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Just finished 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 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 parents were 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 a old 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.

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

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, Salads, on August 27th, 2008.

Cornish Game Hen (or Chicken Breast) Salad with Green Beans

Eons ago when I first started going to cooking classes there used to be a cooking school here in Newport Beach called Ma Cuisine. It closed down after about 7-8 years, but I have several recipes from classes I took there, that are still standards for me. This is one of them. Another one is my osso bucco. And a third is a plain risotto made with champagne. I haven’t blogged either one of those, have I? I don’t seem to make osso buco very often, or risotto either, anymore. Love both, but they’re so labor intensive, eh?

Right off the bat I’ll tell you that I wouldn’t make this salad for just my DH and me for a weeknight dinner. Or even a weekend dinner for two. This is the kind of thing you want to make for guests, when you’d like them to ooh and aah over how you’ve slaved in the kitchen. And, in fact, you do slave a bit to make this, but it’s not overwhelming. It’s just that there are several steps (the marinade, the green beans, the dressing and the garnish). They’re all separate, but combined when you put it together just before serving. This recipe is long. I admit it, but don’t be discouraged. Nothing about the salad is difficult.

The original recipe was made for Cornish game hens. But sometimes, like this time, I simply couldn’t find them, so I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts instead. The group we entertained was probably happier for it anyway. Some people don’t like fussing with the bones, etc. of game hens. Particularly men, I find.

I’ve changed the recipe just a bit over the years. First, I added the orange juice to the marinade. In the class the instructor talked about wanting to “freshen” the game hens of their raw poultry smell, so she always squeezed the juice of a full orange over any poultry, then let it drain. Then she prepared the marinade. Since oranges are not a cheap commodity anymore, I just add the juice to the marinade. Then, I also grill the chicken breasts if I’m using them (not the game hens – they’re done in the oven only) , especially if it’s a warm summer night and I don’t want to heat up the kitchen. If you are using the chicken I don’t add the capers – just the brine. The capers never make it out of the marinade anyway when you use chicken, so I use only the brine to flavor the marinade. If you like capers, sprinkle some on top of the salad along with the tomatoes and shallots.

As you can see from the photograph, part of the aesthetic of this dish is the presentation. The salad is assembled just before serving – well, it’s layered, I should say – on a very large platter. This won’t fit on a 12-inch large plate. No way, no how. So bring out the big one, whatever you have, for this dinner. We were serving 9 people, so I had to pull out all the stops and bring out the big platter I use for Thanksgiving. Nobody could see the autumn embossing in the center of the platter anyway. The multi-colored greens are tossed with the herby dressing, then mounded on the platter. Then you add the haricot verts (the baby green beans) that were cooked just until barely done. Those are tossed in a bit of the dressing (separately) to make sure they’re covered completely. If you can, arrange them in a nice line-up, or kind of spoked around the platter. Then you arrange the hens or chicken breasts on top of the green beans. If I use chicken breasts normally I will cut each breast in two strips (looks nicer, that’s all). Then, the finale is the mini-diced tomatoes and shallots that have been tossed in their own little dressing (olive oil and sugar, plus some pepper). They add such a great fillip to the whole dish. Try to get them on TOP of the hens or chicken so each person has some of it with each serving.

If you go to my recipe page (index), and click on one of the categories, you’ll see that I don’t have all THAT many recipes that I call “favorites.” This is one of them. So, take note. If you trust me by this time that when I tell you a recipe is a keeper, then this is one.
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Cornish Game Hen (or Chicken Breast) Salad

Recipe: Adapted from a Ma Cuisine Cooking Class
Servings: 8
Serving Ideas: This is a very colorful salad to serve to guests. It can easily be a complete meal – it has protein, salad and vegetables. Or, you can make this just one dish of a more varied meal. The green beans “make” this dish (my opinion) because they’re unusual in a salad. And the tiny, diced tomatoes and shallots sprinkled on the top provide a very colorful garnish. The beans are briefly tossed in a bit of dressing and make a pretty bed for the hens or chicken breasts. But, you could substitute other vegetables for the beans (like asparagus). This dish is ideal for a warm summer evening as much of it can be made ahead. Just cook the hens or chicken an hour before serving so they’ve just barely reached room temp when you’re ready to serve it. Everything else can be done ahead and just assembled at the last minute. Be sure to use a very large platter as the salad is huge, and you want people to see if before you begin serving it. Stand by for oohs and aahs.

GAME HENS/CHICKEN BREAST MARINADE:
1 medium orange — halved, juiced
1/2 cup lemon juice — fresh squeezed
1/4 cup virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic — peeled and minced
1 tablespoon capers — Nonpareil, or just caper brine
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon — ground
1 teaspoon black pepper — freshly cracked
1 teaspoon salt
8 whole Cornish game hens — 3/4-1 lb each, or 8 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
GREEN BEANS:
1 pound green beans — preferably haricot verts
TOMATOES:
4 medium tomatoes, red ripe
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper — freshly ground
1 large shallot — peeled and minced
SALAD:
6 cups salad greens (colorful is better)
DRESSING:
1/4 cup red wine vinegar — 6-7% acidity
1 teaspoon lemon juice — fresh squeezed
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons fresh basil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
3/8 cup oregano olive oil — or extra virgin olive oil
3/8 cup extra virgin olive oil

1. MARINADE: Wash and halve (or quarter) Cornish hens, removing back bone. Or, wash off the chicken breasts, dry with paper towels, then between pieces of plastic wrap briefly pound the thick end of each breast to a more uniform thickness.
2. In a large plastic bag combine the marinade ingredients, stir to combine, then add the game hens or chicken breasts. Refrigerate for about an hour or up to 4 hours.
3. GREEN BEANS: Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Drop in cleaned green beans (or haricot verts) and cook for 5 minutes, or until just tender. May need to do several batches. Drain and place in large bowl with ice water. Set aside.
4. TOMATOES: Meanwhile, seed, core and cut tomatoes into 1/2 inch or smaller dice. Place in glass bowl; add any extra juice from the tomatoes. Sprinkle tomatoes with olive oil, granulated sugar (or sugar substitute), black pepper and minced shallot. Toss well; allow to rest at room temperature.
5. GAME HENS: Preheat oven to 425. In shallow roasting pan lay hens flat, skin side up. Cover with marinade and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350° and bake for another 25 minutes, basting frequently. Allow hens to cool before serving.
6. DRESSING: In blender or Cuisinart drop garlic cloves and mince up fine, then add salt. Let sit while you assemble the other ingredients. Add vinegar, lemon juice, fresh herbs, mustard and pepper and whiz until combined. Combine the 2 olive oils into one measuring cup and while blender is running, add oil slowly as it emulsifies. Taste and correct seasoning, if necessary, adding more salt or pepper if needed.
7. CHICKEN BREASTS GRILLED: Preheat a barbecue grill to medium high. Drain marinade and dry off chicken pieces with paper towels. Grill for 4-5 minutes per side. Do not overcook or they will be dried out and chewy. Remove from grill and allow to cool to room temperature. You may cut the breasts in half, on the diagnonal, into two wide strips, to make a more attractive salad.
8. ASSEMBLY OF SALAD: Combine lettuces in a large bowl and dress with some of the salad dressing (see directions below). Pour dressed greens onto a very large decorative platter. Toss green beans with about 1 T. of dressing and place in the middle of the mound of lettuce.
9. Place hens or chicken breasts on top and sprinkle chopped tomato mixture on top of with some over the top of the green beans. Serve immediately.
Per Serving (assuming each person eats a whole Cornish hen, a lot less if you use chicken): 984 Calories; 76g Fat (69.9% calories from fat); 60g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 339mg Cholesterol; 702mg Sodium.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on August 27th, 2008:

    That looks so delicious. I haven’t seen a Cornish hen in years and I agree about eating bones in company, they are just too fiddly. Did you use your alligator chopper for the tomatoes? They are sold here now, about $40.00!

    Yes, indeed, I did use my aligator chopper for the tomatoes. I think I paid $30 for mine, here. I just love the thing – I had all those tomatoes minced in about 4 minutes flat. Carolyn

  2. sandrar

    said on September 10th, 2009:

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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