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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 September 18th, 2011.

roast_chicken_juiciest

Oh my, yes! Juicy. Tender. Perfectly cooked. Easy. Hooray for Cook’s Illustrated. They finally figured out how to do it and have given us the technique. I don’t know about you, but I never seem to be able to get a roast chicken to look or taste like the ones you can buy from the rotisserie at the grocery store, or Costco. Those always seem to be golden brown and juicy (unless they’ve been sitting there too long).

The recipe came from the most recent issue of the magazine (Sept/Oct 2011). Unless you are a subscriber to the online version (a different fee from being a hard-copy subscriber as I am) you can’t access this recipe online. So I’m going to have to give you a synopsis.

The short story is: heat a 12-inch frying pan in a 450° oven. Dry, oil, salt & pepper a whole chicken. Set chicken in the hot frying pan breast side UP with meat thermometer. When breast meat reaches 120° or thigh at 135°, turn oven OFF (yes, really). Leave in oven until breast meat registers 160° or thigh 175°. Remove from oven, tent lightly 20 minutes. Carve and serve.

Every time I read an article in Cook’s Illustrated I’m astounded at the creativity of the staff. They come up with innovative ideas to solve cooking problems that I certainly can’t. In this case it’s all about having the thigh meat get a jump-start in the cooking process, since it usually takes longer to reach 175° than it does to get the breast meat cooked to 160°. As we all know, if we wait until the thigh is done, usually, the breast meat is past its peak and dry. Why didn’t I think about putting the thigh meat in contact with a hot frying pan surface?

breast_meat_closeupThe preparation is SO simple. The baking is easy, as long as you have a good meat thermometer – one that will beep at you when something reaches temperature. You don’t want to go beyond the temps or you’ll end up with overcooked chicken. I had a really large chicken, so the approximate timing was a little longer in both parts of the baking process, but the results were fantastic. I’m so happy!

What I liked: how easy it was; hot delicious it was – tender, juicy. No question, this is going to be my new method of roasting a chicken. The leftover meat was tender as could be, both breast meat and thigh.

What I didn’t like: well, it wasn’t quite as golden brown as I’d hoped. But overall, it was fantastic, so I don’t want to complain that the skin wasn’t quite as brown as I’d have liked. We don’t eat the skin anyway.

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Weeknight Roast Chicken

Recipe By: From Cook’s Illustrated magazine, Sept/Oct 2011
Serving Size: 5
NOTES: The reason this works is because the thigh meat gets a jump-start when it comes in contact with the hot frying pan, so it ends up cooking about the same amount of time the breast meat does.

4 pounds chicken — 3 1/2 to 4 pounds
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil — or grapeseed oil

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position, then place a 12-inch skillet in the oven and heat it to 450°.
2. Combine salt and pepper in a small bowl. Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Rub the entire surface of the chicken with the oil, then sprinkle the salt and pepper mixture all over the chicken.
3. Remove pan from the oven and place chicken, breast side up, in the pan. If you have one, insert a meat thermometer in the breast, sticking the probe in at the neck end, fairly close to the breast bone, but not touching the bone. Alternately you can place the probe in the thigh, by pushing the probe inbetween the tip of the breast and the thigh and angle probe outward slightly so it enters the thigh meat in lower part of the thigh.
4. Place pan back in the oven and roast at the preset oven temp for about 25-35 minutes, until the breast meat registers 120° or thigh at 135°.
5. Turn oven OFF and continue roasting in the oven for another 25-40 minutes, until the breast meat registers 160° or the thigh at 175°.
6. Transfer whole chicken from pan to a carving board (with a moat around the outside, if you have one) and loosely tent the chicken with foil for about 20 minutes. Carve and serve.
Per Serving (assumes you eat all the skin too): 589 Calories; 44g Fat (68.3% calories from fat); 45g Protein; trace Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 239mg Cholesterol; 1311mg Sodium.

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  1. janice sanz

    said on May 7th, 2013:

    Thank you SO much for posting this recipe. I searched for it, but of course, America’s Test Kitchen won’t allow one to see it without paying for membership. I made the recipe this afternoon so my family could have dinner while I was at a meeting. It was wonderful. Thanks again

    You’re welcome! I’ve heard that Cook’s Illustrated sometimes asks bloggers to take down a recipe if it’s printed verbatim. So far they haven’t bothered me. But, I do think to read all the ATK recipes you just have to register with them (and then get their frequent emails), but there is no charge. It’s the Cook’s Illustrated and others that they charge for. Try it. . . carolyn t

  2. Cindy

    said on November 14th, 2013:

    To get a really good golden brown color, don’t turn the oven off until the skin is the color you want – this always takes me a bit longer than the suggested time in the recipe. The skin doesn’t get any browner during the “off” phase of the oven.

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