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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Just Another Judgement Day by Simon R. Green (#9)

Just Another Judgement Day (Nightside, # 9)Just Another Judgement Day by Simon R. Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Jacket Blurb:  There's a new sheriff in town, and he's got the Nightside's rich and powerful quaking in their boots. He's The Walking Man, and it's his mission to exorcise sinners-with extreme prejudice. Problem is, the Nightside was built on sin and corruption, and The Walking Man makes no distinction between evildoers and those simply indulging themselves. He'll leave the place a wasteland unless someone stops him, and P.I. John Taylor has been handed the job. No known magic or science can affect The Walking Man, and if John can't discover his weakness, he'll be facing the very Wrath of God...

I thought this was the most interesting book in the series to date because it asked some very interesting questions about God, beliefs, and judgement through the actions of our protagonists and antagonists. Specifically, who has a right to judge other than [your] God? 

The Walking Man is God's enforcer.  He kills those who have wronged in God's name.  He is immune to bullets, swords, and magics.   The Walking Man begins his trip to Nightside by purposely showing Suzie Shooter and John Taylor a very black and white picture of wrong - a Nightside business has been enslaving children.  No questions there.  Wrong.  But then the grey starts to creep in - is it correct to kill the people who visited the business?  They didn't know about the children. Is it right to kill the employees who were on the salesroom floor?  They didn't know about the children.  It is the Walking Man's opinion that Nightside is a hot bed of evil and wrong and it's his duty to clean it up.

There is also an interesting philosophical discussion in the Street of Gods, that because people are worshiping 'false Gods',  they are therefore evil.  John raises the point that just because they choose a different God, doesn't make them wrong, that these people needed to start some where else.  Chandra walks the middle line, noting that it doesn't matter what we call 'god', it's the same being.

So, for a fantasy novel, this was actually a fairly philosophical read.  Scifi and fantasy are known for exploring religious themes moreso than other genres - I think it's because they can use alien worlds or alternative settings to do so. 

Recommended.  Whole series has been wonderful to read.



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Monday, August 25, 2014

Recipe review from 8/18/2014

The weekend previous had me in the Twin Cities visiting family - specifically to meet my newest niece!


Ms. Ellie channeling her inner fairy princess.  1 month old.

And then it was off to a two day yoga intensive on anatomy and alignment.  The Husband took on the meal planning for the week. 

The Meal Plan:
Mon (Me yoga and bookgroup)  leftovers
Tues - Pasta with sausage and kale
Wed - leftovers
Thurs (yoga) - leftovers
Fri - errands in town; out
Sat - Roasted Chicken


Orecchriette with Sausage and Kale  (The Kitchn Blog)
This was very tasty; a nice melding of pasta, kale, and sausage.  It took about 30 minutes or so to pull together - I was able to prep the kale, sausage and cheese while the water came to a boil   The Husband did substitute campanelle for the orecchiette because orecchiette is not an option in our corner of the world.  I liked the wider, bigger pasta in this dish as it held its place better next to the sausage.  Definitely use pine nuts if you can - the pine nuts and parmesan rounded all the flavors out.   This made enough for thee substantial meals for two of us.

Serves 4, with leftovers

photo from The Kitchn Blog
1 pound orecchiette (we used campanelle pasta)
3/4 pound smoked chorizo or andouille sausage  (we used venison polish sausage)
Olive oil
About 4 cups kale, mustard greens, or another hearty green, torn into bite-sized shreds
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup toasted pine-nuts
1 cup shredded Parmesan or Pecorino

1) Heat a large pot of salted water to boiling and cook the pasta according to package directions. When tender, drain and reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Return the pasta to the pot and set aside.
Meanwhile, slice the sausage on the diagonal into 1/2 inch slices. Heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat with a drizzle of olive oil. When hot, add the sausage and cook for about 5 minutes on each side, or until well-browned.
2) Shove the browned sausage to the side and add the kale. Pour the chicken broth in, cover, and cook for about 8 minutes, or until the kale is wilted and tender.
3) Mix the kale, sausage, pine-nuts, cheese, and reserved 1/2 cup of pasta water into the cooked pasta. Serve!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon

Trading in Danger (Vatta's War, #1)Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Jacket Blurb:  Kylara Vatta is the only daughter in a family full of sons, and her father’s only child to buck tradition by choosing a military career instead of joining the family business. For Ky, it’s no contest: Even running the prestigious Vatta Transport Ltd. shipping concern can’t hold a candle to shipping out as an officer aboard an interstellar cruiser. It’s adventure, not commerce, that stirs her soul. And despite her family’s misgivings, there can be no doubt that a Vatta in the service will prove a valuable asset. But with a single error in judgment, it all comes crumbling down.

Expelled from the Academy in disgrace–and returning home to her humiliated family, a storm of high-profile media coverage, and the gaping void of her own future–Ky is ready to face the inevitable onslaught of anger, disappointment, even pity. But soon after opportunity’s door slams shut, Ky finds herself with a ticket to ride– and a shot at redemption–as captain of a Vatta Transport ship.

It’s a simple assignment: escorting one of the Vatta fleet’s oldest ships on its final voyage . . . to the scrapyard. But keeping it simple has never been Ky’s style. And even though her father has provided a crew of seasoned veterans to baby-sit the fledgling captain on her maiden milk run, they can’t stop Ky from turning the routine mission into a risky venture–in the name of turning a profit for Vatta Transport, of course.

By snapping up a lucrative delivery contract defaulted on by a rival company, and using part of the proceeds to upgrade her condemned vehicle, Ky aims to prove she’s got more going for her than just her family’s famous name. But business will soon have to take a backseat to bravery, when Ky’s change of plans sails her and the crew straight into the middle of a colonial war. For all her commercial savvy, it’s her military training and born-soldier’s instincts that Ky will need to call on in the face of deadly combat, dangerous mercenaries, and violent mutiny.



A decent and fun space opera that kept me turning the pages and entertained.  The book revolved more around a series of unfortunate events that kept the main character - Kyala Vatta - challanged, but not seriously overwhelmed.  The challenges were realistic, not over the top, and seemed appropriate for the situation(s).

The author seems to have done her homework in regards to the medical issues presented - bleeding out from a neck wound, reduced rations and how to start eating again, but yet added a nice touch of the future with regen or "medical" tanks.  It came across as plausible and realistic and added a authentic component to the story.

My one tiny complaint with the book was the writing style - it frequently came across as a bit stilted and formal, dare I say?  With wording and intonation that would have been more appropriate for a period novel like Sense and Sensibility (maybe not quite that formal...) than a space opera revolving around a shipping captain.

Overall, an enjoyable read and I will probably seek out the next book in the series.  Recommended. 



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Monday, August 18, 2014

Recipe Review from 8/11/2014

A busy week work-wise, and when combined with yoga and packing for a trip to the Cities, not much time in the evenings to putter in the gardens.  Plus a couple of nice soaking rains left the soil too heavy to work in.  We have been picking blueberries and raspberries, and I think I have frozen about 6 quarts of blueberries to date.  It's been an outstanding berry year! 

The Meal Plan:
Sun - Slow Cooked Pulled Pork with Peach Bourbon Sauce
Mon (yoga) leftovers
Tues - leftovers
Wed (am yoga)
Thurs (yoga)
Fri thru Sun (Cities) Husband leftovers

Lunches for the week: Mediterranean Quinoa Salad with fruit, pita chips, nut cups, luna bars...the usual 


Slow Cooked Pulled Pork with Peach Bourbon Sauce     (Ckng Lght, July 2014) gluten-free
A slow cooker recipe! In JULY!  In a magazine!  Shocking, I know...but, there is something to be said, even in the middle of summer, about being able to toss a meal into the slow cooker and walk away for the rest of the day.  And on this particular day, it rained, so doubly nice.

I forgot to write down what size hunk-o-pork I needed so mine ended up being about 1lb more than called for.  I did make this pretty much as written, tho I didn't feel like slicing up five cloves of garlic so I skipped that.  We don't have bourbon in our house, so I subbed some cafe tequilla.  The hint of coffee flavor should go quite nicely with the molasses and smoky paprika.  The best part about this recipe?  The leftovers! 

  • 2 teaspoons Spanish smoked paprika
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
    photo from cookinglight.com
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (3 1/2-pound) bone-in pork shoulder roast (Boston butt), trimmed
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 2 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 cup peach preserves
  • 2 cups vertically sliced onion
  • 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Combine paprika, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and black pepper; rub evenly over pork. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add pork to pan; cook 10 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Place pork in a 6-quart electric slow cooker.
  2. Add stock and next 4 ingredients (through crushed red pepper) to skillet; bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add preserves, stirring with a whisk. Pour mixture over pork; top with onion and garlic. Cover and cook on LOW 6 1/2 hours or until pork is very tender. Remove pork from pan, reserving liquid; cool slightly. Shred with 2 forks. Remove onion with a slotted spoon; add to pork.
  3. Place a large zip-top plastic bag inside a 4-cup glass measuring cup. Pour cooking liquid into bag; let stand 10 minutes (fat will rise to the top). Seal bag; carefully snip off 1 bottom corner of bag. Drain drippings into skillet, stopping before fat layer reaches opening; discard fat. Stir bourbon into drippings; bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes or until mixture is reduced to about 1 1/2 cups. Combine 2 tablespoons cold water and cornstarch in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk; add cornstarch mixture to sauce, stirring constantly until thickened. Stir in remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt. Drizzle sauce over pork; toss gently to coat.

Cheesy Buckwheat with Mushrooms and Kale  (Ckng Lght, Aug 2014)  vegetarian option**
Mixed reviews.  When I served this the first night, right after making it, it was rather...bland and uninspiring. The buckwheat had an off taste or something, perhaps too much earthy flavors.  However, when I served the leftovers the following night, both the Husband and I agreed that it was much more flavorful and quite tasty.

I did sub Gouda cheese for Gruyere, because I didn't care for my Gruyere cheese options at the store (more processed and smoked).  You can easily omit the bacon to make this vegetarian.  

photo from cookinglight.com
  • 1 cup uncooked buckwheat
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups water 
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 ounces shredded Gruyère cheese  Gouda
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese 
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1/2 cup diced onion 
  • 1 tablespoon sliced garlic
  • 8 ounces presliced mushrooms
  • 6 cups chopped kale
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup toasted walnuts
  • 2 center-cut bacon slices, cooked and crumbled
  1. Combine buckwheat and egg in a bowl; toss. Heat a saucepan over medium heat. Add buckwheat mixture to pan; cook 3 minutes or until grains are dry and separated, stirring frequently. Stir in water and salt; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until water is absorbed. Remove from heat; stir in Gruyère cheese and Parmesan cheese. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, and mushrooms; cook 7 minutes. Add kale and pepper to pan; cook 2 minutes. Add kale mixture to buckwheat mixture. Sprinkle with walnuts and bacon.


Mediterranean Quinoa Salad  (Closet Cooking Blog via Pinterest)   gluten free, vegetarian
This was so good I made it twice - in part it was because one batch didn't quite get the Husband and I through the week.  We were one day short.  Loved the flavors in this, the briny olive, next to the tangy cucumber (or zucchini), bright summer tomatoes all balanced out by the feta and chickpeas.  The dressing for this is perfect - neither too sweet nor to oily.  This made enough for four lunches for two of us. 

photo from ClosetCooking.com
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup tomato, sliced
  • 1 cup cucumber, sliced
  • 1/4 cup red onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup kalamata olives
  • 1/4 cup feta, crumbled
  • 1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice (~1 lemon) or red wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional - avocado.  
  1. Bring the quinoa and water to a boil, reduce the temperature to medium-low and simmer, covered, until the liquid has been absorbed, about 15 minutes, and let sit covered for 5 minutes before letting it cool.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the remaining ingredients.
  3. Mix the quinoa, tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, olives, feta and chickpeas and toss in the mixture of the lemon juice, oil, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Book of Fate by Brad Meltzer

The Book of FateThe Book of Fate by Brad Meltzer

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: "Six minutes from now, one of us would be dead. None of us knew it was coming." So says Wes Holloway, a young presidential aide, about the day he put Ron Boyle, the chief executive's oldest friend, into the president's limousine. By the trip's end, a crazed assassin would permanently disfigure Wes and kill Boyle. Now, eight years later, Boyle has been spotted alive. Trying to figure out what really happened takes Wes back into disturbing secrets buried in Freemason history, a decade-old presidential crossword puzzle, and a two-hundred-year-old code invented by Thomas Jefferson that conceals secrets worth dying for.


Did not finish.  Did not make it past 5 out of 15 CD's.  I felt I was listening to a slightly different version of Inner Circle by same, and I didn't like that book. 

Premise - young brilliant aide to the President is horribly disfigured in an assassination attempt.  Fast forward 8 years, he's still the former Presidents aide, and he stumbles across a Big Political Conspiracy.  Now people are out to kill him and he doesn't understand why.   The only redeeming part of this book was it had some pre-history with a character also found in Inner Circle.  The books are loosely related, but definitely still stand alone.

My head still hurts from banging it on the steering wheel as I listened to Inner Circle.  I don't need to add to the bruises.

Can't recommend this one. 



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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

August 2014 Garden Update

Garden is doing really well as we move into August, 
and I had enough photo's to invite you along on a tour.  

Welcome to my garden!
 Maroon clematis on the left, a pink trumpet clematis on the right.

Purple cone flowers

Hops on the back fence, raspberries in the background on the left, and the flower bed in the foreground.

We have framed beds, not raised.  Each bed is approximately 4' x 16'.  Just wide enough that I have to go around to the other side to weed.  Woodchip paths with landscape fabric underneath provide access to everything and help keep the weeds down.
We have 7 beds for veggies - flour corn, drying beans, cucumbers, herbs, butternut squash, 3 tomato plants, one hill of zucchini, and one bed that has our peas, kale and Swiss Chard.  One bed with blueberries and one with summer and fall raspberries.  And two flower beds.  Well, three flower beds actually, because one is outside the fence. 

Yes, there is a 6' high fence around the entire garden.  A necessity if we don't want to have the deer partaking.  The butternut squash bed is also outside the fence since the deer and rabbits leave the prickly vines alone. 




 The mix to the right was a annual flower packet I tried and had success with.  Pretty in pastels! 

I've been partial to daylilies for years, and I found the dianthus seed back really well in my garden so I let them do their thing. 







Some of the flower beds are in a bit of transition.  I'm yanking out the pretty but weedy iris (I will leave some, but not as much as has self-propagated over the years) and replacing with daylilies and dianthus. 

The new and improved flower bed!

The bed on the right was, until Saturday evening, a mess of weeds, overgrown iris, field yarrow (damn invasive stuff), ferns and grass.  After we bought the daylilies Saturday morning, the Husband ripped out 8' of root-bound crap so I could plant our new purchase.  Yay Husband!  



Front: Dill growing everywhere.  Back: Corn and beans.

And my favorites, the violets!  They grow in all these little cheerful clumps and I just let them self-seed back.  I never know quite what I'm going to get or where they are going to pop up.  



The Husband's favorite clump of violets.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Recipe Review from 8/4/14

Another beautiful week weather-wise!  The Husband and I had the Folks out for a "garden party" on Tuesday - they got to pick some raspberries and blueberries and dinner was served outside with  venison kebabs, fresh corn on the cob, a fruit salad and bread from Panera.  They brought a chocolate bundt cake and ice cream for dessert.

The Husband and my Dad tackled a slew of home improvement projects mid-week: replaced the "kickboards" on the front porch that were rotting when I re-painted the porch three years ago, replaced the bathroom ceiling light/fan (which involved crawling around in a 100*F attic), and filled in an excavating project Andy-dog had begun in our landscaping off the porch.

We ended the week with another "garden party" with the folks - we went to Holyoke, MN, to DJ's Daylily Garden (on Facebook) which was a visual treat for the eyes.  Hundreds of daylilies in full bloom in vibrant yellows, oranges and reds mirrored by delicate pinks, creams and lavenders.  Absolutely beautiful.  The Folks came back with three varieties and I came home with four.  If I had had the space in my garden, it would have been many more. 









And in between all the yard work, we made several new dishes this week!

The Meal Plan:
Sun - (S) Spiced Chicken Thighs with Parsley Couscous
Mon (yoga) - leftovers
Tues -Venison kebabs with avocado
Wed -Chicken Schnitzel and mustard mashed potatoes
Thurs (yoga) - leftovers
Fri - leftovers - leftovers

Spiced Chicken Thighs with Parsley Couscous  (Ckng Lght Aug, 2014)
I simplified this tremendously - seriously, turning the oven on in August?  This is the perfect grill recipe!   I also drizzled the chicken thighs in a bit of olive oil to facilitate rub distribution and prevent sticking on the grill.  This came together in under half an hour (guesstimate) - flavors are a nice blend, neither too spicy nor overly sweet and when combined with the couscous, almost a Morrocan or Middle Eastern influence. 
photo from cookinglight.com
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 bone-in chicken thighs, trimmed and skinned (about 2 1/2 pounds)  (I used one 1.25lb pkg boneless, skinless chicken thighs, which was about 9)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
  • 2/3 cup uncooked couscous
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 3/4 cup unsalted chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  1. Preheat grill oven to 350* 425°.
  2. Combine cumin, sugar, chili powder, ginger, 1/2 teaspoon salt, red pepper, lemon rind, and black pepper in a small bowl; rub spice mixture over both sides of chicken. Heat a large ovenproof skillet or cast-iron pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add chicken to pan, placing it skin side down; cook 5 minutes on each side or until chicken is browned. (If necessary, work in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan.) Transfer pan to oven. Bake chicken at 425° for 14 minutes or until done. Remove chicken from pan; let stand 10 minutes before serving.
  3. Grill chicken.
  4. While chicken rests grills, heat a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add couscous and garlic to pan; cook 2 minutes or until toasted and fragrant, stirring frequently. Carefully stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and chicken stock. Bring liquid to a boil. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 4 minutes (avoid opening the lid). Fluff couscous with a fork, and stir in parsley and lemon juice.

[Venison] Steak and Avocado Kebabs (Ckng Lght, July 2014)  gluten free
These were really good and I even made them as written!  Well, mostly...I subbed ancho chili powder for the chipolte because I was out of chipolte.   I served these to company, with some corn on the cob (boiled), fresh fruit salad, and some rustic bread from Panera.   When the corn had cooked for 10 minutes, I tossed the kebabs on the grill.  Kebabs took maybe 15 minutes?  Definitely more than the 5 they called for.  The grilled avocado was a pleasant surprise - I haven't done that before and it was a lovely touch.  This made enough for four people. 
photo from cookinglight.com
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 pound top sirloin steak
  • 16 ripe avocado cubes
  • 16 cherry tomatoes
  • 16 (1-inch) squares red onion
  • 8 (8-inch) skewers
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  1. Combine olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, chipotle chile powder, and black pepper; rub evenly over top sirloin. Cut steak into 32 cubes. Thread steak, avocado, cherry tomatoes, and onion alternately onto skewers. Coat with cooking spray; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Place skewers on a grill rack coated with cooking spray. Grill 5 minutes or until done, turning skewers occasionally for an even char. 
Note: If using wooden skewers, soak them in water for 20 minutes before grilling.


Chicken Schnitzel and Smashed Mustard Potatoes (Ckng Light, Aug 2014)
This dish really does come together in about forty minutes from start to finish.  I subbed oregano for the parsley as I didn't plant any parsley in my garden this year, and I put the garlic powder in with the flour instead of the panko crumbs because it would have just fallen to the bottom of the pan if mixed with the panko.

My one complaint with this is the whole frying thing.  I was not blessed with a 'frying' gene.  Things don't seem to fry right no matter what I do.  These turned out better than most of my attempts, but I had problems with not all the breading being in contact with the pan, so there were spots that were pale and spots that were golden brown.  I suspect I don't use enough oil.   Still, end result was pretty darn tasty, and my on thought was some kind of gravy would have made this dish outstanding.
  • 1 pound small red potatoes, halved
  • 1/3 cup unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
    Photo from cookinglight.com
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, pounded to 1/4-inch thickness 
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup fat-free milk
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Cooking spray
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  1. Place potatoes in a large saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a boil. Cook 12 minutes or until tender; drain. Return potatoes to pan; mash to desired consistency. Stir in stock, green onions, mustard, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
  2. Sprinkle chicken with remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper and salt. Place flour [and garlic powder] in a shallow dish. Combine milk and egg in a shallow dish. Combine panko, parsley, and garlic powder in a shallow dish. Dredge chicken in flour. Dip in milk mixture; dredge in panko mixture, shaking off excess. Lightly coat breaded chicken with cooking spray.
  3. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 teaspoons oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add 2 chicken breast halves to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until chicken is done. Remove chicken from pan; keep warm. Repeat procedure with remaining 2 teaspoons oil and remaining 2 chicken breast halves.