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Just finished a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you want that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

Also finished Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia. You know Julian Fellowes, the producer and writer of Downton Abbey? He lends his mind to a story about a family or two from the similar time period as Downton, who live in London. There’s some amount of intrigue, romance, observations from within the halls of wealthy Londoners and moderately well off tradesmen and their families. There’s affairs, shady business dealings, an illegitimate child, the comings and goings of the “downstairs” staff too, etc. The characters were well done – I had no trouble keeping all of the people identified. The story is somewhat predictable, but it was interesting clear up to the end.

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.

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.

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 July 3rd, 2008.

chicken tikka masala

It was just a couple of days ago I was watching America’s Test Kitchen. I use my Tivo to record all the ATK programs. The show is broadcast on a different timetable around the country – i.e., not all shows you’d see are current – they may be year old re-runs. And sometimes the recipes have already dropped off the map when you go to the ATK website. Now I’m only recording new programs, so generally the recipes are available online.

Indian food is something I enjoy very much, although we don’t eat it as much anymore since we try to limit our rice consumption. But this version, shown recently on ATK, of Chicken Tikka Masala sounded so delicious, I had to try it. I’ve made it before, but never this well. The recipe is a real winner. I kid you not. If you enjoy Indian cuisine, you’ll likely enjoy this dish very much.

Chicken breasts are seasoned with ground cumin, coriander and cayenne, then dredged in a mixture of whole-milk yogurt, fresh ground ginger and minced garlic. The chicken is broiled while you make the Masala Sauce, which is composed of onion, more Indian spices, garlic, ginger, one moderately warm chile pepper, crushed tomatoes, and some heavy cream. Oh my. When my DH took his first bite of this his eyes rolled and he went into a bit of food rapture. I made a small amount of basmati rice, lapped some thick slices of the broiled chicken breast on top, and then scooped some of the Masala Sauce on top of that. Then sprinkled with mint (I didn’t have any cilantro on hand). I served it with some eggplant (recipe tomorrow) and a wedge of watermelon.
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Chicken Tikka Masala

Recipe By: America’s Test Kitchen
Servings: 6
Serving Ideas: Basmati rice or a simple pilaf would be a good accompaniment. Eggplant also makes a good side dish, with a small wedge of watermelon as a salad.

CHICKEN:
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon table salt
2 pounds boneless chicken — breasts, trimmed of fat
1 cup yogurt — whole-milk preferably
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium garlic cloves — minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon fresh ginger — grated
MASALA SAUCE:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion — diced fine (about 1 1/4 cups)
2 medium garlic cloves — minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons fresh ginger — grated
1 serrano pepper — ribs and seeds removed, flesh minced (see note above), or one large jalapeno
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 can crushed tomatoes — (28-ounces)
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves — chopped (or mint, if preferred)

1. FOR THE CHICKEN: Combine cumin, coriander, cayenne, and salt in small bowl. Sprinkle both sides of chicken with spice mixture, pressing gently so mixture adheres. Place chicken on plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes. In large bowl, whisk together yogurt, oil, garlic, and ginger; set aside.
2. FOR THE SAUCE: Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until light golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, chile, tomato paste, and garam masala; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, sugar, and salt; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cream and return to simmer. Remove pan from heat and cover to keep warm.
3. While sauce simmers, adjust oven rack to upper-middle position (about 6 inches from heating element) and heat broiler. Using tongs, dip chicken into yogurt mixture (chicken should be coated with thick layer of yogurt) and arrange on wire rack set in foil-lined rimmed baking sheet or broiler pan. Discard excess yogurt mixture. Broil chicken until thickest parts register 160 degrees on instant-read thermometer and exterior is lightly charred in spots, 10 to 18 minutes, flipping chicken halfway through cooking.
4. Let chicken rest 5 minutes, then cut into 1-inch chunks and stir into warm sauce (do not simmer chicken in sauce). Stir in cilantro, adjust seasoning with salt, and serve.
Per Serving: 416 Calories; 25g Fat (55.0% calories from fat); 38g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 129mg Cholesterol; 751mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on July 3rd, 2008:

    This meal, apparently, is the British favourite meal to eat at a resto. It isn’t even Indian, at least, if you went to India and ordered it ,the staff wouldn’t know what you wanted. Here, it is served up with tomato soup to make it red…I have tried it from someone’s plate but I would never order it.

    A couple of weeks ago I spent the day with Sid Khullar (with whom I co-author a Blog) he lives in Dehli and is Indian. We had such lot to talk about! I am used to being around Indian people (Asian) But had not spent time with someone fresh from that Continent – a revalation! He is a lovely man, and I can ‘t wait to meet him again.

  2. Rick Mansfield

    said on July 3rd, 2008:

    I created a link to your recipe in our newest “Cast Iron Around the Web” entry at http://www.cookingincastiron.com

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