I’m a big fan of Nicci French. (For those of you who don’t know- Nicci French is actually the married couple Nicci Gerrard and Sean French.)
I first discovered them with the book Killing Me Softly, which I absolutely loved. Since then I have read several more of their books, plus two others written by Nicci Gerrard on her own. So- I am a fan. Together as Nicci French, they write a really great sort of psychological fiction- filled with menace and surprises and shadowy figures. Page-turners.
Catch Me When I Fall was unlike any French book I’d read before. It tells the story of Holly Krauss, this wildly confident career woman who lives in London with her husband, Charlie, a graphic artist. When we first meet Holly we think she might be merely reckless, but it turns out her behaviour is more complicated than that. Her husband and her best friend and business partner, Meg, watch helplessly as Holly’s behaviour becomes more and more bizarre and self-destructive.
As an examination of mental illness, this is a compelling read. But that’s not the only thing French has up for grabs in this book. It isn’t my favourite French book- but I enjoyed it just the same.
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Rachel Ray’s Winter White Chicken Stew
* 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
* 1 cup all-purpose flour
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 3 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into large pieces
* 1 fresh bay leaf
* 3 cloves garlic, chopped
* 1 onion, chopped
* 1 large bulb of fennel, cored and chopped (save the fronds!)
* 3 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
* 1 cup of dry white wine
* 3 cups chicken stock
* 1 cup green Sicilian olives, pitted
* 1/4 cup pine nuts
* 1/2 cup flat leaf parsley leaves
* Zest and juice of 1 lemon
* 1 loaf crusty bread
Place a large pot over medium-high heat with two turns of the pan of EVOO, about 2 tablespoons. Place the flour on a plate, season the chicken pieces liberally with salt and pepper and then transfer chicken to the flour. Toss to coat the pieces and shake off any excess flour. Transfer chicken to the hot pot and brown all the pieces for about 5 minutes, giving it a stir every now and then. Add the bay leaf, garlic, onion, fennel, half of the fennel fronds and the potatoes and continue to cook for about 4-5 minutes, or until the onions start to get tender.
Add the white wine while scraping the bottom of the pan and cook for one more minute. Add the chicken stock and bring up to a bubble. Simmer for 10-15 minutes and add the olives the last 5 minutes of cooking.
While the stew is simmering, prepare the garnish: place the pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat and cook tossing frequently until toasted, just a couple of minutes. Place the parsley, lemon zest and toasted pine nuts in a pile on your cutting board, run your knife through the pile until it is finely chopped.
To serve, ladle the stew into bowls and sprinkle with some of the chopped parsley, pine nut, lemon zest mixture. Squeeze lemon juice over each serving. Don’t add it directly to the pot because if you have any leftovers, the lemon juice will make the stew bitter the next day. Sprinkle some of the fennel fronds on top as well and serve some crusty bread alongside.
I made this for dinner recently and it was yummy!!!!