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Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency #1)The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: The first novel of a new space-opera sequence set in an all-new universe by the Hugo Award-winning, New York Times-bestselling author of Redshirts and Old Man's War.

Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible -- until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars.

Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war -- and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.

The Flow is eternal -- but it is not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that The Flow is moving, possibly cutting off all human worlds from faster than light travel forever, three individuals -- a scientist, a starship captain and the Empress of the Interdependency -- are in a race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

Read for May scifi book group.

Classic Scalzi. Classic Space Opera. A fun and fast read.

Premise of the book is humanity is spread across the galaxy and is connected via the Interdependency and the Flow, a space travel concept that allows ships to move great distances in a relatively short period of time as compared to conventional travel. All planets, habitats and space stations fall under the rule of the Emperox and the Church, located at the Hub. The Interdependency has a new Emperox, one of the ruling Houses is making a bid to take over as Ruling house, and the Flow is about to collapse, stranding humanity again.

As I noted above, classic space opera. It's political intrigue and drama set across vast expanses of space. There is the Emperox, the Church, ruling families, the guild families, merchants, universities and everyone else. The beginning of this series (and it will be a series) has everything in flux - from the ascendancy of a new Emperox, the fall of the Flow, to the political maneuvers of a major ruling house and the counter moves from a major Guild house.

It's total brain candy. I loved it! And it's ok if you don't. That's the great thing about books - none of us are reading the same book.

The characters are varied, interesting, and kept me engaged. The back stabbing and political maneuvering was quite a lot of fun and helped to keep characters on their toes and the plot moving forward with alacrity.

I didn't worry about the "science" of the Flow. This is where the "fiction" part comes it. Not any different than say, trying to explain Warp Drive. It exists in this universe, except when it doesn't, and that's good enough for me.

As noted by the author, this is a Book One, so no surprise at the end when there is no overall resolution and threads are left floating in space. Thankfully, no obnoxious cliffhanger.

And with that I will say...recommended. If you enjoyed Old Man's War, you will probably enjoy this.

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Monday, May 21, 2018

Recipe Review from 5/14/2018

An uneventful week all around, so I'll hop right into recipe review!

The Meal Plan from the previous week:
Sat (L)  leftover tostadas    (S)  NE Smokehouse in Cloquet
Sun (B) Sausage Taquitos    (L) burgers   (S)  Mini pizzas
Mon  (yoga) leftover burgers
Tues - leftover pizzas
Wed - Grilled Vegetable salad with Tortellini
Thurs (yoga) leftovers
Fri  Leftovers

Lunches - fruit and hummus sandwiches

Egg and Sausage Breakfast Taquitos (Special Cuisine Recipe blog via Pinterest) gluten free
Moved a bit away from my usual lunch and supper recipes and tried something different this weekend - a breakfast wrap.  Yeah, yeah, it seems kinda silly to need a recipe for something as ridiculously simple as this, but I'm a recipe kinda gal and sometimes I just don't want to think about ratios.

The idea behind these is you can make them ahead and freeze for later.  I thought this might be worth a try, though I would either have to bring to work and microwave or thaw in the oven at home (I don't have microwave).  So we'll see how that works, if they get eaten or if they end up languishing a bit.

Now I will add, fresh out of the oven with some salsa on top, these were quite tasty.  I ended up with 10 taquitos, which if you are looking to feed a group would be easy to make and have sitting out.   If you have any vegetarians in the group, skip the sausage and add extra eggs.  Recommended!

I made 10 taquitos.

7 oz box Jones Dairy Farm sausage links  (I used a 16oz pkg locally sourced breakfast sausage)
5  large eggs  (ha!  I used closer to 10 eggs; 5 just wasn't enough)
salt and pepper
1 1/2  cups shredded cheese , cheddar, pepper jack or Monterey jack
1 cup baby spinach , chopped (optional)  I used cilantro
10  white corn tortillas , or use 6'' flour tortillas
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Add the frozen sausage links to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, turning occasionally, until warmed through.
  3. Remove to a plate, leaving a little bit of the sausage grease in the pan.
  4. Crack eggs into a bowl and add a splash of water or milk. Whisk well with a fork and then add to the pan.
  5. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for a few minutes, tossing and scrambling as they cook. (If using spinach, add it to the pan about 2 minutes before the eggs are done cooking.) Remove from heat.
  6. Warm the tortillas inside of a damp paper towel for 10-15 seconds in the microwave.
  7. Divide the scrambled eggs among the tortillas and top with shredded cheese.
  8. Place a sausage link on top. Roll up and place, seam side down, on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper.
  9. Spray lightly with cooking spray and bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with salsa for dipping.
Recipe Notes
To Freeze: Prepare and bake the taquitos as directed. Allow to cool completely and then place in a freezer ziplock bag. When ready to eat, microwave them until warm.

Grilled Beef-Mushroom Burgers (Ckgn Lght June 2018)  gluten free
A bit of a departure for me, making beef burgers, but the recipe intrigued me so I thought what the heck?  I also thought about subbing buffalo for the burger, but it was nearly twice as much in price so I opted to go with grass-fed beef instead.

These were pretty tasty - if you are not a mushroom fan, or know someone who is not a mushroom fan, they won't even notice the 'shrooms.  I liked how these weren't on a bun, which I am finding are just filler (for me).  The taziki sauce had a bit of zing by the second day, so either cut back on the garlic or skip for those little or sensitive tastebuds. 

Made four burgers - two meals for two of us with a side.

4 ounces sliced button mushrooms
photo from
1 pound 90% lean ground sirloin
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/3 cup chopped cucumber
1/4 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons minced roasted garlic (about 4 large cloves)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
8 large butter lettuce leaves
4 heirloom tomato slices  (I used a red bell pepper, cut into rings, because I had some on hand)
4 red onion slices

Preheat grill or a grill pan to medium-high (about 450°F). Place mushrooms in a food processor, and process until minced, about 1 minute.

Combine mushrooms, ground sirloin, oil, pepper, and 3/8 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl; gently shape into 4 (4-inch) patties, and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Stir together cucumber, yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, parsley, and remaining 3/8 teaspoon salt in a small bowl; set aside.

Place burgers on grill grate, and grill, uncovered, to desired degree of doneness, about 4 minutes per side for medium.

Place 2 lettuce leaves on each plate; top each with a burger patty, tomato slice, red onion slice, and 1 heaping tablespoon yogurt mixture.

Mini Pizzas (Ckng Lght, June 2018) lots o' options
This recipe caught my eye for it's simplicity.  There are lots of variations on this floating around, and, because it's "pizza", you can do what ever you want for toppings and crusts.  I used a lavash bread I bought at the co-op for the crust and combined it with co-op pizza sauce and shredded cheese mix (which I purchase to make a regular homemade pizza).   Toppings were red pepper, pepperoni and mushroom.   Then I tossed the pizzas on the grill - which worked only so-so.  I  was concerned about the crust burning and ended up finishing under the broiler. 

So, base recipe below.  I greatly modified.  This is a good way to use up leftovers. 

4 whole-wheat pita rounds
1 (4-oz.) link sweet Italian turkey sausage, casing removed
1/2 cup lower-sodium marinara sauce
4 ounces part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
1 large plum tomato, thinly sliced
1 (2 1/4-oz.) can sliced black olives, drained

Preheat broiler to high with oven rack in top position.
Place pitas on a baking sheet. Broil until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Remove baking sheet from oven; turn pitas over. Do not turn off oven.

Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high. Add sausage, and cook, stirring to crumble, until no longer pink, 4 to 5 minutes.

Spread 2 tablespoons marinara over each pita. Top evenly with cheese, sausage, tomato, and olives. Broil until cheese melts and browns in spots, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve immediately.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Happy Forever-home Day!

8 years ago today, Andy came home to stay!
He was a bit dubious about his new family.

He had to learn his manners, potty training, and a new name. 

 His "brother" Ben showed him where all the squirrels and chipmunks lived.

It was sad when Ben passed.  But then he got a new "brother", Kepler. 
Kepler has a lot more energy than Ben did. 

Andy says life is pretty good.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Happy Forever-Home Day!

One year ago today, Kepler came home to stay!

He was so little!  

But he grew a bit...

And a bit more...

And here we are, one year later!  Such a handsome boy!  

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Visitor by CJ Cherryh (Foreigner #17)

Visitor (Foreigner, #17)Visitor by C.J. Cherryh

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: The seventeenth novel in Cherryh’s Foreigner space opera series, a groundbreaking tale of first contact and its consequences…

The human and atevi inhabitants of Alpha Station, orbiting the world of the atevi, have picked up a signal from an alien kyo ship telling them that the ship is inbound toward Alpha. Five thousand of the inhabitants of Alpha are human refugees from the now derelict Reunion Station. They have seen this scenario before, when a single kyo ship swooped into the Reunion system and, without a word, melted a major section of Reunion Station with a single pass. These refugees, who were rescued through the combined efforts of an allied group of humans and atevi and brought to safety at Alpha, are now desperate with fear.

Bren Cameron—brilliant human emissary of Tabini-aiji, the powerful atevi political leader on the mainland below, and also the appointee of the human president of the island nation of Mospheira—is the obvious choice of representative to be sent up to deal with both the panicked refugees and the incoming alien ship.

As a member of the spacefaring delegation who rescued the refugees, Bren has talked to kyo before—and even won their trust by saving one of their kind from a Reunioner prison. Because of his remarkable diplomatic and linguistic abilities, Bren managed to communicate with that grateful kyo individual on a limited basis, and he has evidence that that same kyo is on the ship heading to defenseless Alpha Station.

But no one can predict what an alien race might do, or what their motivations could be.

And Bren Cameron, the only human ever to be accepted into atevi society, is now the one individual with a hope of successfully interacting with the crew of the incoming ship. But Bren knows it will take putting himself in the hands of the kyo.

Can Bren count on the gratitude of one individual alien to save his life and the lives of thousands on Alpha Station?

The saga continues. The Kyo are coming for reason's unknown, there is a simmering rebellion on the Space Station, and tensions are running high all around. But tensions are always running high.

This was not my favorite installment; this one felt more like like a transition book than any previous book: a Two Towers kinda transition book, where the sole purpose was to move the characters from point A to B so the greater plot can move forward. There was lots of backstory, quite a bit of internal reflecting, and numerous info dumps.

What I did observe in this book is Bren delegating more or letting others do their jobs, that he stepped back from tasks that were more appropriately left to others. Gin Kroger tackles the Space Station and the Reunioner issue. Jase Graham acts as liaison between Bren and the other Senior Pilots, Caijeri is tasked with hosting and seeing to the comforts of his small association (Irene, Gene, and the rest) and their families who were pulled from the tunnels and Reunioner side at the end of the previous book.

I truly enjoy Caijeri and Ajii-ma's viewpoints. After so much Bren-angst and interospection, the young ajii's outlook is refreshingly different.

The bit with the Kyo felt like the author was wrapping up a sub-plot line, and it was here where the one bright gem in this book lies that makes reading the book worthwhile. Other than the fact that it's a Foreigner book...

It also seemed like there were a lot of sub-plots left dangling while the Kyo issue is concluded, so I can only assume those will be addressed in the next book.

Recommended with reservations if you've been reading the series. New to Foreigner? You need to start at the beginning. These are not stand alone books. Tho this one came close with the sheer amount of backstory and info dumping.

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Monday, May 14, 2018

Recipe Review from 5/7/2018

A fairly quiet and uneventful week.   It was super nice out at the start of the week, then the temperature dropped and it rained, rain cleared and temps stayed in the 50's.  Trees are leaving out, I see my early iris and crocus are coming up, and after that rain the grass is greening up a bit.

Only one new recipe this week: the Mediterranean bowls from the previous week made enough to slide us into this meal plan.  Then we did a very simple roast chicken for one meal, not much to say there.  Leftover shredded chicken from the Mediterranean bowls and the roast chicken was turned into BBQ sandwiches.   But the tostadas, I'm going to rave about those below!

The Meal Plan from last week:
Sun (L)  leftover Mediterranean bowls    (S)  Roast Chicken with potatoes and carrots    
Mon (yoga)  leftover roast chicken
Tues (yoga) pulled chicken BBQ sandwiches
Wed - Refried Bean tostadas
Thurs (yoga) leftover BBQ
Fri - leftover tostadas

Refried Bean Tostadas with Cabbage Slaw (Ckng Lght, May 2018)  gluten free, vegetarian option
These were very good and will be making repeated appearances on the menu for those weeks when we need something quick and simple.  I loved the bright flavors and ease of prep. 

A couple of modifications:
  • I subbed regular refried beans for the black refried beans.  One, I had a can on hand and two, the husband doesn't care for black beans.  
  • I subbed regular jarred salsa for the pico de gallo.   
  • I made my own cabbage slaw, working on the principal that *I'm* the one chopping the food, not a factory.   This also has the advantage that you can make just the amount you need for that meal - the slaw wasn't the most attractive as leftovers.  It was completely edible, but the vinaigrette kinda made it wilty.  
  • I can never find queso fresco, so I subbed a different Mexican cheese. 

The Husband also doesn't care for hard shells.  I had some leftover soft shells in the fridge that I warmed up which worked just fine - more of a softshelled bean taco than a tostada.


1 (15.4-oz.) can lower-sodium refried black beans (can easily sub vegetarian options)
(I used regular refried black beans)
photo from
1/2 cup pico de gallo, drained
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 (10-oz.) pkg. shredded cabbage
1 cup thinly sliced radishes
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
6 (5-inch) corn tostada shells
6 ounces queso fresco (fresh Mexican cheese), crumbled (about 1 1/2 cups)
Torn fresh cilantro

Combine beans and pico de gallo in a small saucepan. Cook over medium, stirring often, until hot, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and cover to keep warm.

Whisk together oil, vinegar, oregano, and salt in a large bowl. Add cabbage, radishes, tomatoes, and onion; toss to combine. Let stand 5 minutes.

Spread each tostada shell with 1/3 cup bean mixture; top each with 1 cup cabbage mixture and 1/4 cup queso fresco. Garnish with torn cilantro, if desired.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The First Family by Michael Baldacci (Sean and Michelle #4)

First Family (Sean King & Michelle Maxwell, #4)First Family by David Baldacci

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: A daring kidnapping turns a children's birthday party at Camp David, the presidential retreat, into a national security nightmare.

Former Secret Service agents turned private investigators, Sean King and Michelle Maxwell don't want to get involved. But years ago Sean King saved the First Lady's husband, then a senator, from political disaster. Now the president's wife presses Sean and Michelle into a desperate search to rescue a kidnapped child. With Michelle still battling her own demons, the two are pushed to the limit, with forces aligned on all sides against them--and the line between friend and foe impossible to define ... or defend.

Round up to 3.5 stars

Read as an audio book.

This installment seemed to be about everyone but Sean. Michelle is still reeling from her mental breakdown in the previous book compounded by the unexpected death of her Mother. When she starts to question the circumstances in which her deceased mother was found, Michelle quickly decides it was murder and unfortunately, everything is pointing at her Father. Sean was kinda relegated to the sidelines as Michelle works through the past in order to unravel the present.

Then there is Sam Quarry, who has spent years working to right the wrong that was done to his daughter, leaving her brain dead in her 20's. Sam has kidnapped a woman and a twelve year old girl and set into motion events that go all the way to the White House. A lot of the story was about him prepping for the final confrontation.

I thought this got a little long and predictable. I wasn't thrilled with the whole Michelle business in the previous book, and I wasn't exactly excited about it here. Still to much "damsel in distress" syndrome. I know it needed a resolution, but, meh. Whatever.

Quite about revolved around Jane Cox and her Husband, the President. I thought the author did a pretty good job of showing her transformation from worried Aunt to a determined power hungry and arrogant woman. Which was a refreshing change from the power-hungry arrogant male antagonist we so frequently read about. By the end of the book, I was totally detesting Jane Cox.

And as usual, a few points niggled at me - the circumstances under which Michelle's mother's was found dead, a single spot of blood on the floor and no dent in the car. I'm fairly certain a person could smack their head into the side of a car and not dent it - older cars were built like tanks and modern cars are mean to be more resilient. Our heads, however, are not. Not saying I'm right or wrong here, just that I have my doubts.

I seriously didn't care for the business of Michelle returning to the family's previous home over and over and over. This is just my opinion, but it just made the book drag out. And I was never certain if she actually saw her father there just after her Mother died and I don't think it was explained during the conflict resolution. I could be wrong, I do miss things if my mind wanders while listening to an audio book. At any rate, this whole plot thread was played out and we can thankfully move on.

Even with the length of the book and the two disparate plot lines (Michelle's Mother and Sam Quarry), the ending made up for much of the middle. A nice little sucker punch plot twist at the end.

Recommended if you've read the first three in the series.

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Monday, May 7, 2018

Recipe Review from 4/30/2018

An uneventful week all in all.  Worked, taught class, walked outside without a jacket(!), and started the yard work.  Two of five flower beds are cleaned off, some light raking in the high traffic/high stick area, and on garden bed raked.  Miniature iris are coming up and if we get the predicted rain on Tuesday, everything is going to POP!    Tho as I write this, I've noticed the leaves leaving out today.  Pretty cool.

And I made a couple new recipes.  Yay!

The Meal Plan went something like:
Sun (L) leftovers      (S) Chicken Biryani 
Mon (yoga/bkgrp)  leftover biryani
Tues - out
Wed -Mediterranean  Chicken bowl
Thurs - leftovers
Fri - leftovers

Lunches/snacks - hummus sandwiches, fruit, nuts, Luna bars

Chicken Biryani (Ckng Lght, March 2018)  gluten free
I love Indian food and I love finding recipes I can make at home without too much fuss.  This...proved to be one of those dishes.  At first I thought this looked like an overly complicated recipe, but it's not.  There is very little chopping and mostly just mixing.  The recipe starts by marinading the chicken in the yogurt mixture for 2-4 hours (I did four). Then prep the spices, and start to assemble in a large (and I do me large) saute pan.  This part goes fairly quickly and suddenly the dish is done and ready to eat. 

I enjoyed the flavors, didn't care too much to chomp down on a cardamom pod, and felt that some naan would have made a great side.  I did skip the cashews, fried onions, and serrano chili - seemed excessively silly.  The cilantro I kept just because I love cilantro.   Recommended!

 Do 2-4 hours ahead:
1 cup plain 2% reduced-fat Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1 1/2-in. cubes

After 2-4 hours:
photo from
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
5 garlic cloves, minced
4 cardamom pods, crushed
1 1/2 cups uncooked basmati rice
2 cups unsalted chicken stock
1 cup coarsely chopped carrot
1/2 cup raisins
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 cup unsalted dry-roasted cashews,chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons crispy fried onions
1 thinly sliced serrano chile
Lime wedges

Stir together yogurt, turmeric, cumin, and red pepper in a large bowl. Add chicken pieces; toss to coat. Cover and chill 2 to 4 hours.

Combine oil, ginger, garlic, and cardamom in a large, high-sided skillet, and cook over medium-high, stirring often, until ginger begins to sizzle and toast, about 1 minute. Add rice; cook, stirring constantly, until rice is toasted, about 1 minute. Add stock, carrot, raisins, salt, and cinnamon.

Remove chicken from marinade; discard remaining marinade. Place chicken in an even layer on rice mixture. Cover and increase heat to high; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until chicken is done and rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Remove and discard cinnamon stick. Let stand 5 minutes. Stir in cream.

Serve in shallow bowls. Sprinkle servings evenly with cashews, cilantro, crispy fried onions, and serrano slices. Serve with lime wedges.
Mediterranean Chicken and Couscous bowls  (Ckng Lght, March 2018)  
Easy peasy if you have shredded chicken on hand!  This is perfect for leftover chicken.  While the couscous cooks, assemble the "dressing" (go easy on the garlic, it lingers), and prep and assemble the "toppings".  You can assemble the bowls or serve Family Style and let folks build their own bowl.   Change up the veggies, use a ranch dressing or a buttermilk dressing and you have an infinitely versatile dish!   I did skip the raw red onion because we're not fans. The garlic lingered long enough as it was...

This made enough for three meals for two of us.  Recommended. 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Monster Hunter Nemesis by Larry Correia (MHI #5)

Monster Hunter Nemesis (Monster Hunter International, #5)Monster Hunter Nemesis by Larry Correia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Read for April book group meeting.

This is the fifth installment in the Monster Hunter International series. It can be read as a standalone, but there will be a few Huh? moments that would be explained in the earlier books. This is Franks story: it's a combination of his origin, how he came to The Deal, his downfall and redemption.

I was really looking forward to this book and yet, I had a rough time getting into the story. I think it was because I was reading two books at the same time that had world-ending government conspiracies and it was a bit much all at once.

What I didn't care for:
  • Fight scenes were way too long.   Pages and pages of smashing and shooting and throwing humans and monsters across rooms and into trains and on and on and on... I fully admit I started skipping pages to move things along.  Fight scenes can really only end one way...
  • Stricken.  Yeah, I know that was the whole point of the book.  I didn't like him at all.
  • Franks is running around making The Elixer and guzzling it by the thermos...but the story really never said how he got the original recipe. 
  • Seriously?  Meyers!?!   Just...wrong. 
  • Oh my many loose ends that had better be tied up in the next installment. 

What I enjoyed:
  • Franks origin story.  
  • The Holy Dude - Guerres.  Cool.  
  • The readers get to see MHI even if it is just for a bit.  Nice touch, that.
  • Lana the succubus (even is she is a double crossing bitch...though, Franks should have known this and accounted for her treachery. Just sayin'.)
  • I like how Franks remain Franks, but there is still character development.  It's not all hack and smash. 

So once I started fast forwarding through the overly long fight and chase scenes, the book became much more tolerable and I was able to settle in and enjoy. The first part of the book took me a couple weeks to slog though, the last part I read in a weekend.

Recommended if you've been reading the MHI series. This is Franks we're talking about here - perhaps the best character in the whole series.

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Monday, April 30, 2018

Recipe Review from 4/23/2018

Hooray! Spring has Sprung!  A WONDERFUL week of temperatures in the mid-50's, sunny, and well, Spring-ish.  My yard is still a bit to squishy to start raking or picking up sticks, though I've done the ubiquitous Tootsie Roll Patrol.   Another sign of spring - this years baby chicks are due to arrive some time next week!  Stay tuned for some peeping cuteness!

Last week was insane work-wise, but at least I was ready for it and even had a couple new recipes on deck. 

The Meal Plan from 4/23:
Sat (I was in town)  leftovers  (S)  pizza from the co-op
Sun (Husband in town) leftovers   (S)  Fritatta
Mon (yoga/legion)
Tues - Sauted farro and tomatoes
Wed (evening Mtg) - Quiche (from the Moosewood Ckbk)
Thurs (yoga)  leftovers
Fri - (off/PM yoga) - take-n-bake pizza
Sat (S)  leftover farro

Vegetable and Goat Cheese Frittata (Ckng Lght, March 2018)  gluten free, vegetarian
I am still finding dishes out of the March issue!  This was one I had my eye on and just needed to slide it on the menu.  This was perhaps the best frittata recipe I have made to date, and honestly, I thin I liked it better than my go-to quiche recipe.   It was light and poofy, great flavors, came together in half the time as a quiche and was perfect with a microgreen side salad. 

A couple small changes:
  • I added some dried tomatoes to the top.  I soaked the tomatoes for about 10 minutes (maybe less) in boiling water to soften, and then layered around the top before putting the dish into the oven.  
  • I used broccolini instead of broccoli.  I thought it would be more tender, easier to saute, and it comes in a much smaller package.  I used just the florets, and steamed the rest to go along side the farro dish coming next. 
  • I skipped the pico de gallo.  Seemed unnecessary.  
I highly recommended this dish.

7 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 teaspoons olive oil
1 (8-oz.) pkg. cremini mushrooms, sliced
4 ounces multicolored mini bell peppers, cut crosswise into 1/4-in.-thick rings
4 ounces small broccoli florets (about 2 cups)  (I used about 1 cup of broccolini florets)
1 1/2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled (about 1/3 cup)
1 medium avocado, chopped
1/4 cup refrigerated pico de gallo  (I skipped, wasn't necessary)

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Combine eggs, salt, and black pepper in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk.

Heat oil in a 10-inch ovenproof nonstick skillet over medium-high. Add mushrooms; sauté 6 minutes. Add bell peppers and broccoli; cook 5 minutes or until tender. Remove pan from heat; pour egg mixture over vegetable mixture in pan. Sprinkle with goat cheese.

Bake at 400°F for 8 to 10 minutes or until egg is set. Cut into 4 wedges; top evenly with avocado and pico de gallo.

One-pan Farro with Tomatoes (Smitten Kitchen Blog) vegetarian
My friend Gail brought this dish to my attention and I finally had an opportunity to add it to the meal plan.  This was quite tasty!  I made it nearly as written, my only change being I sauted the onion first rather than bring everything to a boil together.  I like the taste of caramelized onion in my dishes.   This is a creamy and tangy dish - don't skip the basil!  It definitely adds a flavor zing.  

This made enough for two of us for two meals, and I could see myself making this for lunches for myself later this summer.

photo from Smitten Kitchen blog
2 cups water
1 cup (updated) semi-pearled farro (see Note above for farro types)
1/2 large onion (I usually use a white one, for mildness) 2 cloves garlic
9 ounces grape or cherry tomatoes
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher or coarse sea salt
Up to 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste)
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Few basil leaves, cut into thin ribbons
Grated parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Place water and farro in a medium saucepan to presoak (I find just 5 to 10 minutes sufficient) while you prepare the other ingredients. Adding each ingredient to the pot as you finish preparing it, cut onion in half again, and very thinly slice it into quarter-moons. Thinly slice garlic cloves as well. Halve or quarter tomatoes. Add salt, pepper flakes (to taste) and 1 tablespoon olive oil to pan, and set a timer for 30 minutes. Bring uncovered pan (no lid necessary) up to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally. When the timer rings, the farro should be perfectly cooked (tender but with a meaty chew), seasoned and the cooking water should be almost completely absorbed. If needed, though I’ve never found it necessary, cook it for 5 additional minutes, until farro is more tender.

Transfer to a wide serving bowl. If there’s enough leftover cooking liquid to be bothersome, simply use a slotted spoon to leave the amount you wish to behind. Drizzle farro lightly with additional olive oil, scatter with basil and parmesan. Eat immediately. Repeat tomorrow.

The Smitten Kitchen author notesA Farro 101 note, the trickiest thing in writing this recipe was considering the different types of farro (from an Italian wheat strain known as emmer) available — as well as misconceptions, such as the notion that it can be used interchangeably with spelt. (It cannot, as spelt can take hours.). Farro comes whole/unpearled, semi-pearled (semi-perlato) and pearled (perlato); pearling describes how much of the exterior bran is removed, but packages are not always labeled. If your package says it will cook in less than 15 minutes, it’s probably pearled; if it takes around 30 minutes, it’s probably semi-pearled. And if it takes 60 to 80 minutes, it is whole or unpearled. [To make it even more confusing, I’ve been using the Rustichella d’Abruzzo brand, which labels it as “whole farro” but it is indeed semi-pearled, which is why cooking times are the best way to decipher which kind you have.] This recipe will work for all three versions (there are multiple comments below noting results for each, as well as quinoa, couscous, and even rice, just do a word search [Cntrl + f] to find the grain you’re looking to swap) but I’ve defaulted to semi-pearled below, which I find most frequently in stores. In all cases, if your package gives you a different cooking time than the 30 minutes suggested below, default to it instead.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Private: Gold by James Patterson and Jassy Mackenzie (Private #13.5)

Private Gold (Private, #13.5)Private Gold by James Patterson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: Hired to protect a visiting American woman, Private Johannesburg's Joey Montague is hoping for a routine job looking after a nervous tourist. After the apparent suicide of his business partner, he can't handle much more. But this case is not what it seems--and neither is his partner's death.

Read as an audio book. Short story.

Premise of the book is Joey is still reeling after the death of his partner and is watching their hopes in the form of Private: Johannesburg wash away with the monsoon rains. Joey is clearing out their former offices when he receives a panicked call from Isobel Collins, who is in desperate need of a body guard after hers didn't show up at the airport. Isobel and Joey find themselves on the run from someone intent on killing them, and as they begin to dig deeper into the 'why', uncover a plot that stuns them both.

Short stories are hard to write, having to distill down description and emotions but not so much so that the reader becomes disengaged from the overall plot. Private: Gold did that and actually had me wishing for a bit more. In some ways, this was a more interesting read than some of the full length Private books I've read.

I liked that our heroine was able to stand on her own two feet. Too often in mysteries I hear the ubiquitous "I don't understand!". Not in Isobel - she was engaged and took responsibility and even more so, Joey took her seriously. That alone made for a much appreciated read.

I will note, and this is where I would have liked a slightly longer book, I really didn't get a feel for the setting. Yes, it was Johannesburg, but honestly, mentally I could have plunked this in any large city.

And idle speculation - would Jack Morgan have allowed a new branch office to fail so quickly? Somehow I doubt it...

Overall, a solid short story with strong characters and a engaging plot. Recommended if you've been reading the Private series.

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