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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of middle-aged high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, and wealthy) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

 

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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