48.9% calories from fat); 45g Protein; 58g Carbohydrate; 9g Dietary Fiber; 158mg Cholesterol; 325mg Sodium.

A year ago: Szechuan Green Beans with Turkey
Two years ago: Kurobuta Ham with David Rosengarten’s Mustard Sauce

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  1. ~Misty

    said on March 30th, 2015:

    This was really good my entire family enjoyed, adults, teenagers, and preschoolers! We raise our own chickens in the summer time and then freeze them whole, so I used a cut up whole chicken and all of the meat was tender and yummy. I served with all the condiments including coconut and served it over basmati rice. Thanks for posting this great recipe, looking forwarding to trying some of your other recipes!

    Thanks, Misty! So glad you enjoyed it. I’m just returned from a trip, and one thing I’m craving is curried chicken over basmati, so I think I’ll be making a BIG batch and freezing it in small portions. . . carolyn t

  2. alice sitbythefire

    said on December 23rd, 2016:

    BLESS YOU A THOUSANDFOLD FOR PUTTING IN THE ORIGINAL “COOKS” RECIPE – so I could copy and print it without having to re-write it from my Cook’s Illustrated.. I used it for the 1st time (I’m 86 years old) a week ago and we were all flabbergasted by how easy it is to make and delicious to eat! Bless you, too, for recommending Penzey’s (no relation of mine, don’t own any of their stock – unless the chicken stock counts) whose soup bases I always find the most like natural flavors. I used, forgive me, *none* of the condiments and nobody missed ’em. The stew itself is so full of flavor we felt no need to gild the bird!

    Am so glad you enjoyed that recipe. I’d a good one, for sure. Thanks for reading my blog! . . . carolyn t

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