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Monday, May 23, 2016

Creamed Chicken in a Mashed Potato Nest inspired by June

Creamed Chicken in a Mashed Potato Nest inspired by June
Today I'm happy to be hosting a TLC book tour stop for the new Miranda Beverly-Whittemore novel, June. This is my first encounter with Beverly-Whittemore, but it left me with the desire to read her previous novels. June is the story of 25-year old Cassie, a photographer living in New York City who just found out that her beloved grandmother, the woman who raised her, has passed away...from cancer that Cassie never knew she was battling.

Grandma June left her a modest inheritance as well as her home in the small town of St. Jude, Ohio. The home is actually a huge old mansion called Two Oaks that has fallen into disrepair over the years, and since Cassie's life seems to have fallen into that same state, she envelops herself into the sadness of the old place.

Just as Cassie is in danger of becoming a hermit, a knock the door forces her to become an active participant in her life. The good looking guy standing on the other side of the door tells her that she has just inherited $35 million in the will of recently deceased Hollywood star Jack Montgomery. Cassie has no clue why this famous man has left her this money, but when his youngest daughter demands that she take a DNA test before she can get the money, Cassie is determined to play detective and uncover the events of Two Oaks and the town of St. Jude 50 years ago.

This story is seamlessly set in two time periods, sixty years apart, from the point of view of two very important people in grandma June's life: her best friend Lindie and her granddaughter Cassie. But along with Lindie and Cassie, there are a bunch of characters that play into the tale of intrigue, secret love, murder, and blackmail...the home itself being one of those characters.

While this novel is classified under thriller, coming of age, and suspense, there is also a bit of historical fiction woven in, which I found fascinating. Oh, it's also a bit of a love story. How does it end? Let's just say that the main stories are resolved, but there is still a bit of mystery as to the woman it was named after. June remains a bit of an enigma. I loved that it was a bit thick and dirty in a Southern gothic sort of way. Though I probably shouldn't call it that since it wasn't actually set in the South; but Two Oaks and the parties and secrets it's hosted over the years bring that genre to mind.

Now, what about the food? There is SO much.
Creamed Chicken in a Mashed Potato Nest inspired by June
The portions set in 1955 are filled with retro and/or comfort-style food: biscuits, lemonade, chicken-fried steak, tuna casserole, buttered saltines, Vienna sausages, Spam, Hot Toddy, rice with milk and sugar, a cup of Maxwell House, hot chocolate, ice cream sodas, oatmeal cookies, pork chops and cross-patch potatoes, steamed milk with vanilla and honey, eggnog, tea cakes, tiny little sandwiches, candied ham, mergingues and mint patties, whiskey sour, gin martini, vodka tonic, and filet mignon.

The portions set in 2015 vary between modern junk food and super healthy food (a la Cassie's Hollywood visitors): pimento-stuffed green olives, sour cream and onion potato chips, 7Up, spinach, kale, ginger, chocolate shake, Bagel Bites, egg white omelets, spinach salad with lemon juice on the side, raw almonds, egg sandwich, Velveeta on Ritz, Hawaiian Punch, burgers and fries, soft serve dipped in chocolate (DQ style), tuna, green beans, pickles, red peppers stuffed with quinoa and spices, homemade eggplant baba ghanoush, hand-ground flaxseed crackers, heritage grains, tofu loaf, plums, avocados, apples, blueberry quinoa pancakes, Hibiscus tea sweetened with agave, cauliflower bisque, roasted salmon and asparagus, fried chicken and mashed potatoes, cheeseburger with extra special sauce, black-and-white milkshake, amaranth , haricot verts, pumpkin pie, hemp crackers, grapes...and really, that's not even everything.

So, while this is technically a "foodie novel", it will satisfy any foodie's hunger for a book worthy of devouring.

Of everything that I mentioned, June actually inspired me to make something else today (though pretty much anything on that list vied for the honor)—an intriguing dish mentioned on page 289 (of the uncorrected proof).

The Chintz Room
The Chintz Room

"In the Chintz Room, on the top floor of Lazarus, Lindie ordered the Little Red Hen—creamed chicken in a mashed potato nest."

I hadn't heard of Lazarus or the Chintz room before, but after a little investigation, I learned that in 1953, the fifth floor tea room of the Lazarus in Columbus, Ohio was remodeled and named after its chintz-patterned curtains. The Chintz Room served both lunch and dinner and became known for its chicken salad with pineapples and pecans (still the most requested Lazarus recipe to date), and became a popular destination spot. After 45 years of service, The Chintz Room closed its doors on January 30, 1998.

While I couldn't find a recipe or direct mention of the "Little Red Hen" mentioned in the book, I did find a couple of comments on various sites remembering food from the Lazarus. One such comment read: "Up on the 5th floor was the Chintz room, the chicken little with mashed potatoes was my favorite until I grew too old for the children's menu." There was also a comment on another site that mentioned "the creamed chicken over dressing in those little hot skillets"—but this was from a different restaurant inside Lazarus called the Colonial.

So, I just went ahead and made some simple, but super comforting creamed chicken and made a nest of mashed red potatoes to serve it in.

Creamed Chicken
A simple comfort food recipe, this creamed chicken is served in a nest of mashed potatoes (but you can serve it any way you like).
Print Friendly and PDF
Creamed Chicken in a Mashed Potato Nest inspired by June
by Heather Schmitt-Gonzalez
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 7 minutes
Keywords: entree chicken milk peas

Ingredients (serves 4)
  • 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • kosher or sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk (more as needed)
  • 2 cups cooked (chopped or shredded) chicken
  • 1/2 cup peas (fresh or frozen)
  • mashed potatoes, to serve - optional
Melt butter in a skillet set over medium heat. Add shallots, tarragon, and a really big pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until shallots are soft, ~2 minutes. Scatter the flour into the skillet and stir until absorbed; cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Slowly whisk in the milk and bring back to a bubble until it has started to thicken up, 1 minute or so. Add the chicken and peas and cook until everything is heated through, another 2-3 minutes, stirring. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to your liking. If it seems too thick, whisk in a little more milk at a time until it is the consistency you like.

Serve a portion of the creamed chicken in a nest of mashed potatoes.
Creamed Chicken in a Mashed Potato Nest inspired by June

June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore


author: Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
publisher: Crown
source: TLC Book Tours
hard cover : 400 pages

"foodie" read: Not really, but there are SO many mentions of food throughout the novel.

random excerpt: Something funny had happened a few times over the course of the past two days, something Cassie hadn't felt in more than a year: she'd wished she had her camera. She'd witnessed specific moments she wanted to capture on film, and the fact that she'd lost them still clung to her with sticky regret. (arc p.120)

teaser: Twenty-five-year-old Cassie Danvers is holed up in her family’s crumbling mansion in rural St. Jude, Ohio, mourning the loss of the woman who raised her—her grandmother, June. But a knock on the door forces her out of isolation. Cassie has been named the sole heir to legendary matinee idol Jack Montgomery’s vast fortune. How did Jack Montgomery know her name? Could he have crossed paths with her grandmother all those years ago? What other shocking secrets could June’s once-stately mansion hold?

Soon Jack’s famous daughters come knocking, determined to wrestle Cassie away from the inheritance they feel is their due. Together, they all come to discover the true reasons for June’s silence about that long-ago summer, when Hollywood came to town, and June and Jack’s lives were forever altered by murder, blackmail, and betrayal. As this page-turner shifts deftly between the past and present, Cassie and her guests will be forced to reexamine their legacies, their definition of family, and what it truly means to love someone, steadfastly, across the ages.

about the author: MIRANDA BEVERLY-WHITTEMORE is the author of three other novels: New York Times bestseller Bittersweet, Set Me Free, which won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, given annually for the best book of fiction by an American woman, and The Effects of Light. A recipient of the Crazyhorse Prize in Fiction, she lives and writes in Brooklyn.

connect with the author: website | facebook | twitter
Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

recipe inspired by the book: Little Red Hen, aka Creamed Chicken in a Mashed Potato Nest


I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.