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Here are the tastingspoons players. I’m in the middle (Carolyn). Daughter Sara on the right, and daughter-in-law Karen on the left. I started the blog in 2007, as a way to share recipes with my family. Now in 2021, I’ll still participate, but the two daughters are going to do more posting from here on out.

We participate in an amazon program that rewards a little tiny $ something (pennies, really) if you purchase any books recommended (below), or buy products occasionally mentioned on the blog with an amazon link. 

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BOOK READING:

No question, the most quirky book I’ve read of late, a recommendation from my friend Karen, West with Giraffes: A Novel by Lynda Rutledge. The book IS a novel, but the event is true. Back in the 1930s a small group of giraffes were brought across the Atlantic from Africa to New York, destined for the then-growing San Diego Zoo. On the voyage the ship encounters a hurricane and several giraffes are lost, but two young ones survive. The story is of their journey across the United States in the care of two oh-so-different people, both with a mission. A young boy (barely an adult) becomes the driver (his only goal is his desire to go to California), with the zoo’s delegate (a middle-aged man with a past), and it’s the story about these two misfits and their caring for the giraffes, feeding them (that’s a laugh – onions play a big part). No freeways existed back then, and the mental picture of the vehicle they used (basically a small truck) with the two giraffes confined within two tall boxes precariously strapped to the truck, and their driving and carrying-on getting under bridges and over rivers is just a hoot. I so wanted this story to be true – parts of it ARE true. Worth reading if you enjoy such animal stories. The giraffes survive, thankfully, and they both lived to a ripe old age at the zoo!

Also a kind of quirky book by Beth Miller, The Missing Letters of Mrs. Bright. Picture a middle-aged woman, slogging through life with a not-very-attentive husband, grown children, and one day she decides to leave. Completely. Maybe she had a bucket list of sorts, and she knew none of those places would ever happen in her life if she stayed put. She sets off to find a long-lost girlfriend. The book is about her journey. Her travels. Friendships, and lost friendships. Everyone can probably empathize with Kay Bright as she examines her life. And yes, there are letters and chapters with her daughter, Stella. Cute book.

Katherine Center’s book, Things You Save in a Fire: A Novel is certainly vivid. There aren’t very many women firefighters out there in the world – this is about one. A novel, however. About her work life and the harrassment she endures (some of it’s with love, some not) and about her relationships. The pros and cons of transferring to a different fire station (just like any job move, not always smooth). Good read.

Riveting story of post-WWII- Japan in Ana Johns novel, The Woman in the White Kimono: A Novel. About a young Japanese girl who falls in love with an American serviceman. Such relationships were fraught with problems from the very strict Japanese families who resented the American presence in their country, to the American military higher-ups who made it impossible for the servicemen to marry Japanese nationals. Could hardly put it down. Yes, it’s a romance of sorts, but not in the typical sense of today’s novel-romance-writing. There aren’t always happy beginnings, middles or endings, but the in between made for very interesting reading.

Also read Rishi Reddi’s novel, Passage West: A Novel with a very different take on the migration of Indians (East India) to the California agricultural lands east of San Diego during the 1920s and 30s. Wow. What an eye-opener. Of their small but loyal family enclaves, the hard-scrabble lives they led, the near poverty level of farming. I’d never heard that any Indian migrants were a part of farming here in California. Obviously they made up a very small percentage of the immigrants who settled there.

Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but the Mary Morris book, A Very Private Diary: A Nurse in Wartime tells the true day to day life of a young Irish girl who becomes a nurse, in England, France and Belgium in the midst of WWII and immediately after the war. Fascinating glimpse into the hardships not only for patients (the war-wounded) but for the underappreciated and hardworking staff at various hospitals (even a tent one in Normandy where she worked for many months after D-Day). She meets her to-be husband and even that is fraught with difficulty from many angles.

Could hardly put down Krueger’s book, This Tender Land: A Novel. My friend Ann recommended it. I was gripped with the story within the first paragraph, and it never stopped until I turned the last page. Tells the harrowing story of a young boy, Odie, (and his brother Albert) who became orphans back in the 30s. At first there is a boarding school, part of an Indian (Native American) agreement, though they are not Indian. Some very ugly things happen at that school. Eventually they  escape, and they are “on the run.” With a few others with them. If you loved Huckleberry Finn, you’ll have a great appreciation for this story as they use a canoe to get themselves down river. Never having very much to eat and getting into trouble way too often, and authorities on their tail. Well, you just have to read the book to find out what happens.

Just finished Kristin Hannah’s latest book, The Four Winds: A Novel. What a story. One I’ve never read about, although I certainly have heard about the “dust bowl” years when there was a steady migration of down-and-out farmers from the Midwest, to California, for what they hoped to be the American Dream. It tells the story of one particular family, the Martinellis, the grandparents, their son, his wife, and their two children. The book is heartbreaking, but one of those that everyone should read. The hardship, the hunger, the dirt and dust, the failed crops, the lack of rain, then the story picks up again in central California, back in the day when the wealthy growers just used up the migrants. I don’t want to spoil the story. So worth reading. Hannah really knows how to weave a story.

Brit Bennett has written quite a book, The Vanishing Half: A Novel. It’s a novel, yet I’m sure there are such real-life situations. Twin girls are born to a young woman in the South. Into a town (that probably doesn’t exist) that prides itself on being light-skinned blacks. The father was very dark, but he plays no part, really, in this story. Growing up, the girls leave home at 18 to find their way in New Orleans. Suddenly, one twin disappears (her clothes and suitcase all gone in the wink of an eye). Her twin left behind has no idea what’s happened to her. As the story reveals, with divided paths, one twin continues her life as a black woman, and the other twin, the one who left, is able to pass as a white woman. She marries well, has a daughter. Well, let’s just say that there are lots of wicked webs woven throughout the story, starting from the girls’ mother who never wants to speak again of her lost daughter. But you know where this is going, don’t you? Things are found out. The author does a great job of weaving the story apart and then back together.

What a book. The Only Woman in the Room: A Novel by Marie Benedict. A novelized biography of Hedy Lamarr, the famous actress. She was a brilliant mind, and a beautiful woman. It tells the story of her coming of age, how she navigated the world of acting back in that time period (she was Austrian, and Hitler was in power). The writing was very well done – to tell Hedy’s story with detail and poignancy. Eventually Hedy made it to the U.S. and her life story changed, but still had its difficulties. I loved the book, beginning to end. She should have become an engineer as she invented several war related bomb tools. Very much worth reading.

Also read The Secret of the Chateau: Gripping and heartbreaking historical fiction with a mystery at its heart by Kathleen McGurl. There are two stories here. The historical part is just prior to and up to the French Revolution, when aristocrats were chased and killed, guillotined in many cases. There is a young couple (part of the royal court) who escape to a remote small castle owned by his family, located on the edge of France and Italy, hoping to wait out the revolution and hoping the villagers love and care about them. Then jump to current day as a small English group of close friends decide to retire somewhere on the continent, and settle on a small abandoned castle in the remote hills of France along the Italian border. Got the picture? The historian in the group is quite interested in the history of the home, and clues are revealed (in the tower) that lead her and the group on a quest to discover what happened to the couple who used to live there. There was a fire once upon a time. There’s an pesky ghost. There’s also a very old child’s doll/playhouse on the grounds. Plus there’s a small graveyard. It is VERY intriguing. Very interesting. I love historical novels like this, and this one in particular does have quite a mystery involved, too.

Also finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s recent book, The Book of Longings: A Novel. It is a book that might challenge some Christian readers, as it tells the tale of Jesus marrying a woman named Mary. The story is all about Mary, her growing up, her scholarly pursuits, and then from the moment she meets Jesus as a young man. The story follows along to and beyond his death on the cross. In the time of Christ it was extremely uncommon for a man not to marry. It was almost unseemly. Fraught with suspicions, I’d suppose. Although scripture, as scripture, does not play a very strong part here, if you’ve read the Bible you’ll see many of the stories of Jesus’ life through Mary’s eyes. I loved the book from the first word to the last one. The book is believable to me, even though the Bible never says one way or the other that Jesus ever married. It’s been presumed he never did. But maybe he did?

Jeanine Cummins has written an eye-opener, American Dirt. A must read. Oh my goodness. I will never, ever, ever look at Mexican (and further southern) migrants, particularly those who are victims of the vicious cartels, without sympathy. It tells the story of a woman and her young son, who were lucky enough to hide when the cartel murdered every member of her family – her husband, her mother, and many others. Her husband was a journalist, and his life was always in danger because he wrote the truth, and that was taking a risk. The story is about her escape, with harrowing chapters as she makes her way north from Acapulco, with various major detours, one step, or sometimes nothing more than a hair’s width ahead of the cartel minions trying to find her. I could NOT put this book down. The author is not Hispanic, and some have criticized her for that, but she did her research, and many authors write about places and people they are not. I have nothing but respect for her having told this story. You need to read this.

Also read JoJo Moyes’ book, The Giver of Stars. Oh gosh, what a GREAT book. Alice, living in an English home which lacks much, leaps to agree to marry a visiting American. It was an escape for her. He is a man of some family wealth, and she travels from England to Kentucky, during the 1920s. Once settled into the family home, she discovers married life is not what she had expected. Affection is lacking, and she must share the home with her tyrannical father-in-law, the owner of mines in the deep mountains. And with the ghost of the deceased mother-in-law. The family cook won’t tolerate Alice’s help in the kitchen. Alice is terribly lonely and unhappy. The town doesn’t much like this English woman with her funny way of speaking. But then, she meets a woman who encourages her to join the Horseback Librarians. With trepidation, she begins traversing the remote hills, through unbelievable weather, to deliver old, battered and tattered books to the remote inhabitants of the area. She makes friends, wonderful, loving people from all walks of life. There is tremendous tension from the danger of the mines, the unions trying to get a foothold, plus the unraveling of her marriage, including the dreaded father-in-law who feels she should answer to him, behave as he wants. Uh, no. Alice goes her own route. Her new friends become her family, and, oh, what love. There has been much criticism of Moyes’ possible plagiarism of another book regarding the Horseback Librarians. I read the other book – but I didn’t feel remotely as intrigued by that story as I was by Moyes’ version. A feel good story, but it takes some while getting to that “feel good” part, nearly to the end.

Frances Liardet has written a blockbuster tale, We Must Be Brave. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Although the scene is WWII England, this book is not really about the war. It’s about the people at home, waiting it out, struggling with enough food, clothing and enough heat. It’s about Ellen. Her early years, under much hardship. About her teens, some of it as an orphan. Then a young adult, which includes marriage, a marriage blanc, which I didn’t understand until you learn the meaning. Then a child enters the picture, a child that will become a focus for the remainder of the book. Through the war, and beyond. I cried several times, as will you, I suspect. What’s a constant is the descriptions of the place, a town called Upton, near Southampton. About the hills and dales, the flora and fauna, the rain, the mud sometimes, the flooding sometimes. But throughout, it’s about neighbors caring for neighbors, and about love. A must read. Would make a really good book club read.

William Kent Krueger wrote Ordinary Grace. From amazon: a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God. It’s a coming of age story.

Best book I’ve read recently. Not new. Called Follow the River: A Novel by James Alexander Thom. This one is also based on the history of a woman (married, pregnant) who was captured by the Shawnee, during the early settlement days east of the Ohio River, about 1755. And her eventual escape. I stayed up all hours to keep reading. The book was written from the many journals and writing compiled by her children. Her name: Mary Ingles. And it chronicles her 1000-mile trek in treacherous weather and over uncharted ground. What an amazing woman, and what a story.

A Column of Fire: A Novel by Ken Follett. It takes place in the 1500s, in England, and has everything to do with the war between the Catholics and the Protestants, that raged throughout Europe during that time, culminating in the Spanish Inquisition.

My Name Is Resolute by Nancy Turner. She’s the author of another book of some renown, These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (P.S.). Resolute is what I’m discussing here. It’s fiction, but based some on a true story. Resolute, as a young girl from a privileged life on a plantation in Jamaica, was taken captive by slavers, eventually ended up in Colonial America. This book is the story of her life. The people she met, the men in her life, her children, and always about her indefatigable energy for life. Always hoping to return to Jamaica.

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This is 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 regarding going to school 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. And then what happens to him as he grows up. Riveting.

 

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 April 25th, 2015.

zuni_cafe_roast_chicken_easy

Oh my gracious! This salad. This salad is going to knock your socks off! Trust me. Bread salad with lots of nice greens, some pine nuts, a few chopped raisins, a tart vinaigrette, and on top – well, just the most delicious chicken I think I’ve ever had. Bar none.

Having guests over for dinner a week before I left on my trip was maybe not the best idea I’ve ever had – I was kind of frantic getting everything done, items packed, friends and neighbors notified, bills paid, taxes done and paid for, and yet, I’d been wanting to have these friends over, and figured oh well, a week before my trip I’ll be fine. And really, it was. Joan brought marinated tomatoes. Jackie brought a delicious blueberry custard dessert. I made the main dish and an appetizer. I brought out one of Dave’s favorite wines from the cellar, an Amavi Syrah, which was wonderful with the chicken. Also served a Zaca Mesa Viognier for two of the guests who preferred white wine. I set the table, of course, chilled the water, made the appetizer the day before, and did the shopping 3 days before.

There is a caveat, however, about this recipe. You absolutely MUST start this at least 24 hours before you want to serve it. And 48 hours are still okay too. It’s not hard to do that step, but it’s imperative you do it. The whole chicken is drained, dried off, salted and peppered and a few sprigs of fresh herbs gently slid underneath the breast skin and the thigh skin. Then it’s left to sit in the refrigerator with just a paper towel over the top. It’s like dry brining. It just sits. See, I said that part was easy. It probably took about 10 minutes of prep to find the right dish to hold 2 chickens that would fit in my garage refrigerator. And 4-5 minutes to dry off the birds and pat the salt all over them. The cold air in the frig helps dry out the skin, but then the salt helps protect it and hug in the juices. Such a chemical term – hug in the juices. I don’t know how else to describe it.

It’s a recipe I’ve been wanting to try for a long time. I’d heard, many years ago, about the fame of Judy Rodgers’ roasted chicken. It was epic to her San Francisco restaurant fans when she published her cookbook with the beloved recipe contained within for her roast chicken. Judy Rodgers died a couple of years ago. Chefs and fans mourned grievously. She was a rock star in the chef world. I don’t own her cookbook – The Zuni Cafe Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco’s Beloved Restaurant [Hardcover] [2002] First Edition Ed. Judy Rodgers, Gerald Asher. The link just provided goes to an older edition that isn’t available for purchase, but you can find it in hardback. Amazon’s link is broken, somehow. Her cookbook is noteworthy for chefs, and very experienced home cooks. It’s not meant for the weeknight family dinner. You can find Rodgers’ roasted chicken full recipe online.  I copied it off from the ‘net, but wasn’t so sure I’d ever make it, as it’s an extremely complex masterpiece.

But, when I found an easy version of Rodgers’ famous chicken and bread salad, I downloaded it in a jiffy from a blog called NW Edible. It’s been in my to-try file for several years. Gosh, what a shame I hadn’t made it before since it’s such a winner!

Here’s what’s involved. Once you have done the dry brine, and a couple hours before you want to eat, bring out the bird(s) to reach room temp. Chop and oil the rustic bread and broil or bake until crispy but not hard. Make the vinaigrette. Get all the other ingredients ready. NW Edible used cast iron frying pans for her chickens. I don’t own 2 of them, so I opted to use my big Teflon coated turkey roasting pan, which was a perfect fit for 2 Costco chickens I’d prepared. I pre-heated the pan to 475°F. Now, that’s not a typo. The chicken IS roasted at 475°. Really. Once the pan was heated, I took it out and plopped the 2 chickies in the pan and they did sizzle. Probably not as much as in a cast iron skillet, but it worked fine in my book.

Into the oven the birdies went and I set the timer for 80 minutes. Meanwhile, I served an appetizer and wine and we would occasionally catch a whiff of the chicken roasting away. Once out of the oven, right on time – the chicken breast was at 170°, a little high, but it was fine. With help from Joan, we each poked a utensil into each end of the chicken and allowed the juices and fat to drain out into the pan. You also slice the skin near the legs to allow all those juices to drain. Then the chickens went onto a big carving board while I worked on the salad. The big roasting pan was drained (and saved) for of all its juices. I used a fat-separator, as I didn’t want the fat, just the juices. For the 2 birds, I think there was about 1/2 cup of juices and fat. That was set aside to do it’s separating and I went back to the pan. It went onto a stovetop burner and once heated up, with the residual fat in the pan, I added fresh garlic and pine nuts and they took a minute or two to get barely golden. Then 1/4 cup of the juices were poured in. That got poured over the top of the bread croutons in a big bowl. They are allowed to just sit for a minute or two – you want those pan juices to soak into the bread. The raisins were added (currants are called for, but I didn’t have any, so I used regular raisins chopped up fine) into the vinaigrette. A couple of huge wads of salad greens were added. The recipe calls for arugula, but Trader Joe’s was all out of arugula (gosh, that stuff is popular), so I used a multi-colored greens mixture that contains quite a bit of arugula anyway.

Meanwhile, I asked one of the guys to carve, which Don did, very kindly. I could have done it, but I thought I’d ask for help. Tom was the sommelier, we decided to call him and he kept our wine glasses filled. The two husbands handily stepped in to fill Dave’s shoes. Once the salad was tossed – the greens and the soaked bread, it was all on the big white platter you can see up top, and then Don put the chicken pieces – some thick breast slices, some dark meat and a drumstick or two on top, and it was ready. Done.

Almost always when I serve dinner, I serve it buffet style in the kitchen. On my huge island. Then everyone takes their plate into the dining room. We had a lively conversation about a variety of things. Travel, politics, religion. Two of those somewhat no-no subjects. We talked about our families, grandchildren and their busy schedules, travel destinations, etc. Anyway, it was just great fun, and the chicken was magnificent.

What’s GOOD: there is absolutely nothing that isn’t GREAT about this recipe. It takes a bit more prep than some, and you do have to start at least a day in advance. The vinaigrette is fabulous. The salad and slightly soaked crispy bread is magnificent. And the chicken. Well, it’s in a league of its own. Make this. It’s going onto my Carolyn’s Favs list, if that tells you how good it is.

What’s NOT: only the part about needing to start it at least a day ahead.

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Easy Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken and Bread Salad

Recipe By: NW Edible blog, 2013
Serving Size: 9

CHICKEN:
6 pounds whole chicken — 2.5 – 3 pounds per chicken
8 sprigs thyme — soft tip-sprigs, each about 1-inch long or rosemary (or both)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
BREAD SALAD:
16 ounces bread — thick sliced, rustic style (like ciabatta)
olive oil — as needed
1/4 cup pine nuts
4 whole garlic cloves — chopped (2 to 3)
A few handfuls of arugula or similar greens washed and dried
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
VINAIGRETTE:
2 tablespoons dried currants — or raisins, chopped
2 tablespoons red onion — or shallot, finely minced
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
1/4 cup chicken juices, drained from the hot roasted chicken

1. CHICKEN PREP – A day or two before you intend to roast your chicken, sprinkle it all over with kosher salt and a little black pepper. A 3 pound bird will use about a tablespoon of kosher salt. Slide an herb sprig under the skin pocket of each breast and thigh. Tuck the wingtips behind the neck but do not truss the bird.
2. Refrigerate chicken, lightly covered with a paper towel or two, for 24 hours to 3 days. This gives the salt an opportunity to season and tenderize the meat.
3. An hour or so before you want to start roasting your chicken, and about two hours before you want to eat, preheat your oven to 475° F and bring your chicken out of the frig so it can come to room temperature.
4. Preheat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat for several minutes, until quite hot. (I used a large roasting pan, that happens to be Teflon coated and 2 chickens sat in the pan perfectly.) Place the resting chicken, breast-side-up, in the hot skillet. It should sizzle. Transfer immediately to the hot oven. If your skillet isn’t well seasoned, and you worry about sticking, add a bit of olive oil or lard to the skillet just before you add your chicken the skillet.
5. Roast chicken for about 40 minutes to an hour, until fully cooked but still juicy. (If you have a 5-pound bird, it may take 75-85 minutes.) The skin should be beautifully golden and paper thin across the thigh, and the thigh joint should feel lose.
6. When chicken is cooked, using a utensil poked into each end of the bird, carefully tip the bird so the cavity is down and drain the juices from the chicken. Slash the skin between thigh and breast to let out any trapped juices there. Transfer chicken to a platter to rest. Whisk the pan juices in the skillet to release any caramelized bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, then transfer juices to a fat separator if you have one (or use a small bowl) and set aside for 5-10 minutes to allow the fat to rise to the top. You’ll use about ¼ cup reserved juices (not the fat); if you have more, save extra for another purpose.
7. SALAD: While chicken is roasting, prepare the bread salad.
8. VINAIGRETTE: For the vinaigrette, add the currants and minced red onion to a bowl. Add red and white vinegar and set aside for about ten minutes, to allow currants to plump. Then, add Dijon mustard and olive oil and whisk until well blended. Set aside. This can be made a few hours ahead.
9. BREAD: Brush all bread slices liberally with olive oil and salt to taste. Place toast slices under a preheated broiler or in a dry skillet set over medium heat and toast until golden brown. Some darker and lighter spots are fine. (I cut the bread into cubes, and toasted them, lightly tossed with some olive oil in a 375° oven for about 12 minutes until golden brown.)
10. When toasted bread is cool enough to handle, tear into rough, bite-sized hunks if you didn’t cut the bread into cubes at the beginning. Some larger and some smaller pieces are fine. Put toasted bread pieces in a large bowl. (You can make the bread a few hours ahead, but once cool, place them in a sealing plastic bag to keep them crispy.)
11. Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a pan. Add the smashed garlic cloves and pine nuts and warm all over medium heat until the pine nuts are toasty but not burnt and the garlic has softened.
12. Add garlic, pine nuts and any olive oil from the pan to the bowl with the toasted bread pieces. Set aside until you are ready to finish the salad.
13. FINISHING: Gather the bowl with the toasted bread, the vinaigrette, the reserved pan juices from the roast chicken and 4-6 handfuls of arugula.
14. Toss the bread with the chicken juices and add about half of the vinaigrette and stir to combine. You want the bread to soak up those juices, so give it a minute if needed. Add in the arugula, toss, and taste for seasoning. Adjust by adding salt, pepper, more vinaigrette, or a tiny splash of red wine vinegar if needed. (Mine was perfect, using about 3/4 of the vinaigrette.)
15. Serve the chicken pulled into pieces, over the bread salad. Good hot or room temperature. If you have extra vinaigrette (I did), serve it at the table and allow guests to pour a bit of it on top of the chicken pieces, if desired.
Per Serving (disregard it all – it shows high calorie because the recipe assumes you consume all the skin, and fat and the sodium is high because of all the salt patted on the bird during its dry brining): 730 Calories; 47g Fat (58.5% calories from fat); 44g Protein; 31g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 188mg Cholesterol; 1688mg Sodium.

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