Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Welcome to Night ValeWelcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  From the creators of the wildly popular Welcome to Night Vale podcast comes an imaginative mystery of appearances and disappearances that is also a poignant look at the ways in which we all struggle to find matter where we live.

Located in a nameless desert somewhere in the great American Southwest, Night Vale is a small town where ghosts, angels, aliens, and government conspiracies are all commonplace parts of everyday life. It is here that the lives of two women, with two mysteries, will converge.

Nineteen-year-old Night Vale pawn shop owner Jackie Fierro is given a paper marked "King City" by a mysterious man in a tan jacket holding a deer skin suitcase. Everything about him and his paper unsettles her, especially the fact that she can't seem to get the paper to leave her hand, and that no one who meets this man can remember anything about him. Jackie is determined to uncover the mystery of King City and the man in the tan jacket before she herself unravels.

Night Vale PTA treasurer Diane Crayton's son, Josh, is moody and also a shape shifter. And lately Diane's started to see her son's father everywhere she goes, looking the same as the day he left years earlier, when they were both teenagers. Josh, looking different every time Diane sees him, shows a stronger and stronger interest in his estranged father, leading to a disaster Diane can see coming, even as she is helpless to prevent it.

Diane's search to reconnect with her son and Jackie's search for her former routine life collide as they find themselves coming back to two words: "King City". It is King City that holds the key to both of their mysteries, and their futures...if they can ever find it.

I am a HUGE Night Vale fan. Have been since the podcast hit the airwaves. So I was really looking forward to reading the book for book group.

The book, while embodying Night Vale, lacks something as the written word. This would be (and was from what I heard when I listened to the first chapter) probably better as audio. As a book...I lost interest in the characters and plot and ultimately, did not finish. I'm right about halfway through - I put it down one weekend and never went back to it.

My main contention was I didn't care about the characters. They did not engage me, they did not interest me. Jackie is running around with a piece of paper in her hand from the Man in a Tan Jacket with a Deerskin Suitcase. The paper says King City. Diane is trying to figure out how to communicate with her morphing teenage son Josh, while pursing her ex - Troy - who seems to be showing up all over town. Jackie and Diane are somehow linked, but you know what...I didn't care.

And that was the crux of my problem with the written book - it didn't engage me. I had no empathy for Diane and her son. I really wasn't interested in Jackie. The only folks I had any interest in were Old Woman Josie and the Erica's, the Vague yet Menacing Government Presence and Carlos.

All the components of Night Vale are there - the Vague yet Menacing Government Presence, the Hooded Figures, Cecil, Carlos and his gang of scientists, the interns at the radio station, The Glow Cloud (All Hail!), The City Council...every thing from the podcast makes an appearance.

But not as an engaging plot.

Again, this might be better as an audiobook - it is narrated by "Cecil" who has a fabulous voice. But written? Didn't work for me.

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Recipe Review from 11/19/2015

Winter has arrived.  We had 12*F on the porch this fine Sunday morning.   A bit chilly for my tastes, but! on the positive side, a great excuse to stay inside, watch a bit of football, read and knit.  In between the laundry and general cleaning that is.    A week of decent dishes, all in all.  

The Meal Plan:
Sat (L) leftover soup  (S) prosciutto wrapped fish
Sun (L) leftover soup  (S)  baked spaghetti
Mon (yoga)  leftover spaghetti
Tues (PM yoga)  leftover spaghetti
Wed -leftover spaghetti
Thurs (yoga) Tacos!
Fri - leftover tacos!
Sat - Dublin's for lunch

Lunches - Leftover Tuscan Stew (previous post); then
Butternut squash chili,  cornbread muffins 

Baked Spaghetti (Simply Recipes via Pinterest)
I will say upfront, this is a weekend recipe.  There is nothing quick about this dish - expect at least an hour prep on top of an hour baking.  I did a couple of notable things:  I used hot Italian sausage because I like things with a bit more flavor zing.  I had some cottage cheese in the fridge so I used that instead of ricotta.  Some of the comments on Simply Recipes indicated this is a perfectly fine substitute, so what the heck?  Why not?

This could also be made meatless very easily by either dropping the meat completely, or dropping the meat and upping the mushrooms and adding some more veggies. 

Overall, it was tasty, but I would have liked a bit more sauce to go with it.  It made good leftovers - very easy to reheat.  Again, I would have liked it a bit more saucy.  I would have an extra jar on hand to heat up and serve along side.  

There are a slew of assembly pictures and more notes on  Simply Recipes.

  • 3/4 lb vermicelli pasta or thin spaghetti (I used angel hair)
  • 1 lb bulk sweet Italian sausage (I used hot Italian)
  • 1/4 pound shiitake or cremini mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped, about 1 1/2 cups
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 cups or 24 ounces of marinara or meatless tomato sauce*
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil plus more for greasing the casserole dish
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese (I used cottage cheese)
  • 2-3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Put a large pot of water on the stove on high heat. Add salt to the water, about 2 Tbsp for 6 quarts of water. While the pasta water is heating, continue with the next steps.

2. Break up the sausage into clumps into a large sauté pan. Turn the heat on, to medium. Slowly cook the sausage, breaking it up into smaller pieces with the a wooden spoon. The slow cooking will help the fat render out. Cook until the sausage is cooked through, no longer pink anywhere, and lightly browned. Remove the sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Drain the fat from the pan (not into your sink or you may clog it!)

3. Add the chopped onions and mushrooms to the pan. Increase the heat to medium high. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions become translucent and the mushrooms have given up some of their liquid. Add the minced garlic and red chili pepper flakes, and cook a minute more.

4. Add the marinara sauce and the 1 1/2 cups of water to the pan with the onions and mushrooms. Add the sausage back to the pan.  Add the Italian seasoning and chopped parsley.  Bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to a very low simmer on the lowest simmer setting on your stovetop.  Cook for 10 to 15 minutes or so while you make the pasta.
5. By this time your pasta water in step one should be boiling. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook, uncovered, at a rolling boil, for 5 to 6 minutes, al dente. Note that the pasta will continue to cook and absorb some of the sauce when it is in the casserole dish in the oven, so the pasta should be al dente. When ready, drain the pasta and rinse in cold water.

6. Place the cooled pasta in a large bowl.  Toss with olive oil, then the Parmesan, then 2 beaten eggs. It's easiest to do this with your (clean) hands.

7. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Rub the inside of a 13x9 inch casserole dish (a Pyrex dish works great) with olive oil. Spread 1 cup of the sauce over the bottom of the casserole dish.

8. Place half of the pasta in an even layer in the casserole dish. Cover with half of the sauce. Then dot the sauce with all of the ricotta cheese. Sprinkle half of the Mozzarella over the ricotta layer. Layer again with the remaining pasta, the remaining sauce, and the remaining Mozzarella.

9. Cover with foil and bake for 40 min at 350°F. Remove the foil and bake an additional 20 minutes uncovered. Remove from oven and let rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting into squares and serving.

Lentil and Butternut Squash Chili  (Little Broken blog via Pinterest)  gluten free, vegetarian option*
Fairly quick to assemble, especially if you have the squash pre-chopped.  Which I did.   You could also use frozen pre-chopped squash - don't thaw before using, just add to pot and bring to a simmer.  While it doesn't "look" like a conventional chili, it certainly tastes like one.  I liked this a lot

photo from
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large bell pepper (any color), chopped
  • 2 cups dry brown lentils
  • 3 tsp. chili powder
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp. dry oregano
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 (14.5 oz.) cans [petite] diced tomatoes
  • 1 dry bay leaf
  • 7 cups chicken stock* 
  • 3 cups cubed butternut squash
  • 2 (15 oz.) cans pink beans or small red beans (I rinsed and drained, and added 1 extra cup of stock to mixture)
  • salt and fresh ground black pepper, as needed
  1. In a 6-quart heavy duty stockpot or dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and chopped bell pepper; saute for 5-6 minutes or just until the vegetables begin to soften.
  2. Add lentils, cumin, oregano, chili powder, and salt. Cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add tomatoes, bay leaf and stock. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and simmer partially covered for 20 minutes or until lentils are soft around the edges but firm to bite. Add butternut squash and continue to simmer for 15 more minutes. Add beans and cook for additional 5 minutes or just until beans are heated through and squash knife tender.
  4. Discard the bay leaf. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust as needed.
  5. Serve hot with your favorite toppings, such as chopped fresh cilantro/parsley/chives/green onions, sour cream, shredded cheese, tortilla chips or chopped avocado.

Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes (Ckng Lght Dec 2015)   vegetarian
Putsy.  This used three bowls for assembly: one for flour, one for buttermilk, one for egg whites.   Add in griddle pan, anything extra (sausage, bacon, eggs) and suddenly you have a sink full of dishes on a weekend morning. 

A decent pancake, but worth the egg white business?  Not in my opinion.  

3.5 oz white whole-wheat flour (about 3/4 cup)
3.4 oz all-purpose flour (about 3/4 cup)
2 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/8 tsp salt  (seriously, who does 3/8's?)
1 1/2  cups low-fat buttermilk
2 large egg yolks
2 tbsp canola oil
3 large egg whites

1.  Measure flour, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda into a large bow and stir with a wisk.

2. Combine buttermilk and yolks into a bowl;  stir with a whisk.  Gradually add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture; stir with a whisk just until moist (batter will be slightly lumpy).  Stir in oil.  Let stand 15 minutes.

3.  Place egg whites in a bowl; beat with a mixer until medium peeks form.  Spoon half of the egg whites into batter and gently fold in.  Add remaining egg whites; gently fold into batter.

4. Heat non-stick skillet over medium high heat.  Spoon 3 tbsp batter per pancake onto griddle.  Cook 2 minutes or until edges begin to bubble and bottom is browned.  Turn cakes and cook 2 minutes more or until done. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Recipe Review from 11/9/2015

Lots of good recipes last week - two of them most excellent slow cooker dishes.   And also regretfully, not so many pictures.  I'm horrible at remembering to take pics. 

The Meal Plan:
Sun (B) Banana pancakes  (L) leftovers   (S)  Roasted Chicken and wild rice pilaf (from last week)
Mon (Yoga)  leftovers
Tues (Wine Creations)  sushi
Wed (Husband surgery)  Slow cooked chicken stew
Thurs (yoga) - leftovers
Fri - leftovers
Sat - (L) leftover  (S)  Proscuitto wrapped mahi mahi

Lunches - leftover butnut squash soup;  Slow cooked southwestern split pea soup.  Crackers, fruit, yogurt, luna bars, the usual...

Banana Pancakes  (
Jack Johnson has a song about making banana pancakes on a Saturday morning.  While it wasn't Saturday, it was banana pancakes!

The Husband made these for Pancake Sunday.  He first had problems with the 'cakes sticking to the pan (cast iron).  Then he had problems with them not cooking quite all the way through.  Now that I'm looking at the recipe, I see perhaps the problem is in too much banana and oil.   There's a lot of liquid happening, and not quite enough flour to match.  One banana and no oil would have been better in my humble opinion.   His cakes certainly didn't turn out like the pic below. 

photo from
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, beaten 
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 ripe banana, mashed

  1. Combine flour, white sugar, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together egg, milk, vegetable oil and bananas.
  2. Stir flour mixture into banana mixture; batter will be slightly lumpy.
  3. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake. Cook until pancakes are golden brown on both sides; serve hot.

Southwestern Split Pea Soup  (Great American Slow Cooker Ckbk)  gluten free, vegetarian option
Another great slow cooker cook book!  What's cool about this book is they give you quantities for three different sizes of slow cookers.   Up the heat by using hot minced green chilies.  This does thicken when sitting in the fridge, so if you like yours a bit thinner, keep some extra broth on hand.  Serve with some corn chips or some cornbread muffins.  

I'm using a 4 - 5 1/2 quart slow cooker.

1 lb split green peas
2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 small can minced green chilies (mild or hot)
1/3 cup minced cilantro leaves (I skipped)
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp minced garlic
1 1/4 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 bay leaves

1. Rinse split peas, drain. put in slow cooker.
2. Add remaining ingredients.
3. Cover and cook on low for 9 hours or until peas are tender.  Discard the bay leaf before serving.

My note:  Recipe doesn't call to use an immersion blender.  I think I did.  If you like a thicker soup, start with 1 1/2 quarts of broth and add more to desired consistency at end of cooking or the next day.

Slow Cooker Tuscan Soup (Slow Cooker Revolution, America's Test Kitchen)
If you love using a slow cooker - I HIGHLY recommend this cook book!
I am not a fan of fennel - neither myself nor the Husband like the taste of black licorice.  But, I know that in certain dishes the fennel taste doesn't come through, and this turned out to be one of them.  This entire dish turned out really good!  Took about 30-40 minutes to prep, plus clean up, so a bit putsy on the front end.  But so worth it on the dinner end!  This is just a beautifully flavored dish - the creamy beans, the thyme (or savory in my case) and subtle bay flavor, the zing from the andouille sausage,  all melding together in perfection.   Some artisan bread along side would really top this off.
2 lbs chicken thighs  (I used 1.75 lb pkg)
1 lb Italian Sauces links, sliced 1/2 inch thick  (I used 8 oz sausage andouille I had in the freezer; kielbasa would also be good)
2  1 onion
1 fennel bulb (about 12 oz) tops discarded, halved and cored
6 cloves garlic, minced  (don't skimp!)
1/2 tsp dried thyme (I used savory)
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
1 qt chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine ( I used a bit more to use up the bottle)
1/3 c flour (thickener)
2 bay leaves
2 (14oz) cans cannelli beans, rinsed and drained  (I used the last of our homegrown from last year - any white bean would work)
6 oz spinach
grated parmesan for serving

Pat dry the chicken thighs.  Salt and pepper chicken.  Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium high heat and saute chicken till lightly browned on both sides. Put in slow cooker.

Saute sausage, put in slow cooker.

Add a bit more oil to pan if necessary. Saute onion, fennel garlic, tomato paste, and thyme (or savory).  Add flour and saute.  Add wine and deglaze pan.  Add 1 cup chicken stock and allow mixture to thicken.  Add to slow cooker.  Add rest of chicken stock to slow cooker.  Add bay leaves to slow cooker.

Cover and cook 4-6 hours on low.  Add beans and spinach.  Wilt spinach.  Break up chicken thighs.  EAT!  Yum.

Prosciutto and sage wrapped MahiMahi (Ckng Lght Nov, 2015)
This comes together incredibly fast so make sure your sides are ready to go before you start the fish. I served over wild rice so the rice could capture the butter mixture. 

Just...yum.  Comes together in about 20 minutes.  Recommended.

4 6oz skinless mahimahi fillets  (I also recommend, tilapia, cod, halibut, or salmon)
4 very thin slices of prosciutto
1 tbsp olive oil (I used goose fat)
2 tbsp unsalted butter
12 small fresh sage leaves (I used 1/2 tbsp dried sage)
2 tsp dry sherry (I used amontillado)
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper

1. Pre-heat oven to 425*

2. Wrap each fillet with 1 slice prosciutto

3. Heat a large, heavy, oven proof skillet over medium high heat until very hot.  Add oil to pan and swirl to coat.  Add fish to pan, top side down, and cook 2-3 minutes our until prosciutto is lightly browned.  Turn fish; cook 30 seconds. Transfer skillet to oven; bake at 425* for five minutes or until fish is done.

4. Melt butter in a small skillet over medium heat; cook 2 minutes or until butter begins to brown, swirling occasionally.  Add sage leaves to pan, and remove from heat.  Stir in sherry, kosher salt and black pepper.  Arrange fish on plates, drizzle melted butter over fish.  Serve. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Betrayer by C.J. Cherryh (Foreigner #12)

Betrayer (Foreigner, #12)Betrayer by C.J. Cherryh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  In the wake of civil war, Bren Cameron, the brilliant human diplomat of the alien atevi civilization, has left the capital and sought refuge at his country estate, Najida. But now he is trapped inside Najida—which has been surrounded by enemies—with Ilisidi, the powerful grandmother of his ally, Tabini-aiji, atevi leader of the Western Association. But Ilisidi, the wily and dangerous aiji-dowager, is not inclined to be passive, and in a brazen maneuver sends Bren into enemy territory, to the palace of Machigi, the leader of the rebels.Bren's mission is to negotiate with Machigi—a young atevi lord who has never actually seen a human—and somehow persuade him to cease his hostile actions against the West. Bren knows that the autocratic Machigi rules a fractious clan, and that his hospitality is not guaranteed. Bren's genius for negotiation enable him to make a daring trade offer to Machigi—one that seems to interest the young warlord. But Machigi is suspicious of Ilisidi's motives, and, to Bren's utter shock, evokes an ancient law that jeopardizes Bren's life. Can Bren stay alive, not alienate and not alienate Ilisidi or Tabini, while also representing the interests of their enemy?

I darn near read this in one sitting. If you haven't read the first eleven in the series, this review really isn't going to have much context because the first eleven books lay the foundation for number twelve.

Bren, the Dowager, and Cajieri are in residence at Bren's Coastal estate. Toby, Bren's brother, and his girlfriend Barb are still stuck inside the house due to a hornet's next Cajieri and his ashid (household) kicked in book eleven. Lord Geigi, has returned from the Space Station to handle a nephew who started the current mess. Cajieri's two newest bodyguards have been problematic, and when Barb is kidnapped, they go after her. And all of this leads to Bren heading to Murini to deal with the fractious and young Lord Machigi.

This is a tangled nest of Atevi politics, customs, and Bren is caught firmly in the middle of it all. He begins to realize, perhaps belatedly, just how much Ilsidii can manipulate Atevi politics across the continent and across time. What she sets in motion is something that she has had her eye on since her husband and son were assassinated and she was denied the ajii position.

Cajieri, thinking in book eleven he was going to get away from the boredom of the Capitol and go on a fishing trip, is fast growing up and learning what it means to be Atevi. He has been assigned two young Guild guards who don't mesh with his household. He is vexed, frustrated, and annoyed. When they go harrowing off after Barb and Bren is sent after her, he grows up fast. I really enjoyed seeing this side of Cajieri as more than just another point of view. He brought more to the story this time.

I could go on about the intricacies of the game of chess the Dowager has set in motion, but really, this is a book that should just be read. Highly recommended.

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Monday, November 9, 2015

Recipe Review from 11/2/2015

Another uneventful week that was busy work-wise and had me out of the office and in the field for a couple of days.  At home the garage received it's fall cleaning and organizing in preparation for winter weather.  Stuff was put away, chicken feed cans put up on some 2x4's, snowblower made accessible and as much things pushed out of the future "snow water zone" as possible.   Everything got a good sweeping.

Saturday evening we joined a group of hiking companions for a potluck dinner.  We were unable to partake in Saturday's hike, but met with everyone for supper.  Oh my!  What a dinner it was!  Fresh fruit and a charcuterie selection with honey mustard for appetizers, boneless country pork ribs, fresh salad, wild rice pilaf, and a German apple cake for dessert.  Delish!

Dinner conversation was just as fascinating as we had a interesting discussion on ethnic holiday meals and traditions that ranged from Irish, to Slovenian, to Norwegian and more. 

The Meal Plan:
Sun (L) Leftovers   (S)  Moroccan Flavored Pork Ragu
Mon (yoga) leftovers
Tues - leftovers
Wed - Stovetop Tuna Casserole;  Butnut Squash Soup
Thurs (yoga)  leftovers
Fri - leftovers
Sat  (L) leftovers   (S) potluck

Lunches - Bean and Rice burrito bowls, chips, fruit, yogurt, luna bars, the usual...
Butternut squash soup later in the week.  

Buckwheat Chia Pancakes (  gluten free, vegetarian option
Don't be put off by the serving size, seriously, four pancakes are plenty!  Besides being hearty, these taste really good - the buckwheat flour really shines.  The Husband thought they were almost like ginger cookies, minus the ginger and molasses.  That kind of hearty flavor.   We did not serve with yogurt and berries, but stuck to the traditional butter and maple syrup.  Yum!   Raspberry, blackberry or blueberry jam would also be delicious! 

Serving Size: 4 pancakes
Number of Servings: 2
10g of fiber and 12g of protein!

Arrowhead Organic Buckwheat Flour, 0.5 cup
photo form

Chia dry seeds, 2 tbsp
Egg, fresh, whole, raw, 1 large
Egg white, fresh, 2 large
Almond Breeze Almond Milk, Unsweetened Vanilla, o.5 cup
Baking soda, 1/2 tsp,
Baking powder, 1/2 tsp,
Cinnamon, 2 tsp,
Vanilla extract, 1 tsp,
Salt, at the tip of knife

Mix all the ingredients,
Cook on a skillet coated with spray.

Recipe submitted by SparkPeople user MARIA_M2FITNESS.

Mexican Rice  (SkinnyMs via Pinterest)
I had one tiny goof in this.  I was making the recipe below and mixed up how much tomatoes went where.  Oh well. I used some pre-cooked white beans I had hand.  I skipped the green chiles intending to use some hot salsa and I forgot that too.  Still, it turned out good and I would make it again.   This made enough for about five lunches.  Not enough for two of us for the week.
photo from
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small sweet onion, diced
  • 1 cup long grain brown rice (recommend Uncle Ben's Long Grain Brown Rice - not the quick or instant kind)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • Kosher or sea salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup freshly chopped cilantro
  • 1(14.5 ounce) can petit diced tomatoes
  • 1(4 ounce) can diced green chiles (optional)
  • 2 cups vegetable broth, low sodium (optional, chicken broth)
In a large skillet or sauce pan add oil, turn to medium-low heat and saute onion until tender, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and continue to saute one additional minute. Add remaining ingredients, cover, reduce heat and simmer on low for approximately 45 minutes or until rice has soaked up the liquid and is tender.

Authors NOTE: The time it takes to cook the rice will depend on the brand. Some brands take 35 minutes, while others take up to an hour. We prefer Uncle Ben's Long Grain Rice because it is tender in approximately 35-45 minutes.

Remove from heat, leave covered and allow to set 10 minutes before serving. 

Moroccan Flavored Pork Ragu (Eating Well via Pinterest) 
Don't be put off by the ingredient list - it comes together very quickly and with minimal fuss. The only thing I omitted or changed in this was the preserved lemon.  Oh, and I was out of tomato paste (even in the freezer!) so I subbed a splort of ketchup.  I'll do in a pinch.   Tasty, a bit bland (surprisingly), and made enough for four dinners.

I was also thinking the pork could be skipped completely for a vegetarian dish - just increase the carrots, butnut squash and use a whole can of tomatoes.  Maybe even add some turnip or rutabega.  Lamb or venison would also be good substitutes for pork.   Lots of options.   Recommended! 
photo from
  • 2 lemons
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 teaspoons paprika, preferably Hungarian
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, plus 1 pinch, divided
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless pork chops, (1 inch thick), trimmed of fat, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup butternut squash, diced (1/2-inch dice)
  • 1 cup carrots, sliced (1/2 inch thick)
  • 1 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup canned diced tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons preserved lemon, chopped rinsed, (see Note; optional)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco
  • 1 Pinch ground cinnamon
  • 1 Pinch ground allspice
  1. Zest and juice the lemon(s) to get 1 tablespoon zest and 2 tablespoons juice; reserve the zest. Combine the juice, 1/2 teaspoon oil, paprika, turmeric, coriander, cumin, pepper and 1/4 teaspoon ginger in a medium bowl. Add pork; stir to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.
  2. Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork and cook, stirring, until no longer pink on the outside and beginning to brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the pork to a plate.
  3. Add broth, squash, carrots, chickpeas, onion, tomatoes, preserved lemon (if using), tomato paste, garlic, hot sauce, cinnamon, allspice, the reserved lemon zest and the remaining pinch of ginger to the pan. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally; reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Stir in the pork, return to a simmer and cook, stirring, until the pork is just cooked through, 2 to 5 minutes more.
  • Make Ahead Tip: The pork can be marinated (Step 1) for up to 4 hours.
  • Note: Although entirely optional, preserved lemons make this ragu more authentic. A signature flavor in Moroccan dishes, lemons that are preserved in a salt-lemon juice mixture for at least 30 days have a salty, sweet taste and tender texture. Find them at specialty food stores or online at

Slow Cooked Butternut Squash Soup  (Gimme Some Oven via Pinterest)  gluten free, vegetarian 
Some items of note:  I didn't slow cook this because I found the recipe after I started the squash on the stove.  I was looking for seasoning ideas when I found the recipe, so this was a mid-cooking shift.  I also had 6 cups of liquid (oops, darn it! again, I was winging it early in the recipe), and I didn't add carrots.   Stovetop worked just fine. 
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
    photo from
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, cored and diced
  • 1 medium (uncooked) butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 1 sprig fresh sage
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper, or more to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste
  • pinch of ground cinnamon and nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup canned coconut milk
  • (optional garnishes: extra coconut milk and cayenne)

Add vegetable stock, garlic, carrot, apple, butternut squash, sage, onion, salt, pepper, cayenne, cinnamon and nutmeg to a slow cooker.  Toss to combine.

Cook for 6-8 hours on low, or 3-4 hours on high, or until the squash is completely tender and mashes easily with a fork.  Stir in the coconut milk.

Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until smooth.  (Or you can transfer the soup in two batches into a traditional blender, and puree until smooth, being very careful when working with the hot liquid.)  Taste, and season with additional salt, pepper and cayenne if needed.

Serve warm, with optional garnishes if desired.

Butternut Squash and Cranberry Pilaf  (A Communal Table via Pinterest)  gluten free, vegetarian option**

I made this for a potluck for about 10 people.  I did...a fair number of things different but still stayed true to the integrity of the dish.   I made my own wild rice mix using half wild rice and half brown rice, and baked it rather than a stove-top preparation.  Always turns out fantastic. I baked the rice and the squash at the same time.  Squash and onions on the top rack, rice on the bottom, squash comes out first.  When the rice was done, I combined rice, squash mixture, and cranberries, covered and let everything steam and combine.   I forgot the parsley so that didn't get added.   I served the dressing and pecans on the side because some folks just don't like nuts or can't have them. 

This turned out fantastic!  Dressing is a wonderful bright and flavorful counterpoint to the sweetness of the squash and cranberries.  The pecans add some great crunch and roasted flavor that really helps balance everything else out.  If you are looking for an alternate dish for the Holiday table, I highly recommend this one.   
  • 1 cup wild rice mix
    photo from
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock**
  • 1½ cups butternut squash, cut into ½ inch cubes
  • 1 large onion, cut into ½ inch dice
  • 1 cup dried cranberries or dried cherries
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 3 Tbsp. canola oil
  • ¼ cup minced italian parsley
  • 1 cup citrus dressing
Citrus Dressing:
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1/4. tsp cardamon
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbsp. honey
  • 1/4 lemon olive oil or 1/4 cup olive oil with zest from 1 lemon
  1. Pr- heat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a sheet pan with cooking spray. Add the butternut squash and toss with 1 Tbsp. canola oil Season with salt and pepper. Roast squash for 20 - 25 minutes or until softened and slightly caramelized. Remove from oven.
  2. While squash is roasting, combine the stock and rice in a large saucepan. Cover and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and simmer for 20 - 30 minutes until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender.
  3. While rice is cooking, heat a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add the 2 Tbsp. of canola oil. Add the chopped onions and saute for about 6 minutes until translucent. Reduce heat and continue to cook onions until slightly caramelized. Remove onions from the pan and set aside.
  4. Add pecans to saute pan and cook over medium heat, until toasted - watch closely so they don't burn!. Add the cooked rice, butternut squash, onions and dried cranberries. Drizzle with ¼ cup of the citrus dressing. Stir. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more dressing if needed. Garnish with minced parsley if desired. Serve!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

NYPD Red 3 by James Patterson and

NYPD Red 3 (NYPD Red 3)NYPD Red 3 by James Patterson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Hunter Alden, Jr., a billionaire businessman, has it all: a sexy wife, a brilliant teenage son, and an ever-growing fortune. But his perfect life shatters one horrific night when he discovers the severed head of his chauffeur, stuffed in a bag marked, in blood, with his son's initials. Now his son is missing, and the price to get him back might be too high--even for one of the world's richest men.

When NYPD Red, the elite task force for New York City's most high-profile crimes, takes the case, Detective Zach Jordon and his partner--and ex-girlfriend--Kylie MacDonald have never seen anything so unspeakable. As the investigation continues, Zach and Kylie realize that the closer they get to the truth, the more their own lives are in danger.

"Read" as an audio book.

Thoroughly enjoyed this selection. What I like about this audio book series, something that I have only come across maybe once before, are different voices for the protagonists and antagonists. Both narrators have great intonation, delivery and are distinctive enough that it works and it work very well.

Premise of the book is a decapitated chauffeur is found in a well known New York park the day after New Years. The son of a billionaire has gone missing. Kylie and Zach, New York's finest detectives, are called in to investigate. What they find is a rats nest of lies and cover-ups with international ramifications.

In between all the detective work, we have a full blown romance going on, which, in all honesty kinda rubs me the wrong way. Our good detective Josh continues to be torn between the gorgeous and single Dr. and his married - but might be divorcing - partner Kylie. Oh! The poor guy is so conflicted! Does he want the blonde, or the brunette? Blah.

However, the mystery/thriller part was very engaging and had enough subtle twists and turns to keep my attention very engaged. This is a fast read, even as an audio book. Recommended.

View all my reviews

Monday, November 2, 2015

Recipe Review from 10/26/2015

A week in which not a heck of lot happened, but it was still a busy week.  Not sure how that works...? 

The Meal Plan
Sun (L) leftovers   (S)  Gumbo
Mon (yoga/bkgrp/legion)  out or leftovers
Tues (yoga) leftovers
Wed (leftovers)
Thur (yoga)
Fri - take n bake pizza
Sat (L)  leftover soup/gumbo  (S) out

Lunches - Pumpkin Soup, crackers, yogurt, fruit, luna bars, the usual...

Creamy Pumpkin-Chai Soup  (America Test Kitchen, Slow Cooker Revolution 2)  gluten free, vegetarian option**
This is a soup folks!  In all its liquid-y glory, which, to be honest, I'm not wild about nor is the Husband.  We like our soup on the thick side.  However, this would be good for a group, served in coffee mugs, with some toasted pepitas on top and a charcuterie platter along side.  

1 cup chopped onion
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp vegetable oil
6 cups chicken broth  (**vegetable broth)
1 29oz can unsweetened pumpkin puree (I used 2 15oz cans)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 chai flavored tea bag
1/2 cup heavy cream

Saute onion and garlic in a large saucepan till softened.  Transfer to slow cooker.  Stir in broth, pumpkin, sugar, and tea bag.  Cover and cook until flavors meld.  4 to 5 hours on low.

Discard tea bag.  Working in batches (or with an immersion blender), process soup until smooth, about 2 minutes.  Return soup to slow cooker, stir in cream, and let sit until heated through.  Adjust soup consistency with extra hot broth as needed.  Season to taste. 

Turkey and Sausage Gumbo (Ckng Lght Nov 2015) gluten free
This is pretty easy to make and assemble, on the table in about 40 minutes.  I skipped the file powder (why buy a spice/thickener that I won't use again and probably isn't even sold in my corner of the world anyway).   Because I didn't use any substitute thickener like cornstarch or arrowroot, my gumbo was a bit soupier than usual.  Again, not our favorite, but it was still tasty and perfect for these blustery evenings.  I did serve this with Siracha sauce on the side because I found it to be a bit bland overall. 

2 center-cut bacon slices, chopped  I used some rendered bacon fat and skipped the bacon
3/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 1 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped celery
2 large garlic cloves, minced
4 cups unsalted chicken stock
1/2 cup chopped yellow pepper  Skipped and used one bell pepper total
6 oz andoullie sausage links, thinly sliced
1 14oz can unsalted tomatoes, undrained
1 10oz pkg sliced frozen okra
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley  I used dried herbs
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
9 oz (1 1/2 cups) cooked skinless, boneless turkey breast, shredded   I used boneless skinless chicken thighs, and cooked with the onion and bell pepper
2 tsp file powder
4 cups hot cooked rice

1.  Cook bacon in a large Dutch oven over medium heat four minutes or until crisp.  Remove bacon from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

2.  Add onion, green bell pepper celery, [chicken] and garlic to drippings in pan; saute 5 minutes.  Add stock, yellow bell pepper,  sausage, tomatoes and okra to pan; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes.  Stir in parsley, thyme and turkey; cook 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Remove pan from heat; stir in file powder.  Serve over rice. 

Magazine notes:  This gumbo is a great use for leftover roasted turkey, through cooked chicken will also work.  We skip the long-stirred roux here in favor of file powder, a thickener made from the sassafras plant; look for it on the spice aisle.  For the best results, stir in the file powder off the heat.