Thursday, February 4, 2016

Shelter by Harlan Coben (Mickey Bolitar #1)

Shelter (Mickey Bolitar, #1)Shelter by Harlan Coben

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: Mickey Bolitar's year can't get much worse. After witnessing his father's death and sending his mom to rehab, he's forced to live with his estranged uncle Myron and switch high schools.

A new school comes with new friends and new enemies, and lucky for Mickey, it also comes with a great new girlfriend, Ashley. For a while, it seems like Mickey's train-wreck of a life is finally improving - until Ashley vanishes without a trace. Unwilling to let another person walk out of his life, Mickey follows Ashley's trail into a seedy underworld that reveals that this seemingly sweet, shy girl isn't who she claimed to be. And neither was Mickey's father. Soon, Mickey learns about a conspiracy so shocking that it makes high school drama seem like a luxury - and leaves him questioning everything about the life he thought he knew.

First introduced to readers in Harlan Coben's latest adult novel, Live Wire, Mickey Bolitar is as quick-witted and clever as his uncle Myron, and eager to go to any length to save the people he cares about. With this new series, Coben introduces an entirely new generation of fans to the masterful plotting and wry humor that have made him an award-winning, internationally bestselling, and beloved author.

Read as an audio book.

Shelter overlaps Live Wire (Myron #10), giving the reader a slightly different point of view on how events unfolded. Shelter is touted as a YA, but I think there's too much Myron background mixed in for this to really be a true stand alone, much less a pure YA stand alone.

I have very mixed thoughts on this book. Mickey is a mini-Myron but with a sullen, sour attitude - no surprise, he's a teenager who has just had his world upended. Mickey is coping with sophomore year in a new school, under supervision by a guardian he detests (Myron), his mother is in rehab, his father is dead, a couple of jock bullies, the Chief of Police has a hard-on for him because his uncle is Myron, uptight teachers, girls with pretty blue eyes, homework, and now, the mystery of the Bat-Lady and the butterfly.

The teenage petulant attitude grated on me. I couldn't empathize. I really didn't like high school and I really didn't want to re-read about it. When I didn't have to listen to the whining (and there seemed to be a plethora of whining), it was a decent story.

And that's where the flip side comes in, if there had been less whining and petulant, sullen, angry teenager, this would have been a four or five star read for me. It was an interesting plot, with some good twists and turns...but, damn...the teenager aspect. Yes. I KNOW this was a YA. I've read other YA. I get the point of YA. I didn't like this YA.

I think if I hadn't read the Myron series, knowing the background that brought Mickey to this point and why Myron was doing what he was doing, maybe I could have empathized with Mickey. As it was, I couldn't get beyond Myron's self-centered anger.

Lastly, a kudos to the narrator for doing a very fine job with the voices. Well done!

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Monday, February 1, 2016

Recipe Review from 1/25/2015

Warmer temps brought snow early in the week, and even warmer temps (37*F) brought slushy melting.  Which is a good thing since it helps clear the roads off, especially after a spate of rain (yes rain! In February!) coated cars and roads in a little layer of ice.  But that too, melted and we reveled in sun and warmth. 

The Meal Plan:
Sun (L) Grilled Chicken Cordon Bleu Sandwiches   (S)  Spiced Chicken Stew
Mon (yoga/Legion/Bkgrp)  out
Tues (H&R)  leftover Chicken Cordon Bleu Sandwiches
Wed - leftover Spiced Chicken Stew
Thurs (yoga)  salmon
Fri - leftovers
Sat (L) out   (S) poached cod with rice and green salad

Lunches - Ham and bean soup, bread, fruit, luna bars, yogurt...the usual

Spiced Chicken Stew  (Martha Stewart)  gluten free
My meal planning buddy pointed me in the direction of this recipe.   I have to say, a slow cooked dish doesn't get any easier than this.  If you use baby carrots, there isn't even any chopping!  It's all plopping!  This is a bit reminiscent of a Moroccan tagine, with the flavors of cinnamon and cumin infusing everything.  The flavors are mild to mellow, more of a hint than "in your face".  I served this over Israeli couscous, but basmati rice or brown rice would be just as tasty.  

photo from
2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths (I used 1 1/2 lb baby carrots)
8 skinless chicken thighs (about 2 1/2 pounds total)
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced 1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted if desired
Couscous, for serving (optional)

Slow-Cooker Method:
  1. Place carrots in slow cooker. In a bowl, toss together chicken, garlic, cinnamon, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; add to slow cooker. Cover, and cook on high, 4 hours (or on low, 8 hours), adding raisins 15 minutes before cooking is done.
  2. Using a slotted spoon, transfer chicken and carrots to a dish (remove cinnamon stick); top with cilantro and almonds. Season cooking liquid with salt and pepper; spoon over chicken. Serve with couscous, if desired.

Oven Method:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In step 1, use a 5-quart Dutch oven or ovenproof pot with a tight-fitting lid, adding 1 cup water. Cover, and bake until chicken is tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Proceed with step 2.

 Slow Cooker Ham and White Bean Soup (Damn Delicious Blog via Pinterest)  gluten free
I've made several dishes from the blog noted above, and I have yet to be disappointed in any of them.  This was no exception. 

I bought a smoked ham bone for this dish, so I skipped the diced leftover ham because I could use what was on the bone.   What I don't like about using a smoked ham bone is the meat tends to be a bit fatty and gristly.  But, it's cheap so that's why I use it.  The other substitution was I used dried beans and pre-cooked them instead of canned beans.  We just purchased a bag of fresh northern beans and I'm looking for ways to use them. And really?  Nothing beats the taste of fresh beans - oh so creamy!  Yum!

What I liked about this ham and bean soup was the added veggies.  I have noted several variations that are basically just beans and ham, but I like a bit more flavor and color in my soup.  This assembles quickly - no need to saute anything - and smells divine while cooking.   

photo from damn delicious blog
1 leftover hambone
2 cups leftover diced ham*
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 (15-ounce) cans white beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
2 bay leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

  1. Place hambone, ham, garlic, onion, carrots, celery, beans, oregano, rosemary and bay leaves into a 6-qt slow cooker. Stir in 6 cups water until well combined; season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  2. Cover and cook on low heat for 7-8 hours or high heat for 3-4 hours. Remove and discard hambone.
  3. Serve immediately, garnished with parsley, if desired.

Grilled Chicken Cordon Bleu Sandwiches  (Ckng Lght, Jan/Feb 2016)
Well, I don't know what the heck has gotten into Cooking Light, but since about last October, they stopped posting the magazine recipes to their website.  Very annoying - I can't pin them to Pinterest for reference, and I have to type it in for review here.

This is pretty tasty,  more like a panini than a "grilled cheese sandwich".   I plan on making this dish at least one more time during the week because I have the ingredients on hand, it's simple, and comes together very quickly.

1 1/2 tsp olive oil
8 slices multi-grail country bread (or whatever you have handy)
2 oz (~1/2 cup) shredded Gruyere cheese
2 oz very thinly sliced prosciutto (I used pancetta)
1 1/3 cups shredded skinless, boneless chicken breast
2 tbsp reduced fat sour cream
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp fresh thyme

Simplified directions:
Mix sour cream and Dijon mustard together. 

Butter both sides of the bread. 

Make a sandwich out of the above ingredients and lightly grill on the stove like a fancy grilled cheese sandwich or panini.   If you have a George Foreman grill or panini maker, even better!  Use that.  Eat! 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Praxis: Dread Empire's Fall by Walter Jon Williams (Praxis #1)

The Praxis (Dread Empire's Fall, #1)The Praxis by Walter Jon Williams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  All will must bend to the perfect truth of The Praxis.

For millennia, the Shaa have subjugated the universe, forcing the myriad sentient races to bow to their joyless tyranny. But the Shaa will soon be no more. The dread empire is in its rapidly fading twilight, and with its impending fall comes the promise of a new galactic order... and bloody chaos.

A young Terran naval officer marked by his lowly birth, Lt. Gareth Martinez is the first to recognize the insidious plot of the Naxid -- the powerful, warlike insectoid society that was enslaved before all others -- to replace the masters’ despotic rule with their own. Barely escaping a swarming surprise attack, Martinez and Caroline Sula, a pilot whose beautiful face conceals a deadly secret, are now the last hope for freedom for every being who ever languished in Shaa chains -- as the interstellar battle begins against a merciless foe whose only perfect truth is annihilation.

January 2016 book group selection.

This was my second reading of the Praxis, and I have to say I enjoyed this just as much the second time around. The Praxis is classic space opera - grandiose worlds, tyrannical aliens, wormholes, caste system, fantastic Cities and backwater planets and colonies, military intrigue and backstabbing, space battles. This has it ALL.

I will also note up front, this is not a stand alone book. If you want to find out what happens, you'll have to read the next two in the series. No hardship there, they are just as enjoyable as book one.

The book follows the paths of two people: Gareth Martinez, a Peer, lower ranking lieutenant, not well liked by other peers due to his back-planet, low brow accent. And Caroline Sula, disgraced Peer, has a secret, and is by her own admission, the second luckiest person in the universe.

When the last great Shaa passes, the Naxid's decide to revolt, in a universe that hasn't experienced any significant turmoil in thousands of years. Everyone is taken by surprise. Martinez and Sula find themselves thrust into situations and roles they never predicted or even imagined for themselves.

This is a fun, fast paced, classic space opera that would be great for reading while traveling, on vacation, or while commuting.  

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Monday, January 25, 2016

Recipe Review from 1/18/2016

A small rant regarding recipes calling for fresh herbs when it looks like this outside:

I've noticed an increase in the use of fresh herbs across recipes sources.  Which is fine if you live in a place they are readily available (Florida) in January, but not so much where winter blankets the land for nearly 6 months out of the year.   Buying fresh herbs at the standard grocery story is cost prohibitive for what you get.  .5oz/1oz = $3.00, more if it's organic.   For 1 tsp or tablespoon that is generally used as a finishing touch.   I recently purchased some cilantro for a dish, it was $1.00 for a bunch, I like the taste of cilantro, so I thought what the heck.  By the time I got around to using it mid-week, it was a small bag of decomposing mushy leaves.  Yeah, that worked out well. 

I hear the arguments that fresh tastes better, I can freeze what I don't need (but then it's not fresh any more), and there are all sorts of gizmos and gadgets to help keep the produce in tip top shape.  Never mind the fact it's been shipped from California or Mexico.  People, it ain't fresh the moment it's picked and shipped 2000 miles.  

Yo. Magazine editors.  Let's get realistic here. Perhaps on your salary you can afford fresh herbs every week.  But for the rest of us home cooks just trying to put a decent dinner on the table?  Not happening...

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest....

The Meal Plan:
Sun (L) Chicken and Seared Avocados (S) Tuscan Soup
Mon (Yoga) leftover chicken and avocados
Tues (Vet AM/Block) Chicken Sausage and Broccoli Rabe
Wed - leftovers
Thurs (yoga) Salmon
Fri (Block) leftovers   grilled cheese

Lunches (Husband) Sandwiches  (Me) Tuscan Soup

Tuscan Soup (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)  gluten free
The Husband ordered us a bag of fresh dried Northern Beans, and I had this recipe bookmarked as one way to use them.  It's a tiny bit putzy (it's a Cooks Illustrated recipe, it's going to be a bit putzy) and a bit simple on the ingredients.  Perhaps too simple.  I ended up adding the spinach for some color and flavor. 

My other substitution was I used ham instead of pancetta.  Mixed thoughts on this substitution - I didn't have access to a chunk of pancetta, only the little thin slices and decided mid-assembly to use ham.  It added flavor sure, but it became more like a ham and bean soup than pancetta...but there's not much difference between the two. So...there it is.

6 oz pancetta, cut into 1" cubes  (I used ham)
12 cups water, plus extra as needed
2 cups (1 lb) navy or cannelli beans
1 large onion, unpeeled and halved
       plus 1 small onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
       plus 3 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
1/4 cup EVOO, plus extra for serving
1 spring fresh rosemary  (I used dash of dried)
Balsamic vinegar, for serving
6 oz fresh baby spinach, washed  (my addition)

1) Cook pancetta (ham) in a dutch oven, add large halved onion, unpeeled garlic cloves, bay leaf and beans.  Cover, bring to a boil, and simmer(!) until beans are softened.  This took about 1 1/2 hours for my beans.

2) Remove from heat, drain liquid into a large bowl and set aside.  Discard onion, garlic, bay leaf. 

3) In same Dutch oven, saute diced onion in 1 tbsp olive oil until soft.  Add minced garlic cloves and rosemary; cook until fragrant.  Add reserved liquid and beans.  Bring to a boil and simmer for about 20 minutes.  Remove from heat, add spinach and allow to wilt.  Drizzle with olive oil before serving.

Skillet Chicken with Seared Avocados (Ckng Lght, Jan/Feb 2016)  gluten free
Don't be put off by the ingredient list below.  This dish comes together very quickly and easily.  I did substitute chicken thighs for chicken breasts (I think they taste better).  The overall flavor of this dish reminded me of fajitas.   The seared avocados were new to me, and worked very well in this dish.  Husband really liked this one - I will probably bookmark this and try a variation on the grill later this summer. Some cornbread as a side would be outstanding.   This made enough for two meals plus enough for an additional dinner for one.  Recommended!

1 tablespoon olive oil
photo from
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ancho chile powder
Cooking spray
2 small ripe avocados, halved and pitted
1/4 teaspoon sugar
2 medium red onions, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick rings
4 green onions, trimmed
1 poblano pepper, sliced
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon lower-sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup reduced-fat sour cream
2 to 3 tablespoons water
8 cilantro sprigs
4 lime wedges
1 teaspoon aleppo or other coarse red pepper (optional) 

1. Preheat oven to 450°.

2. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Sprinkle chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt, black pepper, and chili powder. Add chicken to pan; cook 4 minutes. Turn chicken over; cook 1 minute. Remove chicken from pan (chicken will not be fully cooked).

3. Wipe pan clean with paper towels. Coat pan with cooking spray. Increase heat to high. Sprinkle avocados with sugar. Add avocados, cut side down, to pan; cook 2 minutes or until charred. Remove avocados from pan. Recoat pan with cooking spray. Add red onions; cook 3 minutes or until charred. Turn red onions; add green onions and poblano. Cook 3 minutes. Separate red onions into rings; toss with green onions and poblano. Stir in lime juice and soy sauce. Nestle chicken and avocados into onion mixture. Place pan in oven; bake at 450° for 7 minutes or until chicken is done.

4. Remove pan from oven. Combine sour cream and water in a small bowl until thinned to a saucy consistency. Drizzle sour cream mixture over chicken and avocados. Garnish with cilantro and lime wedges. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and aleppo pepper, if desired.

Chicken Sausage and Broccoli Rabe (Ckng Lght, Jan/Feb 2016)
This comes together very quickly, is a great way to use up some leftovers, and pretty darn tasty.  I used some leftover chicken andoullie sausage, and subbed broccolini for the broccoli rabe.   I had some asiago cheese to sprinkle over the top.  Yum!   This made enough for two of us for about two meals.  

Recipe notes:  If broccoli rabe is a bit bitter for your family or if you have trouble finding it, chopped broccoli would be a delicious substitute. Serve with extra lemon for more zip.

2 quarts water
photo from
8 ounces uncooked multigrain penne pasta
1 pound broccoli rabe, trimmed and coarsely chopped  (I used 1 pkg of broccolini)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 (3-ounce) smoked chicken sausages, each diagonally cut into 8 pieces
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 ounces pecorino Romano cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup) 

1. Bring 2 quarts water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add pasta; cook 7 minutes. Add broccoli rabe; cook 2 minutes. Drain pasta mixture, reserving 2/3 cup cooking liquid; keep pasta warm.

2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add sausage to pan; cook 6 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally. Add 2/3 cup reserved pasta water, pasta mixture, pepper, and salt to pan; bring to a boil. Cook 2 minutes or until slightly reduced. Stir in juice, and sprinkle with cheese.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Episode VII)

I am a HUGE Star Wars fan.  Loved the original series (now known as Episode IV, V, VI).  I did not care for Episodes I, II, III.  In fact, I don't think I ever saw Episode III, and I wanted to walk out of II when I saw it in the theater.  Note to self, don't sit away from an aisle in a crowded theater.

Then word got out in 2015 that the new installment was going to be released in Dec.  I had plans to go to opening day...until I found out tickets were sold out.  I really don't like crowded theaters.  So I waited a month, grabbed the Husband on a chilly Saturday morning and caught a 9a show.

I can safely admit, I'm glad I waited and that I didn't pay full price to see this.  It was well made, visually fantastic (loved the desert world Jakka and the broken ships), and ultimately, disappointing.   Yes.  Disappointing.  The Force Awakens was basically Episode IV (the very first movie) all over again.  The following may contain spoilers, but really, I doubt it.  How can I spoil something you've already seen?  But, you've been duly warned...  stop here if you have any qualms about spoilers.  

Luke grows up on desert planet under the care of aunt and uncle.
Ray grows up on desert planet as a scavenger for a slaver.

Han Solo flys the Millennium Falcon through a few tight spots.
Ray flys the Millennium Falcon through a few tight spots.  

R2D2 is our only hope.
BB3 is our only hope.

Han is wanted for debts (Boba Fet).
Han is still wanted for debts (two bounty hunters board his ship this time!).

Millennium Falcon flees large thing with teeth.
Millennium Falcon flees large thing with teeth. 

Bar on Tattoie to find a way off planet (lo! we met Han Solo).
Bar on some green planet to find Luke.   Music was better in the Cantina...

Yoda squints at Luke and speaks prophecy.
Little woman creature at bar squints at Ray and speaks prophecy.

A Death Star.
A very BIG Death Star that has the same structural flaw as the first Death Star. 

Darth Vadar chops off Luke's hand, Luke recovers on spaceship.
Ren slices up Fin (FN), Fin recovers on spaceship.

Han Solo served with the Imperial Navy.
Fin served with Imperial 1st Order.

Epic battle between Darth and Luke.
Not quite so epic battle between Ren and Han Solo.

Sword fight between Obi Wan and Darth Vadar.
Sword fight between Ren and Ray.

Have to blow up Death Star.   "Just like shooting womprats back home!"
Have to blow up Death Star.   "Wahooo!!!"   No womprats tho....

How does Ren, newly awakened to The Force, suddenly seem to know what to do and how to do it when it took everyone else years to master?   A couple of deep breaths and she's got it down pat.  Maybe girls do learn faster. 

Observation - doesn't anybody change their clothes in space?  Conceivable that wash machines and water are hard to come by, but one would think that would make it all that more important to change clothes every once in a while. 

And can we get any cornier with the Nazi reference to Nuremburg?  I thought we were done with Nazi's in Indiana Jones.

I'm sure I'm missing more than a few comparison similarities, but you get the idea.  Thankfully, it's only a 2 hour movie.  I admit, I got extremely fidgety at the 1.5 hour mark.

But all of this begs the question, why is so much the same?  To what purpose will all of this serve as the next two installments come out?  Wait, we must.  

I mentioned up top that I liked the movie visually.  Yes, some damn impressive scenery in this one - Jakka was just cool.  The x-wing fighters zipping across the lake was just cool.  The tentacled monsters on Han's salvage ship awesome.   So, yes, some very good CGI effects.   And I have to admit, JJ Abrams knows when and how to end a movie.   I liked the ending a lot. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Recipe Review from 1/11/2016

It was cold this week.  Then it warmed up "a bit" (20*).  Then it was cold again.  And windy.  Like, knock the breath out of you windy.

So I stayed inside and did my daily walk-abouts in the skywalk system for my breaks at work.   Almost three miles of skywalk that I can break into segments and stretch my legs out on inclement days.  Nice! 

The Meal Plan:
Sun (L) Pizza to console ourselves from the Vikings loss...  (S) Veggie Boulangese
Mon (yoga) leftover pasta
Tues (H&RB) leftovers
Wed - Mushroom and Chicken Marsala
Thurs (yoga)  salmon
Fri (H&RB)  leftovers
Sat - (L) out  (D) leftovers

Hollandaise Sauce  ( and Martha Stewart)    gluten free, vegetarian
I caught Martha Stewart's Cooking School on PBS Create, an episode on sauces.  She started out with a Hollandaise Sauce, and I was totally hooked.  I've made it once before following Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by I have to say,  Martha simplified.

So I made some the next morning.  OMGosh!  Talk about easy and sooo tasty!   I combined two recipes - I used the ingredients from AllRecipes but the directions from Martha.

You can serve this over just about anything - Eggs Benedict or  Florentine is what comes to mind, but asparagus, broccoli, fish...your imagination is the limit.   

(All Recipes)
Eggs Florentine with maple-glazed bacon

1/2 cup butter
(optional - 1/4 tsp dijon mustard; just a small dollup, no more)


Whisk yolks in a large heatproof glass bowl until they begin to turn pale, about 1 minute. Whisk in 4 1/2 teaspoons warm water. Set bowl over a pan of barely simmering water; heat yolk mixture, whisking vigorously, until thickened, 2 to 3 minutes (do not overcook). Remove bowl from pan. Whisk in lemon juice. 
Whisking constantly, pour in melted butter, one drop at a time at first, leaving milky solids behind; whisk until thickened. Season with salt. If not serving immediately, pour hot water from pan into a separate (cool) pan; set bowl on top. Keep sauce warm, whisking occasionally, up to 30 minutes. If sauce becomes too thick, whisk in warm water, 1 teaspoon at a time, to thin.

Slow Cooker Jambalaya  (Food Network via Pinterest)
This recipe was inspired by the pkg of shrimp I had in the freezer from a different recipe that never got made.  This comes together very quickly (even more so if you don't have to run to the store for the can of tomatoes).  I did err on the side of caution with the the heat - it's easier to add some hot sauce if it's too bland, than it is to suffer from an overly hot dish.  I did add half a package of okra - probably not "authentic", but it was in the freezer and I like it with my Southern food. 


1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 pound andouille sausage, diced
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons Cajun or Creole seasoning*
*(I used 1/2 tsp 'very hot' Cajun...could have used 1 tsp)
1 teaspoon hot sauce
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 pound frozen peeled and cooked shrimp, thawed
I added 8 oz diced frozen okra

In a slow cooker, combine chicken, sausage, tomatoes, onion, green pepper, celery, and chicken broth. Stir in oregano, Cajun seasoning, hot sauce, bay leaves, and thyme.

Cover, and cook on LOW for 7 hours or on HIGH for 3 hours. Stir in the thawed shrimp, cover and cook until the shrimp is heated through, about 5 minutes. Discard bay leaves and spoon mixture over cooked rice.

Veggie Packed Bolognese (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 2016)  gluten free option**
Several notable alterations: I skipped the dried porcini mushrooms totally.  The store didn't have them that I could find, so I said screw it.   Honestly?  Not missed.   I used 8 oz hot Italian sausage because I had it on hand in the freezer (yay! freezer reduction!).  And most notable, I subbed spaghetti squash for the butternut.  No way was I going to putz around trying to cut "noodles" out of a butnut.

This also came together fairly quickly, but only because I prepped everything earlier in the day, including baking the squash.  You could also easily skip the squash and just serve the sauce over noodles.  So when it came time to cook, it was open, dump, cook, clean dish and stir sauce.  This is NOT a weeknight recipe.  

Overall, pretty darn good!  I served it with Parmesan cheese and a side of a rustic boule and olive oil. 

2/3 cup boiling water
1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
1 tbsp canola oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
3/4 cup finely chopped carrot
3/4 cup finely chopped celery
8 oz cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
6 oz 90% lean ground sirloin  (I used hot Italian sausage)
3 tbsp unsalted tomato paste
1 tsp dried oregano
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
2 (8oz) cans unsalted tomato sauce
12 oz peeled butternut squash  (I subbed spaghetti squash)
4 oz whole wheat spaghetti

1) Pour boiling water over porcini in a small bowl; let stand 15 minutes.  Remove porcini with a slotted spoon; finely chop porcini and and reserve soaking liquid. 

2)  Heat a large skillet over medium heat (larger than 12").  Add oil to pan; swirl to coat.   Ad onion, celery, carrot and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add cremini mushrooms and garlic; cook 6 minutes or until mushroom liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally.  Add beef, cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add tomato paste, cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Stir in porcini, oregano, salt pepper and tomato sauce; pour in porcini liquid, stopping before grit a bottom of bowl reaches sauce.   Bring to a boil reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 12 minutes or until thickened, stirring occasionally to keep sauce from sticking.

3) Run squash through a spiralizer to create noodles, or cut into long noodles with a julienne peeler; set aside.   Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat, and adding butternut noodles during last two minutes of cooking time.  Drain.   Serve with sauce.

Mushroom and Chicken Marsala Bowls  (Ckng Lght, Jan/Feb 2015)  gluten free
This is just a bit putzy, what with the washing and chopping a pound of mushroom, then staging the sauteing - cook spinach, set aside; cook 'shrooms, set aside, cook chicken, and rest, and then recombine.   Still, it was tasty, if not a bit heavy on the chicken.  I totally get this is a "flip" dish, where the idea is to "flip" the meat and veggie quantities, but it really could have used 4 chicken thighs, not two.  Definitely plenty of sauce and side toppings if you did so.

I thought I had a pic of this, but I don't see it on my phone.  Oh well.  Imagine mushrooms in a light gravy with some green spinach all over quinoa.  Yum!

2 1/2 tbsp butter, divided
1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 cups unsalted chicken stock, divided
3/4 tsp kosher salt, divided
1 1/2 tbsp canola oil, divided
1 (6oz) package fresh baby spinach
1 lb mushrooms, quartered
8 oz skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces
1/4 cup shallots
1 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry Marsala wine (I used sherry)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

1) Melt 1 1/2 tsp butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add quinoa to pan; saute 3 minutes or until toasted and fragrant.  Add 1 1/4 cups stock bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 12 minutes.  Remove from heat; let stand 10 minutes, stir in 1/4 tsp salt.

2) Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 1 1/2 tsp oil to pan; swirl to coat.  Add spinach; cook 1 1/2 minutes or until beginning to wilt.  Remove spinach from pan.

3) Melt 1 1/2 tsp butter in pan.  Add 1 1/2 tsp oil; swirl to coat.  Add mushrooms; cook 8 minutes turning to brown on all sides.  Remove mushrooms from pan.

4) Add remaining 1 1/2 tsp oil to pan; swirl to coat.  Add chicken to pan; saute 4 minutes browning on all sides.   Add shallots, thyme, and garlic; saute 1 1/2 minutes.  Add wine and remaining 1/4 cup chicken stock, scraping pan to loosen brown bits.  Cook 2 minutes or until liquid is reduced by two-thirds and becomes slightly syrupy.  Remove from heat.  Add remaining 1 1/2 tbsp butter, mustard, pepper and salt, stirring constantly until butter melts.  Stir in mushroom and spinach.  Serve over quinoa.