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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, 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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