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Just finished reading The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

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 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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