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The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This book was offered as a bargain book from Bookbub, and something about the description resonated with me – maybe because of my Old Testament readings regarding the lives of shepherds back in ancient days. I utterly loved this book. It might not suit everyone – it’s a memoir, so a true story, of a young man growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, the son of a farming family, who sabotages everything in his being about attending further education and leaves as soon as he is able (probably about 8th grade, I’d guess). And becomes a shepherd. And at night, he read literature that he accumulated from his grandfather. He bickers with his father, eventually moves out. One night in a pub with his blokes (friends) he enters some kind of a contest in the pub and realizes he has a lot more knowledge than he thought he did. In time he applies to get what I’d call here in the U.S. a G.E.D (high school diploma), which he does, and then he applies to Oxford, on a whim. And gets in. He graduates. He applies his knowledge to his rural life. He marries, has children, but still, his day to day life is all about his Herdwick sheep although he does have a day job too working for UNESCO. You’ll learn more about sheep than you might have wanted to know. I absolutely loved, LOVED this book. If you are interested, James Rebanks has a Twitter feed, called @herdyshepherd1, and you can sign up to get updates from him about his farm and his sheep. I don’t do Twitter or I would.

Moloka’i: A Novel by Alan Brennert. A riveting book about the early days of Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) in Hawaii, and the stigma attached to the victims AND their families. I could hardly put it down. It chronicles the story of a young woman, diagnosed almost as a child, and ostracized from her family, subsequently learning to live alone and remote. You yearn to hug her, comfort her. Yet she finds eventually happiness and peace. A beautiful book worth reading. Was a book club read.

House by the Fjord by Rosalind Laker. What a darling story. From amazon: A touching and atmospheric love story – When Anna Harvik travels to Norway in 1946 in order to visit the family of her late husband, the country is only just recovering from five cruel years of Nazi occupation. So it is with surprise that she finds in this cold and bitter country the capacity for new love and perhaps even a new home. I just loved this book – could hardly put it down; yet it’s not a mystery. You’ll come away with a desire to find that house by the fjord. I want to go there and have some coffee with the Anna, who was a Brit, yet fell head over heels in love with Norway.

Running Blind (Jack Reacher) by Lee Child. A Jack Reacher mystery. From amazon: Across the country, women are being murdered, victims of a disciplined and clever killer who leaves no trace evidence, no fatal wounds, no signs of struggle, and no clues to an apparent motive. They are, truly, perfect crimes. Until Jack Reacher gets in the middle of it. A page turner, as are all of the Jack Reacher stories.

Say Goodbye for Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde. If you like Hyde’s novels, for the month of September many of her books are available on Kindle at a very reduced price ($1.99 and $.99 each). Go grab them while they’re available. I just purchased 6 of her books. This story, which takes place in a kind of Texas backwater, sets a town into an angry mess when two young boys, one white, one black, become friends, something most folks don’t like. At all. There’s a dog involved, the father of the black boy, the father of the white boy plus a woman who lives in the town and does her best to avoid people altogether. But they all get fused. Wonderful story.

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart. A sweet book, true story, of the author and her friend, during one summer in the midst of their college years, going by train to NYC and ultimately getting a job of Tiffany’s. This took place in the 40s, and at the time no women were ever seen on the showroom floors, but these two pretty young women were the harbinger of equality, though none of that comes into play here. They were “runners,” who whisked orders and money to and fro from the salesMEN to the office. They stood in silence near the elevators on the ground floor and waited for a sale to take place. They lived in cramped quarters. They enjoyed everything NYC had to offer them at the time, and they were wowed by an occasional celebrity sighting. Cute read.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. You might think what a stretch – what does an Indian (Native American) tribe have to do with the FBI. Read and you’ll find out. This is back in time, 50s I think, and a number of murders have taken place on the Osage Reservation. No one can seem to solve them, and those who try also get caught in the crossfire. Finally a man is brought in from back East. That’s where the inception of the FBI comes into play, though there was no FBI then. This is a very interesting read, probably sufficient info to do a book club read. A book everyone should read if you know little (or a lot) about the abominable treatment given to the Native Americans over the last several hundred years. A wake up call, even for today.

Oh wow. Just finished reading David Guterson’s book, East of the Mountains. You know this author from his most well known book, Snow Falling on Cedars. I loved the Cedars book when I read it years ago, and assumed I’d like this other book (not new) as well. Have you learned to trust my judgment when I tell you, you HAVE to read a book? When I tell you the story line, I can already hear you thinking . . . oh no, I don’t want to read this kind of a book. Please trust me. You’ll come away from it being glad you did. It tells the tale of a 70ish man, a widower, who has been diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. He’s a retired physician, knows the scenario of death by cancer, and doesn’t want to do it. He decides he’s going to take a bird hunting trip, east of the mountains in Washington State (Guterson writes a lot about his part of the world), with his two dogs, and he’ll commit suicide. He sets up an elaborate ruse with his children and grandchildren, and heads out. All of this, so far, takes place in the first 10 pages of the book. First he has an accident in his car, and that sets off a cavalcade of incidents. You’ll learn a whole lot about flora and fauna (one of Guterson’s writing attributes). You’ll learn a lot about apple and pear orchards, which abound in eastern Washington (I’ve been there, it’s beautiful, pastoral and full of fruit). Flashbacks of his life story are interspersed throughout, his growing up on an apple farm, meeting his wife, his service in WWII, their reuniting after the war and the life they had. You’ll learn some about his cancer pain, the grief of his wife’s death 5 years prior, and about his resolve to end it all. Please don’t NOT read this because  you’ll think it’s depressing. It is and it isn’t. It’s so much more for the better. And I just read, this book is being made into a movie.

A fabulous read – Catherine Ryan Hyde’s newest book, Have You Seen Luis Velez? I marvel sometimes about how authors ever come up with the ideas they do, to create the premise for a novel. And this one is right up there at the top of the list. Raymond, a youngster, an older teenager, who has a big lack of self-confidence and feels like an odd duck sometimes, reluctantly (at first) befriends an elderly woman in the apartment building where he lives with his mother and step-father. He discovers she’s blind and needs some help, which he gives her. Then he discovers that there is a lot more to know and understand about this elderly little lady down the hall and he begins a journey to try to find someone for her, the Luis Velez of the title. If you want to use coming-of-age to describe this, that’s partly true. He learns all about himself, the abilities he didn’t know he had, the kindness that lives within him that he never realized was there, and the friends he makes along the way who make some life-changing differences in his young life. He discovers he has some gifts that he can give to others, something most teenagers don’t understand. I can’t recommend this book highly enough – it’s a bit of a tear-jerker, but for every good reason and moral character trait described in the book. It’s there.

Kristin Hannah is quite an author. She’s written upwards of 20 books, I think. This one, Magic Hour: A Novel is another very mesmerizing read. I could hardly put it down. A young, 6-year old child is found in a small town on the Olympic Peninsula. She’s mute and frightened beyond reason. And she seems not to understand English. A psychiatrist is brought to town to try to unravel the mystery and to “reach” the child. I don’t want to spoil the story, but know that the whole subject of nature (biology) vs. nurture comes into play and will keep you hanging onto your seat until the last few pages.

Ever heard of Barbara Pym? I knew the name, but hadn’t ever read any of her work. She was an English author (deceased now), having penned several books. I think she was an inveterate spinster, and in this book, Excellent Women she wrote about a small village community in England with the humdrum, day to day life, but she wrote with such interesting detail. I thought I might be bored to tears reading it, as it describes a 31-year old woman, considered a spinster in the time (1950s), and the book is about her rather boring life with new neighbors who move into her small home (2 units, sharing a bathroom), the local vicar, his sister, and a myriad of other ladies of the parish. Yet you get caught up in the very minor intrigue of the deteriorating marriage of the couple in the building, the love life of the vicar, and the annual planning for a jumble sale at the local church. This book is considered Pym’s best. I loved the book. I highlighted a bunch of phrases and sentences (I will be doing a book review in one of my book clubs). It wasn’t boring at all, and was entertaining right up to the last page!

Did you ever watch Sandra Lee on the Food Network? This was in the early days of the network, and I did watch her some, although her cooking style didn’t mesh much with mine, since I’m a bit of a make-things-from-scratch kind of girl. But then, I don’t make my own mayo, or jam anymore. And I understand her philosophy, making it easier for busy women to feed their families and juggle a busy life. I’d never thought about reading her memoir. But then, a friend highly recommended I do so. I found a used copy online, and read Made From Scratch: A Memoir. She had a very, very hard young life. Her mother? Well, she shouldn’t have even been a mother. Sandra was the eldest and from a very early age she took care of all of her younger siblings. She was badly mistreated and nearly raped by a family member. Her grandmother Lorraine was her favorite person from the get-go and Sandra took care of her grandmother in her waning years. Once Sandra was old enough she left home and went to college for 3 years, then her entrepreneurial spirit just took over. She learned by doing in every job she’s ever had, and I have to admire her tremendously for her accomplishments. She made money, then lost it, found another niche, made money, then lost it. Yet she’s got the kind of grit that we should all emulate. There are 2 recipes in the book. Sandra is a Christian, and a paragraph that really gripped me was at the very end: “Grace has become one of my favorite words. To me it means learning to balance the good days with the bad. Grace is about being proud of yourself, your actions, your life, what you stand for, and the way you give back [Sandra is a huge philanthropist]. Its’ being generous when someone hurts you; it’s knowing when and how to react. It’s knowing that someone you’re not fond of today might turn out to be the only person who puts his or her hand out tomorrow just when you’re about to step in front of a moving bus. Grace is offering understanding and acceptance when the rest of the world does not.” This book isn’t great literature; yet I’m very glad I read it. She is an inspiration.

The book Pachinko (National Book Award Finalist) by Min Jin Lee had been recommended to me by several friends. Finally got around to reading it. It’s a novel about a family of Koreans living in Japan and covers several decades, beginning in the 1940s, I believe. They’re poor. Dirt poor, yet the women just get themselves back up and work. The husbands in the story have problems, health and otherwise. But what you see here is work, and work and more work just to keep above water. You’ve probably read about how poorly Koreans are treated in Japan – they’re kind of thought of as scum of the earth. I don’t know if this phenomena is still true today, but it apparently was even up until a couple of decades ago. As  you read this book, you’ll find yourself rooting for various family members as they progress in life. A fateful decision is made by one that reverberates throughout her life and those of her children. Pachinko (the machines and the gaming economy that runs because of it) is thought of as part of the underbelly of Japanese culture. I remember seeing the pachinko machines when I visited Japan back in the 1960s. So the book infers, much of pachinko is even controlled by a kind of Japanese mafia and certainly has no status if you work in the pachinko arena. Wealth, yes. Status, no. Very worth reading, even though it’s tough going part of the way. This isn’t a “happy” book. But still worth knowing and reading about the subject. Reading the author’s afterword at the end was very revealing and interesting.

Also read An American Marriage (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel by Tayari Jones. The book is set in the south with a young, well-educated, middle-class couple and suddenly the husband is accused and convicted of rape (that he didn’t commit). The book is not about the justice system or his wrongful conviction. Not at all. It’s about the relationship, the husband, wife, and then the 3rd person who inserts himself into the mix. Much of this story is told through the letters that Roy and Celestial write each other during and after his incarceration. Jones recreates the couple’s grief, despair and anger until they finally work their way to acceptance, but maybe not how you would expect it. This is complicated emotional territory navigated with succinctness and precision, making what isn’t said as haunting as the letters themselves.  Some of the above (italics) came from the New York Times’ book review.

Recently finished Sally Field’s memoir (autobiography) called In Pieces. I’ve always admired her and her acting, but never knew much about her. I remember when she was involved with Burt Reynolds, but knew nothing about her dysfunctional coming of age. I think she’s a consummate actress, and was awed by her performance in Norma Rae, and also with her role as Abraham Lincoln’s wife.  She wrote this book herself, with help from a writer’s workshop and with some good advice from various other writers. It’s very well written. She spends a lot of time discussing the very young years and her perverted step-father. But the over-arching person in her life was her mother, be what she may as far as being a good/bad mother. I really liked the book; really enjoyed reading about how Sally throws herself into her tv and film roles over her life. And what a defining moment Norma Rae was in her career. Well worth reading if you enjoy movie star memoirs.

If you want grit, well, read Kristen Hannah’s newest book, The Great Alone: A Novel. It’s a gripping novel about a young girl whose family moves to Alaska when her father is gifted a small plot of land with a ramshackle cabin on it that’s barely fit for habitation. The family survives only because some of the townspeople offer to help them learn how to live through an Alaskan winter, which is not easy. The girl’s father is a tyrant and a wife-beater as well. Some pages were hard to read. Surviving on the land with nearly no funds is an arduous task in the best of times, but doubly so when you’re dealing with an Alaskan winter which lasts about 9 months of the year. I don’t want to spoil the story by telling you too many details. The book touches on some very current social issues and is so worth reading. Although difficult at times, as I said. But I’m very glad I did. I think it would make for a good book club read – lots of survival issues to discuss, let alone the other social problems that ensue. But there’s also love, which makes it worth the read.

Recently finished reading a book for one of my book clubs. I’m interested to find out who in that group recommended this book, Tangerine: A Novel by Christine Mangan. Had it not been selected for my club, I wouldn’t ever have picked it up. Most of it takes place in Tangiers, in the 1950s. Alice and John have moved there, newlyweds, when Lucy Mason shows up. Lucy is Alice’s former college roommate. Lucy simply moves in. There’s bad blood between them following the death of Alice’s beau during their college years. Lucy, who might appear as a very sensible woman, has a dark physical and mental obsession with her “friend.” Is it horror? Not really by strict definition. Is it a mystery? Not quite, although there are several murders that take place. Chapters jump between Alice’s voice and Lucy’s voice and you understand the mental fragility of Alice, and this consuming obsession Lucy has for her friend. I’m NOT recommending this book, but I did finish it just because of my book club choosing this very strange book.

You’ve got to read Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book – Take Me With You. What a story.  From Amazon’s description: August Shroeder, a burned-out teacher, has been sober since his nineteen-year-old son died. Every year he’s spent the summer on the road, but making it to Yellowstone this year means everything. The plan had been to travel there with his son, but now August is making the trip with Philip’s ashes instead. An unexpected twist of fate lands August with two extra passengers for his journey, two half-orphans with nowhere else to go. What none of them could have known was how transformative both the trip—and the bonds that develop between them—would prove, driving each to create a new destiny together. Have a tissue handy at the end. It’s such a charming, sweet story. You’ll fall in love with the young boys, and fall in love with them again 10 years later.

One of my book clubs occasionally reads a kind of edgy book. This is one of them. By Mohsin Hamid, Exit West: A Novel is a book set in an age not dissimilar to our own and in current time, but something bad has happened in the world. Something never divulged, although symptoms of a civil war are mentioned. A unmarried couple, Nadia and Saeed, are given the opportunity (as others are, as well) to go through a door (this is the exit part of the title) and to another place in the world – it takes but a second – to go through the special door. They go to England (London), to a palatial mansion. Sometimes the power grid is sketchy. Another door. And yet another. And finally to Marin County (north of San Francisco). You follow along with the ups and downs of the chaste relationship of the two, this couple from a house to living on the streets. And the eventual dissolution of the relationship too. I wasn’t enamored with the book, but after listening to the review of it and hearing others talk about it, I suppose there’s more to this story than it might appear. Hope is the word that comes to mind. The book is strange, but it won the Los Angeles Times book award in 2017. It’s received lots of press. It made for some very interesting discussion at our book club meeting.

The Last Letter from Your Lover: A Novel by JoJo Moyes. Story: Jennifer Stirling wakes up in hospital, having had a traumatic car accident. She’s introduced to her husband, of whom she has no recollection, and is sent home with him eventually, to a life she neither remembers or embraces readily. But this is the life she was raised to have, so surely it must be worth living, underneath the strange, muted tones of her daily existence. Jennifer goes through the motions, accepts what she is told is her life and all seems to bob along well enough, except when she finds a letter that isn’t her husband’s handwriting, and is clearly a link to someone she has been involved with, but whom? London, France, Africa and America all come into play in this story of a woman piecing back together her life in effort to understand what she has lost, and what she threw away. There is a bit of a time-hop from 1964 to 2003. . . from a reviewer on amazon.  I loved this book from page one to the end. There’s some bit of mystery and you so get into the head of Jennifer Stirling. I could hardly put it down. Great read.

Francine Rivers, an author relatively new to me, but much admired, is most known for this: Mark of the Lion : A Voice in the Wind, An Echo in the Darkness, As Sure As the Dawn (Vol 1-3) It’s a trilogy. The first 2 books are about Hadassah, a young woman in the time of the Roman Empire. When Jerusalem was overrun and destroyed, the Christians still alive were sent off and away, separated and derided and abused. Hadassah was one of them. She’s a slave to a wealthy family and it takes 2 of the books to read before the son of the family finally realizes that he’s in love with Hadassah. If  you’re a Christian, you’ll learn a whole lot more about the time following Christ’s crucifixion, about the lot of the struggling Christian community. The 3rd book in the trilogy is about a gladiator who is part of book 1 and 2, but not a main character. You’ll learn about his life too, after he regains his freedom from the fighting ring and the battle of his soul. These books are a fabulous read. Can’t say enough good things about them all. I’ve never been a huge fan of old-world Roman Empire reading, but this one was altogether different. Very worth reading.

Amy Belding Brown wrote this book: Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America, a true accounting in 1676, of Mary Rowlandson, a woman who was captured by Native Americans.  Even before she was captured on a winter day of violence and terror, she sometimes found herself in conflict with her rigid Puritan community. Now, her home destroyed, her children lost to her, she has been sold into the service of a powerful woman tribal leader, made a pawn in the ongoing bloody struggle between English settlers and native people. Battling cold, hunger, and exhaustion, Mary witnesses harrowing brutality but also unexpected kindness. To her confused surprise, she is drawn to her captors’ open and straightforward way of life, a feeling further complicated by her attraction to a generous, protective English-speaking native known as James Printer. The story is riveting, and perplexing once she is traded back to her home. You’ll see a different side to the Indian problem back then and find yourself conflicted. An excellent read.

Taylor Caldwell was a prolific writer, and one I read when I was younger. She died in 1980, and this book, her last, Answer As a Man certainly delivers as her others did. All his life, Jason Garrity has had to battle intolerance and injustice in his quest for power, money, and love. His new hotel will give him financial security, the means to support a loving family and become an upstanding citizen. When family secrets and financial greed combine to destroy his dreams, his rigid moral convictions are suddenly brought into question. . . from Goodreads. Caldwell believed the banking industry was way too powerful, and often took aim at it, as she did in this book. It chronicles the life of a very poor, impoverished Irish immigrant to the U.S. He was an upstanding citizen, God-fearing, but maybe naive in some respects. Good book if you enjoy very deep character study.

Another book by Diney Costeloe, Miss Mary’s Daughter. When a young women is suddenly left with no family and no job or income, she’s astounded to learn that she’s actually a granddaughter of a “grand” family in Ye Olde England. She’s very independent (at least I thought so, for the time period), but is willing to investigate this new family of hers. There are many twists and turns – is she going to inherit the family home – or is the man who has been caring for the home and his daughter the logical inheritors. There’s a villain who nearly sweeps her off her feet, much intrigue from many characters. Well developed plot with a happy ending. A good read.

Celeste Ng is a hot new author. I read another of her books (see below) but this time I read Little Fires Everywhere. There are so many various characters and plots in this book, as in her others. This book focuses on a Chinese baby abandoned at a fire station and the subsequent court battle when the single mother surfaces six months later to try to reclaim her daughter from the family in the process of adopting her. Emotions well up, waxing and waning on both sides of the issue. You may even find yourself changing your own mind about the right or wrong of a child raised with a natural-born mother (albeit late to the raising) or the mother the child has known since near birth. Ng likes to write books with lots of grit and thorny issues. Although a good read, I liked Everything I Never Told You better than this one.

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright. Oh my. This book has so many layers: (1) the young, impoverished couple and their infant son who live, literally, in a dump in Cambodia and about the precarious structure, if you can even call it that, that comprises their “house” in the midst and perched on top of trash; (2) the woman who collects the rent (hence the title and yes, people have to PAY to live there); (3) the young son’s chronic illness; (4) how they make a living out of collecting and selling trash; and (4) the life saving grace and wisdom imparted by characters in the book as the young mother begins to learn to read. If you decide to read this book, please don’t stop at about page 15-20, thinking you just don’t know if you want to read about this. Please continue. It’s so worth it. Have a highlighter pen in your hand because you’ll find so many quotes you will want to remember. Believe it or not, there is also quite a bit in this about literature.

C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel). I just love Box’s novels. They take place in present day semi-wild west, and chronicle the fish and game warden, Joe Pickett, as he unravels another crime in his territory. A woman has disappeared, and the governor has asked him to figure it out. He does, but the tale meanders  through multiple layers of intriguing story. His books are riveting. Men and women enjoy his books – so if you have a fellow in your life or family that would enjoy an intriguing book (this is not espionage) then gift him one of Box’s books.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Rivers is a prodigious writer of Christian fiction, and I’d never read anything by her until now. As I write this, I’ve already read this, another one (below) and just purchased the Kindle trilogy called Mark of the Lion (Vol 1-3) that I haven’t yet started. (Two of my friends have said the trilogy is her best.) Redeeming Love details the fictional story of a godly man, Michael Hosea, forging his way in the era of the Gold Rush. He’s “driven” to rescue a beautiful prostitute who lives and works her trade in a nearby town. The entire book is about the story, the rescue, and it parallels a bit of scripture about Hosea who rescues a prostitute names Gomer. You get into the heads of both Hosea and the prostitute, named Angel. We read this for one of my book groups. A great read.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. A

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee.

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian.

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. W

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively.

 

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, easy, Healthy, on June 2nd, 2019.

One of my go-to quick, easy and healthy weekday meals. 

This post is from Sara:  I found the original recipe on Delish.com which is a favorite healthy recipe website for me.  I mostly plan my week’s meals out on Sunday and shop accordingly so that I don’t have to make several trips to the grocery store after work.  However, there are those days that I am not in the mood for my plan or life happens and dinner plans change.  This is one of the fast, easy and healthy recipes I love to make.  It’s a one-pan dish and I usually have everything on hand as it’s fairly common ingredients, at least in my household.  If I don’t have fresh basil, I almost always have pesto sauce that can be substituted.

I serve it with a salad and some balsamic vinaigrette that I add a tsp of pesto sauce to bring up the flavor.  You could also add pasta if you don’t have an aversion to carbs.  Or, like me, you have teenagers that need more calories.  I love this dish because of the fresh ingredients.  I always have grape tomatoes in my fridge as I eat them as a snack daily.  I used fresh mozzarella because I prefer it but regular mozzarella or provolone would work.

Having made this a few times, I found that I prefer to slice the chicken breasts horizontally into two thinner slices.  This keeps my portion size down and gives me leftovers for lunch the next day!  Another bonus of this recipe is to make enough for leftovers so I add the cold chicken cut up to a salad with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella bits and the pesto balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

printer-friendly PDF

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chicken Caprese

Recipe By: adapted from Delish.com
Serving Size : 4

1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast halves — cut horizontally into 4 pieces
Kosher salt to taste and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup Balsamic vinegar
2 cloves Garlic — Minced
1 pint grape tomatoes — halved
2 tablespoons fresh basil — freshly torn
4 slices mozzarella cheese — use fresh if possible or substitute pesto sauce
12 basil leaves — for garnish

1. In a large skillet over medium/high heat, heat oil. Season chicken with salt and pepper and cook until golden and cooked through, approximately 6 mins per side depending on thickness. Transfer to a plate.
2. Add balsamic vinegar to skillet, then add garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 min. Add tomatoes and season with salt. Let simmer until soft, 5-7 mins. Stir in basil.
3. return chicken to skillet and nestle in tomatoes. Top with mozzarella and cover with lid to melt.
4. Spoon tomatoes over chicken and sprinkle more fresh basil if desired.
Per Serving: 537 Calories; 33g Fat (55.5% calories from fat); 51g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 167mg Cholesterol; 552mg Sodium.

Posted in easy, Vegetarian, on August 25th, 2017.

grilled_halloumi_tomato_jam

My new cheese love. Halloumi. A meal in itself.

More and more, lately, I’m eating vegetarian meals. I’m an omnivore, but I do love vegetables, and I’m quite happy to make a meal of a variety of different veggies. I eat plenty of cheese too. We all need protein in one form or another. When I’m out, I eat chicken and fish, and occasionally I’ll buy a rotisserie chicken which keeps me in meals for several days. If I eat steak, I usually do it at home because I’ve got it down pat. Once in awhile I crave a hunk of beef or a ground beef casserole. Or a pork or lamb chop. I eat a lot of salads, sometimes with some tuna added, hard boiled eggs, or chicken. Oh, and yes, I do crave a hamburger once in awhile too.

If you read my post about the halloumi salad I had (and subsequently made), perhaps you were intrigued. Or maybe you already know halloumi. I knew of it, but had never cooked it. Once I found a package of it (hard to find) it had enough for 2 meals (the little square of cheese was ample for 4 slices). I made the halloumi salad (with watermelon) and enjoyed it very much. But then I still had 2 pieces left. As I stood at my open refrigerator door I spotted the Tomato Jam I’d made a week or so ago. I’ve frozen a dozen packets of it and have about half a cup in the refrigerator. I’ve had it with a little schmear of cream cheese on a cracker. One evening that was my dinner. I suppose you could say that’s a benefit of living alone (or being a widow) that if I don’t want to make a meal, I can always find something easy in the refrigerator like cheese and crackers.

So this particular night, with the 2 slices of halloumi needing to be eaten, I set my frying pan on low, added a bit of grapeseed oil to it and once it reached heat, I added the 2 slices to the pan. While it sizzled gently, I retrieved the tomato jam, sliced up some basil, grabbed a lovely orange heirloom tomato, EVOO, and the bottle of balsamic reduction, salt and pepper.

The cheese took about 4-5 minutes to cook on both sides (see the nice browning on them). This meal was ready in no time flat. I spread a bit of the tomato jam on each slice, topped it all with basil, then drizzled some of the balsamic reduction (syrup) and EVOO on top. Done. Dinner ready in less than 10 minutes. If you want some carbs, add a lovely slice of toasted artisan bread underneath the cheese. Like an open faced sandwich. My next project is to find another source for halloumi!

What’s GOOD: how easy this was to make – if you have the cheese on hand – and it was really delish. ‘Tis the season for heirloom tomatoes too. (And you can make an open-faced sandwich with adding a slice of toasted artisan bread.)

What’s NOT: the difficulty of finding halloumi. Otherwise, nothing at all! OH, one other thing – have you ever had cheese that squeaks? This cheese does – not when it’s raw, but once cooked, when you chew it, it squeaks. One of my readers, Toni, mentioned that she’d had halloumi once, one bite, but that was it because the squeak was off-putting for her. It doesn’t bother me.

I’m not writing up a regular “recipe” for this. Here’s an ingredient list to serve 2:

Grilled Halloumi with Tomato Jam

4 slices halloumi cheese (about 1/3” thick)

4 teaspoons grapeseed oil, or EVOO

6 tablespoons tomato jam (or other savory/sweet jam or chutney)

1/2 cup basil leaves, sliced (or very finely minced fresh rosemary or thyme)

8 slices heirloom tomato

balsamic reduction/syrup

EVOO to drizzle on top

salt and pepper to taste

————————-

Now, go find some halloumi cheese!

Posted in Chicken, easy, on June 6th, 2015.

chicken_in_milk_sweet_potatoes

Aren’t we all busy as can be sometimes and we need a quick dinner without a lot of prep? Here’s one.

Defrosting a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts was all I’d done in preparation for dinner. I glanced through my to-try file, and knowing that I had a sweet potato, cilantro, milk, ginger, garlic and Dijon . . . well, that constituted enough to try to make a riff on a Jamie Oliver recipe I had. Really, about all I used from his recipe is the technique, the milk, garlic and cinnamon. The rest I made up as I went along.

You do need to know that when you cook milk, it separates. It just does, and Jamie (and many other great cooks) have shared recipes for meat simmered in milk, so it’s not a new idea by any means. But something chemical in the milk doesn’t allow it to be simmered (boiled) without separating. (If you use heavy cream, it won’t separate even when you boil it, but milk, yes it will.) You could add flour to it to make a thin-type sauce, which would avoid the separating, but I was too lazy. I could have dipped the chicken in some seasoned flour and that would have provided some thickening to the sauce too, that might have kept it from separating. But again, I was lazy and didn’t. I wanted to try it as-is, Jamie’s way. It provides a kind of lumpy, thick-and-thin sauce that’s not exactly pretty. But it tastes good, and especially if you have some kind of carb to put it on.

I had some zucchini too, that needed fixing, so that went in another pan with a chopped up slice of bacon and cooked away slowly while I made the chicken. First you brown (light golden-brown) the chicken in a bit of butter in a big skillet (that has a lid). Once golden brown, you remove it and set it aside. Then you add a shallot, cook that a bit, then add some big chunks of sweet potato, uniformly sliced about 1/2” thick, though, so they cook evenly. Those got slightly browned, then I added in the milk. I also added a little jot of cream – hoping it might help the milk from separating (no, it didn’t). Then I added my seasonings: Dijon mustard, garlic, salt and pepper, and the cinnamon. Jamie called for a stick of cinnamon – I didn’t feel like hunting for it, so I just used a pinch or two of ground cinnamon instead. Once simmering, I added the lid and let it cook slowly for about 10 minutes, until the sweet potatoes were just barely tender. You don’t want to overcook them. The chicken is added back in, simmered for 3-4 minutes is all – until it’s tender and juicy. Don’t overcook those either or it’ll be inedible. (I ordered a Cobb salad the other day, and the chicken meat served on it was so dry I almost choked on it – what a waste.) Just know that chicken breasts don’t need hardly any cooking – check it frequently to make sure you don’t overdo it.

In the cooking time, the sauce, as I mentioned, separates. It’s kind of like curds and whey. You can see some of the curds on the sweet potatoes in the photo. The milk becomes a kind of broth, almost, with the curds in it – my solution was to kind of mush-up the sweet potatoes a little bit, then eat a bit of that, with a bite of chicken and some of the milk sauce. All together. The flavors are subtle – even with the garlic – I expected the garlic to be pronounced, but it wasn’t. I made 2 servings and used 3 garlic cloves, mashed.

What’s GOOD: I loved the taste, that’s what’s important. The visual, well, not so good, and I’d probably not serve this to guests, just because people might be put-off by the separated milk/sauce. I was fine with it, especially since Jamie Oliver tells you right up front about what happens to the milk in his recipe. Milk is a lovely tenderizer of meat, even though the chicken didn’t spend that much time bathed in the milk. It was good. It was simple. All good reasons to make it again. Is it fabulous? Well, no, I wouldn’t put it in that category. It was quick, that’s what I was looking for.

What’s NOT: the only thing is the sauce – some may not like it. I can see children saying “ew, Mom, what’s that?” But if you mush up the potatoes (or serve rice on the side) and the sauce goes on the carb, they might not notice.

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Chicken in Milk with Sweet Potatoes

Recipe By: A major riff on a Jamie Oliver recipe.
Serving Size: 4

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 chicken breast halves without skin — drained, blotted dry
1 small shallot — minced
2 medium sweet potatoes — peeled, halved, 1/2″ slices
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons grated ginger root
2 pinches ground cinnamon — (or use a whole stick)
3 cloves garlic — minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons cilantro — minced (garnish), or parsley

NOTES: If you have chicken with skin, by all means use it. Even better, use bone-in chicken. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts was what I had on hand. And chicken breasts cook in a flash, so be careful not to overcook them. You’ll NOT be happy with the results.
1. In a large skillet (with a lid) melt butter. When it begins to sizzle, add the chicken breasts and brown gently on both sides until they show golden color, about 2 minutes per side. Remove to a plate.
2. Add shallot to the skillet and cook for about 3-4 minutes until it’s translucent. Add the sweet potatoes and allow them to brown on both sides, just a little bit, 3-4 minutes.
3. Pour in the milk and cream, then add Dijon, mustard, garlic and cinnamon. Mix well, blending in the mustard. Bring to a very low simmer, cover and cook slowly for about 10 minutes, until sweet potatoes are nearly done. Test them with a knife – you want them to stay together but be barely edible at this point.
4. Add the chicken pieces in the skillet, cover and simmer for 3-4 minutes, until they are cooked through. Do NOT overcook them or they’ll be dry.
5. The sauce will have separated – it’s not exactly a pretty picture – but it tastes great. If desired, slightly mash the sweet potatoes with a fork or potato masher, place chicken on top of the potatoes, then pour the lumpy sauce over both. Garnish with fresh cilantro or parsley and serve immediately.
6. You can also make the chicken without sweet potatoes, but prepare rice or mashed potatoes – and drizzle the separated sauce on top.
Per Serving: 353 Calories; 15g Fat (37.7% calories from fat); 32g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 113mg Cholesterol; 155mg Sodium.

Posted in easy, Soups, on June 2nd, 2015.

taco_soup_trimmings

Is it past soup season? My apologies for forgetting this recipe when it was still cold, and you wanted warmth in your tummy. And perhaps I’m the very last person on the planet who hadn’t ever HAD this soup. Oh my goodness, is it ever tasty! And it’s unbelievably easy too. I didn’t put all the trimmings on the soup when I took the photo – there should be cilantro and Fritos all over the top too.

My best friend Cherrie and her husband go camping (really, it’s glamping) a lot. They have a huge (long) 5th wheel that attaches to Bud’s BIG truck and they go up the coast of California, down the coast and inland too (and to Arizona for baseball spring training). Everywhere. And truly, theirs is big enough to live in. Cherrie is an immaculate housekeeper and the 5th wheel is always decorated as cute as a bug. They have several sets of friends and some relatives that they meet in these various places. And THIS is one of the gargantuan meals Cherrie now fixes for the gang. They usually take turns preparing dinner for everyone. Cherrie raved about it, so of course (and gave me a sample), so then I had to try this myself. Cherrie got the recipe from one of the other glamping couples.

Did I tell you this recipe is EASY? Yes, I did, but it bears repeating. This is SUPER EASY! Get out your slow cooker, friends. Make a huge batch and if you can’t eat it all now, freeze it in family-sized portions. The only thing you’ll have to do later is prepare the garnishes (of which there are a few).

It’s like a chili – you could use ground turkey – but the ground beef one was awfully good. You brown up the beef and onions, then pour everything into the crockpot (beans, tomatoes, corn, olives, chiles, taco seasoning AND, the surprise ingredient: a package of dried ranch salad dressing mix) and let it slow-cook for about 6 hours. Done. Meanwhile, prepare the toppings: grated Cheddar, sour cream (or yogurt if you prefer), Fritos, cilantro and avocado. That’s it. Put out bowls and have at it. My mouth is watering just writing up this post, and it’s been several months ago that I made it (small batch, all gone, none in freezer).

What’s GOOD: if it wasn’t extraordinarily tasty I wouldn’t be going on and on about it. It’s delicious. Really delicious. Tummy warming. And, it’s EASY. You could make it without meat, too – I bet it would be fine. I absolutely guarantee you’re going to hear “mmmmm’s” from everyone. I’m just sorry I don’t have any in the freezer, although it’s getting to be warmer weather and this is probably best in colder seasons.

What’s NOT: there’s no down side to this recipe. Make it.

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Slow Cooker Taco Soup

Recipe By: This one’s all over the internet, but this is
my friend Cherrie’s version.

Serving Size: 10

2 pounds ground beef — or ground turkey
1 large yellow onion — diced
30 ounces canned pinto beans — drained and rinsed
30 ounces canned kidney beans — drained and rinsed
15 ounces canned corn — drained
15 ounces canned tomatoes with green chiles — (Rotel)
15 ounces canned tomatoes
9 ounces diced green chiles
1 1/4 ounces Taco seasoning mix
1 1/8 ounces ranch-style dressing mix
GARNISHES:
Fritos (the small ones)
4 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 cup light sour cream — or Greek yogurt
1 whole avocado — diced
1/2 cup cilantro — chopped

1. Brown the meat and onions in a large skillet. Drain excess fat and transfer to slow cooker. Add beans, corn, tomatoes, green chiles, taco seasoning and ranch dressing mix.
2. Cook in slow cooker for 6-8 hours.
3. Into each serving bowl place some of the Fritos, then scoop about 2 cups of the soup on top. Serve all the garnishes in bowls for guests to take as they’d like.
Per Serving: 720 Calories; 44g Fat (54.0% calories from fat); 38g Protein; 46g Carbohydrate; 11g Dietary Fiber; 127mg Cholesterol; 1814mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Breads, easy, on May 28th, 2015.

blooming_bread_pesto_mozzie

I thought I’d taken a photo of this when it was baked, but I guess I didn’t. This is one of those big monster loaves of bread, cut into little towers you pull off, with a mixture of pesto inside, then with oodles of mozzarella cheese all over it.

I was visiting with daughter Sara awhile back – I’d forgotten about posting this one – it was before I went on my April/May trip to Europe. Anyway, Sara invited all of her husband’s extended family over for a Sunday night dinner. I helped Sara some with preparations, and she handed me the ingredients for this, and said “go for it, Mom.”  I’d made one of these before, about 7-8 years ago, but it was a slightly different variation of the same – that older one with cream cheese and goat cheese, from an old friend, Karen. This one with mozzarella only. By far, this one was easier to make, but both were fabulous.

If you consider making this, please don’t look at the calories or fat, okay? Just know it’s probably not good for us, but it’s a treat. There were 4 children at Sara’s that day (ages 11-17) and they gobbled this up in no time flat. Most of the adults got a taste or two. Where I was sitting at Sara’s kitchen counter, it was put right in front of me, so I did get to sample more than some people did. I could have made a meal of it – in fact, after a few pieces I was almost full.

Sara bought the loaf of bread at Costco – a big, round loaf. You must buy an unsliced round loaf, then you slice it both directions in about 3/4 inch slices, but not down through the bottom crust, so it stays in place. I cut the bread too deep – it should have stood up a little bit better than it did, but hey, it made no-never-mind to the taste. You slather ready made pesto (Trader Joe’s and Costco both carry it now), then sprinkle shredded mozzarella all over it. Into an oven it goes, and once the mozzarella is fully melted, pull it out. Let it sit for a couple of minutes before serving as you could easily burn your mouth if it’s too hot. You’ll hear raves, I promise.

What’s GOOD: well, the taste! It’s delicious. The better the cheese you buy (like whole milk mozzarella, and/or mix in some provolone) the better it will taste. If you make your own pesto it’s probably better than store bought. But make it easy – buy ready made pesto, but don’t, please, buy already shredded mozzarella. You know the cheese producers put something on that so the cheese doesn’t clump. Whatever it is, it dilutes flavor, or else they don’t use very good cheese to begin with. So make it with good cheese.

What’s NOT: the only thing I can say is that the slicing and slathering is a little bit fussy, but it doesn’t take all that much time. It’s fairly straight forward and you’ll have it ready in about 10-15 minutes max. You can probably do it ahead and refrigerate it (covered) for an hour or two. It might not even need refrigeration if you made it 2 hours ahead. Don’t quote me – don’t sue me! There’s no mayo in this, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

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Bloomin’ Pesto Mozzarella Bread

Recipe By: My daughter Sara’s recipe
Serving Size: 6-8

1 loaf white bread — round, unsliced
1 cup pesto sauce — fresh (jarred, or make your own)
12 ounces mozzarella cheese — shredded
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
2. Prepare the bread: Score the bread lengthwise as you would to slice the loaf into 1/2 to 3/4″ thick slices, but do not cut through the bottom. Turn the loaf a quarter turn, and slice the bread the other direction, but only slice it to about 1″ from the bottom. You’ll end up with a whole, round loaf of little towers or fingers of bread.
3. Use a spatula or butter knife to spread pesto in all the edges and crevices, down deep in the bread.
4. Sprinkle shredded mozzarella inside the all the nooks and crannies, pushing it in so that the cheese doesn’t melt off the edges/sides.
5. Transfer the loaf to the prepared baking sheet, and bake until the pesto is bubbly and the mozzarella is melted, 15 to 17 minutes. Serve warm.
Per Serving: 394 Calories; 33g Fat (74.4% calories from fat); 19g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 62mg Cholesterol; 533mg Sodium.

Posted in Beef, easy, on May 4th, 2015.

johnny_marzetti_casserole

If you’d told me a couple of weeks ago that a week or so after I returned from my trip, having had pasta about 10 times in as many days while in Italy part of the trip, I’d have thought you were crazy. In a general year, I don’t eat much pasta, as you may remember if you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time. I love the stuff, but I just try to limit those kinds of carbs.

But then, since I don’t think I’ve talked about it, my friend Cherrie and I both returned home with food poisoning. She was ill on her return flight. I didn’t get sick until the moment I walked into my house, and then I was just about down flat for 4 days, and only slightly better after that. She and I have pinpointed the culprit as a savory flan we both ordered at our “farewell to France” dinner, our last night in Paris. It’s the only thing just she and I ate at the restaurant meal. It took a full 10 days for that illness to work its way through my system. And I didn’t know it was food poisoning until I went to a doctor. I ate so much oatmeal, rice, yogurt, applesauce, toast and bananas that I don’t know if I ever want any of those things again. Well, except yogurt. I haven’t lost my love of yogurt. Anyway, finally, the day I made this, my tummy began to feel better and I hadn’t had any of those stomach-wrenching pains I’d been having for 10 days, and food began to sound good again.

And I craved pasta, but not just any pasta – I had in mind this casserole I used to fix years and years ago (back in the 60s and 70s). Over the years I’ve adapted it here and there, and never put it on my blog (I guess) because it’s such a simple dish. For me, though, it represented comfort food. I didn’t want mac and cheese, but I wanted some ground beef and tomatoes and pasta. So, it took no time at all to throw this together and I now have 4 more ample single-serving casseroles of it in the freezer.

This is just a combo of ground beef, onions, garlic, seasonings, canned tomatoes, cheddar (or Velveeta in my case because I had some in the refrigerator – because I’d tried to eat a toasted cheese sandwich one of my days when I was really sick) and Mozzarella. I also added a little jot of Worcestershire sauce too, though that was never in my original recipe. If  you do a search for Johnny Marzetti, I expect you’ll get about 6 million results. It’s spelled all different ways (like Marzett, Mazetti, Mazetter), and who knows who Johnny was, way back when. But a dish is named after him.

Casseroles in general are meal stretchers – this one with pasta and tomatoes in it, it resembles spaghetti. Actually, when I made it I scooped some into a single-serving casserole dish, topped it with Mozzarella and didn’t even bake it – I stuck it under the broiler in my toaster oven until it turned golden brown. But baking for about 15 minutes will heat it full, all the way through. If you’re in a gigantic hurry, don’t bother with the baking – just stir in the cheese until it melts and scoop it onto plates.

What’s GOOD: This is a really easy and simple dish to throw together in about 30 minutes or so. While the pasta water is heating, make the sauce. Once the pasta is done, combine everything, add the cheese and you’re done. Or bake for a little bit. It’s a kid-pleaser and will feed a crowd for not a lot of $$.

What’s NOT: it isn’t a sophisticated dish in the least – just good old plain food – but tasty. No down side that I can think of.

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Johnny Marzetti

Recipe By: My own version of a very old recipe from a community cookbook, circa 1965.
Serving Size: 7 (or fewer if you have big appetites)

12 ounces pasta — your choice (penne, linguine, spaghetti, spirals)
1 pound ground beef
1 large yellow onion — diced
2 cloves garlic — minced
15 ounces diced tomatoes — including juice
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon dried oregano — crushed in your palms
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese — (I used Velvetta because I had it open)
12 ounces Mozzarella cheese — shredded

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add about a teaspoon of salt and stir well. Add pasta and simmer it until it’s not quite done, but just about.
2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet brown the ground beef until no pink remains. Add onion and continue cooking for 5-10 minutes until onion is fully translucent. Add tomatoes and juices.
3. Preheat oven to 350° F.
4. Add the garlic, seasonings, salt, pepper and Worcestershire.
5. Drain pasta well, then pour into the skillet with the meat mixture. Add the cheeses, saving some of the Mozzarella to sprinkle on top.
6. Pour into individual ramekins or into a 8×10 or other shaped baking dish. Top with cheese and bake for 10-15 minutes until cheese is melted. If you like the cheese browned, turn on the broiler just until the cheese begins to get golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes, then serve. Serve with a green salad and an Italian vinaigrette.
Per Serving: 603 Calories; 34g Fat (50.7% calories from fat); 31g Protein; 43g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 110mg Cholesterol; 637mg Sodium.

Posted in easy, Pork, on June 24th, 2014.

southern_fried_pork_chops

If you’ve been a reader of my blog for any length of time you know I don’t usually FRY things. Sauté yes, but really fry in oil, no. My bottle of canola oil gets used mostly for salad dressings. But I just decided to do something different. In the background on the plate above there are the dry-pan roasted green beans that I’ve made 10 times in the last 6 months they’re so good. And easy.

I searched around the ‘net for “pork chop recipes”, and southern fried pork chops were the top 8 or so. Really?  So I clicked over to several (one on epicurious, and two others from blogs, but were almost identical. I kind of made my own way once I got the gist of the main recipe. A flour-based breading mixture is made (flour, cornstarch, herbs, salt, pepper) and set aside. Another is made with an egg and some milk or buttermilk. The pork chops are dipped first into the flour, then egg, then back in the flour, and ever-so gently placed into the 1/4 inch of medium-hot oil.

One thing I learned (and don’t know if it’s true) is that when you fry foods like this, it’s best to raise the heat of the oil in a gentle manner – i.e., use low heat and then raise it over the course of 10 minutes or so. If you turn the flame up to high right from the get-go, you’ll end up with oil that’s too hot. Some of that makes sense, but some of it sounds crazy. Heated oil is heated oil. Isn’t it? Any of you chemistry types out there know?

Anyway, the pork chops were dutifully dipped in the proper pans and lowered into the oil, and they were done in no time flat. One of the bloggers mentioned using a heat test before you start cooking – dropping a pinch of the flour mixture into the oil – if it bubbles, then it’s hot enough. And during the cooking you do only want the oil to bubble around the meat and not burn the coating.

The cornstarch in the flour mixture gives the breading/coating a lighter texture. Not exactly like a tempura batter, but not far from it. It was nice. I liked it. I used seasonings in my flour mixture (other than the usual salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika that was in most of these recipes). I reached for Penzey’s Fox Point Seasoning and added a couple of teaspoons. I don’t really know that I could taste it once it was fried, however. So you could use whatever suits you – like an Italian blend perhaps – or don’t add any at all. In the South I think they’d go for the plain stuff (salt, pepper and garlic powder).

The pork chops bubble around the edges as they’re frying. Be sure the chops aren’t touching – I used a pan that probably could have held more – because several recipes stressed that the chops need lots of space around them. They browned in no time flat, so I turned the heat down just a little bit and turned them over and cooked the 1/2 inch thick chops about 4 minutes per side – my guess. I didn’t time it. It was all by color.

What’s GOOD: how easy it was – only time consuming thing was mixing up the coating mixture. I got everything else finished before I even started the pork chops so I wouldn’t be distracted. They were really good. Not in the “outstanding” category, but it was an easy, quick dinner that was satisfying.
What’s NOT: well, some folks don’t like frying – like deep frying – although these weren’t deep in oil – I used only about 1/4 inch (half way up the chops).

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Southern Fried Pork Chops

Recipe By: Adapted from a website called Taste of Southern
Serving Size: 4

32 ounces pork chops — center cut, bone in (four 1/2 inch chops)
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 large egg
2 tablespoons milk — or buttermilk (or water)
1 tablespoon mixed herbs — I used Penzey’s Fox Point Seasoning
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
Cooking oil for frying the chops (canola or vegetable)

1. BREADING: In a small mixing bowl, add the flour, cornstarch, herbs, garlic powder, salt, black pepper and paprika. Stir all ingredients well. Set aside.
2. EGG: Break one egg into a small low sided dish. Add milk and use a fork to mix it well. Mix well enough that there are no little globs of egg white.
3. MEAT: One at a time, dip a pork chop in the flour and coat both sides. Dip the chop into the egg mixture, coat both sides well. Lift and let any excess drip off. Place the chop back into the flour mixture and coat both sides and edges.
4. FRYING: Place about 1/2 inch of cooking oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Test the oil by sprinkling in a little pinch of the bread mixture – if it sizzles, the pan is hot enough. Lower the chops into the hot cooking oil, one at a time. Do not crowd them (they don’t want to be touching). Cook for 4-6 minutes.
5. Watch the bottoms of the chop and when they start to brown, flip the pork chops over. Let the chops fry for about 4-6 minutes or until done but not over cooked. Test a chop by cutting into the center to make sure it’s not rare. A little bit of pink is fine. Remove the cooked chops from the skillet, place on a paper towel lined plate and let drain. Serve warm.
Per Serving: 507 Calories; 24g Fat (44.0% calories from fat); 40g Protein; 29g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 165mg Cholesterol; 378mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, easy, on May 10th, 2014.

tres_leches_cake_slice

If you’ve never had Tres Leches (in Spanish that means 3 milks) cake, you’re really missing something. And I’m just going to say that this one, made from a Nestle boxed mix, is just about as good as any homemade version I’ve ever had. And since it IS a boxed mix, that means it’s super easy. It also means I’m going to go get another box so I can have it on the shelf. (Although, you won’t want to keep sweetened condensed milk – which is in the box – on your pantry shelf for more than a few months as it thickens and darkens.)

My thought was that Tres Leches Cake was Mexican in origin, but when I searched on wikipedia, I found out that it actually may originate from Europe. However, it became popular in Central tres_leches_kitAmerica in the early 1900s (probably when canned milk and sweetened condensed milk proliferated and apparently Carnation and/or other brands included a recipe on the label and since it was distributed throughout Central and South America it became a national dessert in several countries). See the article if you’d like.

Essentially it’s a butter-rich cake (the mix is enough for a 9-inch round cake pan – and do NOT make it in an 8-inch pan – it will never fit) that’s baked, and once it’s cooled for a few minutes you poke jillions of holes all over the cake and pour over it a mixture of sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and straight milk (some recipes call fortres_leches_cake_inpan heavy cream but the mix suggests whole milk which was plenty rich enough). The milk mixture is not thick, really, and it just fills in all the little holes throughout the cake. It does not sink to the bottom. There at right you can see the cake after it was baked and just after I poured the milk mixture all over it. It sat out on my counter for about 30 minutes while the cake cooled, then into the refrigerator it went. Within about an hour or so every bit of the milk had been absorbed in the cake. Ideally it’s refrigerated for about 4 hours. This is a cake you can NOT leave out on your kitchen counter overnight – all that milk would spoil.

In the photo above left you can see the mix – although the bag with the cake mix I’d already emptied into my mixing bowl. This one is made by Nestle and I found it at my regular supermarket. It contains the cake mix bag, the sweetened condensed milk can (on the left) and a can of evaporated milk (on the right). I also caution you to not use a 9-inch pan that’s shallow. It may fit in a standard 9-inch cake pan, but I happen to have a deeper 9-inch one that was perfect. The cake did shrink some once baked and all the milk mixture did fit in the pan.tres_leches_slice_close

What I want you to notice is that in the photo above, on the plate toward the back of the cake slice you can see just a little bit of the milk/cream. The entire cake is just saturated with the milk, but it doesn’t ooze all over. Just a tiny bit. We had whipped cream with it.

Some recipes you’ll find online have a frosting on top. For me that would be over the top – this cake is very rich and to put frosting on it (unless it was just a whipped cream mixture) would make it too sweet and heavy for me. If you don’t like cake mixes, just do a search for Tres Leches Cake and you’ll find dozens of them to make from scratch. I’ll definitely make this again. I think kids would love this cake.

What’s GOOD: I really, really liked this. Because it’s so moist. It’s also rich and sweet too. It was EASY, which I liked a lot too. Very suitable for guests. For me, the cake has sort-of the texture of bread pudding, but it’s not weight-heavy like bread pudding is. Fabulous.

What’s NOT: I don’t want to know how many calories each slice contains. Just don’t tell me, okay?

Posted in easy, Pork, on March 8th, 2014.

skillet_pork_chops_apples_onions

Did we have pork chops in the freezer? Check. Apples? Yes, one. Check. Onions? Yes, always one of those on hand. Check. Italian Parsley? Yup. Check. Lemon juice? Oh yes. Check.

I’m sure you’re all just like I am – we eat different meats in rotation. Sort of. Chicken, chicken, fish, chicken, pork, chicken, fish, and way down the rotation list, lamb. This particular night I was in the mood for pork and sure enough, we still had two more pork chops from the Berkshire pig. I think this dinner will be the last, however. We have a Berkshire ham, which we’ll probably have for Easter, and I think I have one more pound of ground pork. When those are gone, I’ll be completely empty of Berkshire. Sadly.

Lucky is the word for me when it comes to pleasing my hubby – Dave never complains no matter what I serve him. Only when we’ve had the same leftovers 3 times does he grumble a little. I rarely do that – I try to insert something else in between, or I try to re-invent the dish somehow. But with some things that’s not possible. When I’ve defrosted meat to begin with, made something, I don’t like to re-freeze it. It’s already been frozen and I’ve read that meat just loses flavor when you do that. I’ve been known to do it with soup, when the protein comprises very little of the taste in the soup itself. Like tonight, for instance, as I’m typing this, I have meatballs in the refrigerator, chilling. From a couple of pounds of defrosted ground beef. (I’m making something close to Ikea’s Swedish Meatballs – if it’s good, I’ll post it in a few days.) I made a big batch – bigger than I should have I think – and my only hope is that we’ll have a guest over to help eat it up. Because I don’t want to freeze them.

Okay, back to pork chops. I’d saved this recipe in MasterCook – and so my notes say, I found it on Oprah’s website, although it’s a Mark Bittman recipe. Must have been awhile ago. But I searched for pork chop recipes within my to-try recipes and this one just seemed the best fit. And talk about easy!

The chops were seasoned with salt and pepper, browned in a skillet. Some vermouth was added to the pan along with a minced-up shallot. The chops are removed, and then you add the sliced apples and onion and cook that for awhile with some chicken stock, then the chops go back into the pan for a little while – maybe 10 minutes – while the sauce reduces down a bit. That’s it. Add a tidbit of butter (as a finish to the sauce) and garnish with Italian parsley. Done. I had a smidgen of rice left over from the chicken tikka masala I’d made the other night, so I added just enough to give the plate a rounding-out. It was enough for the sauce to soak into, which was delicious.

What’s GOOD: how quick and easy the dish was to make. My DH loved it – but then, he loves pork chops just about any way I’ll make them. Loved the interplay between the savory sauce and the sweet apple. Apple and pork really do go together well.

What’s NOT: nothing at all, really. Liked the dish a lot.

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Skillet Pork Chops with Apples

Recipe By: Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything Basic (via Oprah’s website)
Serving Size: 4

2 pounds pork chops — preferably bone in (6 to 8 ounces each) 1″ thick [I used chops that were 1/2″ thick so cooked it for less time]
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine — or light-bodied beer [I used vermouth]
2 tablespoons chopped shallot — or red onion
3 medium apples — peeled, cored, halved, and sliced [I used less]
1 large onion — halved and sliced
1/2 cup chicken stock — or more as needed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons parsley — chopped fresh for garnish

1. Blot the chops dry with a paper towel. Put a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. When it’s hot, add the chops, turn the heat to high, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. When they brown and release from the pan easily, turn the chops, season again, and cook this side the same way. The whole process should take about 2 minutes per side or 3 to 5 minutes total.
2. Reduce the heat to medium and add the wine—be careful here; the wine may splatter a bit when it hits the hot oil—and the shallot and cook, turning the chops once or twice, until the wine is almost evaporated, 1 or 2 minutes. Transfer the chops to a plate and return the pan to the heat.
3. Add the apples and onion to the hot pan and stir until they start to stick, 1 or 2 minutes. Add the stock, stirring and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Return the chops to the pan, along with any juices accumulated on the plate. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat so it bubbles steadily, then cover.
4. Cook, stirring occasionally and turning the chops once or twice, until the chops are tender, 5 to 10 minutes; add another 1/2 cup stock or water if the apples start to stick. When the chops are done, they will be firm to the touch, their juices will run just slightly pink, and when you cut into them the color will be rosy at first glance but turn pale within seconds. By this time the apples and onions will also be soft. Stir in the lemon juice and butter and taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve the chops with the sauce on top, garnished with the parsley.
Per Serving: 535 Calories; 32g Fat (56.7% calories from fat); 36g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 119mg Cholesterol; 390mg Sodium.

Posted in Chicken, easy, on March 6th, 2014.

easy_chicken_tikka_masala_leftover_chicken

Last week I was just craving Indian food. We have a couple of Indian restaurants in our vicinity, but since I was craving chicken tikka masala, I knew I’d prefer my own version rather than a less flavorful restaurant variety. However, I had left over chicken, not fresh, raw. What to do? Easy  solution – make my favorite recipe but adapt it using the already cooked chicken.

Spotting a nice little Kosher chicken at Trader Joe’s a week ago, I bought the 3.5 pound baby and we had a really lovely roast chicken dinner from my favorite-est recipe. It was loverly, as they say. The meat was so very moist and tender. When we finished, I still had half a chicken left over, so I picked all the meat off the bone and stuck it in a Zip-loc bag and put it in the refrigerator, having no idea what I’d do with it. So when the Indian food craving hit, I just decided I’d adapt my recipe I already have for chicken tikka masala, but here I’d use the already cooked chicken.

It wasn’t hard to do, and I put the dinner together in a jiffy. First I got out all the ingredients – I chopped up the chicken meat, got out all the spices, prepped the vegetables, opened the can of tomatoes, minced the garlic and ginger. Then I got out my Breville BRC600XL The Risotto Plus Sauteing Slow Rice Cooker and Steamer to make rice (it has a standard rice setting which made just perfect Basmati rice). Once that was going I started the sauce. I tossed the chicken pieces with the spices first, then I added in the  yogurt. That was set that aside while I fired up the pan on the range. It was quick work with the onion and garlic, added in some other spices, and the canned tomatoes including their juices.  When everything was ready I added in the chicken which had been “marinating” in the yogurt and garam masala and stirred it into the pan. This recipe does contain a little bit of cream – I used less than usual and I mixed it with some whole milk I had. I allowed it to come up to a very slow simmer – I didn’t allow it to actually simmer, though, as the dish was “done” at that point. If I’d allowed it to boil, even gently, it might have separated from using some milk in it. Maybe not, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

What I wanted was for the chicken to be done at the precise time the rice was done. The basmati rice prepared in the risotto cooker is perfection when the heat switches off, so I was all ready and scooped rice out on the plate, then added some of the chicken in masala sauce on top, sprinkled with cilantro and we were ready to eat.

What’s GOOD: I think this was every bit as good as the original recipe made with raw, bone-in chicken. Of course, the kosher chicken was ever-so moist anyway. This recipe was super-easy. And super good too. I’d definitely make this again when I have left over chicken.

What’s NOT: nothing at all. Altogether good dish.

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Quick and Easy Chicken Tikka Masala

Recipe By: Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen
Serving Size: 3

CHICKEN:
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 1/2 cups cooked chicken — approximately, chopped
1/2 cup yogurt — whole-milk preferably
MASALA SAUCE:
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion — diced fine (about 1 1/4 cups)
1 medium garlic clove — minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons fresh ginger — grated
1/2 serrano pepper — ribs and seeds removed, flesh minced (see note above), or one large jalapeno [optional]
1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 tablespoon garam masala
14 ounces canned tomatoes — use chopped or chop yourself
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/3 cup heavy cream — or whole milk
1/8 cup fresh cilantro leaves — chopped (or mint, if preferred) for garnish

1. FOR THE CHICKEN: Combine cumin, coriander, cayenne and garam masala in medium bowl. Add the cooked chicken pieces and stir until the chicken has picked up all the dry spices. Then add the yogurt and combine; set aside.
2. FOR THE SAUCE: Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until light golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, chile, tomato paste, and garam masala; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, sugar, and salt; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cream and return to simmer. Remove pan from heat and cover to keep warm. If using milk instead of cream, don’t allow the mixture to boil or it will separate.
3. Add the chicken yogurt mixture to the pan. Allow the mixture to warm up gently and when it’s hot, taste for seasonings. Add chicken broth if needed if the sauce is too thick. Stir in cilantro or sprinkle it on top as a garnish and serve over hot basmati rice.
Per Serving: 345 Calories; 22g Fat (55.6% calories from fat); 25g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 101mg Cholesterol; 477mg Sodium.

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