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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, 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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