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Monday, February 26, 2007

Recipe Review 2/26/07

Oops! I fell a bit behind on my recipe reviews. Sadly I realized I also don't have any pictures to post with this one so you'll have to use your imaginations!

Squash and Pinto Bean Stew (Ckng Lght Annual 06, pg 452) 6
This was hearty and substantial and made far more than the 8 servings it called for. I followed the directions and actually made my own pinto beans and they turned out fantastic - there was a lot more than the recipe called for, but they turned out! I think the key was to use bottled spring water and not tap water, especially as my tap water is well water with a high calcium count.

I used one of my butternut squash from the garden (yes! I still have some left yet!) and a nice thick broth was made with vegetable stock and seasoned with a chipolte pepper. The whole stew itself is pretty simple, nicely flavored and very thick. I froze two tubs for a later date.

Italian Risotto with Shrimp (Ckng Lght Annual 06, pg 452) 5
The original recipe called for this to be made in the microwave (!) and as I don't have a microwave, I just did it like my other risotto recipes. It was a basic risotto, flavored with bottled roasted bell peppers, corn and shrimp. I made sure to thaw everything ahead of time so I wasn't dumping frozen items into a nicely simmering rice mixture, but I neglected to take the tails off the shrimp. So eating it wasn't as pleasant as it could have been. I also noticed the shrimp turned a bit mushy as the dish sat which also wasn't pleasant texture wise. So overall, this was just an okay dish.

Wild Rice Casserole (c/o the sister-in-law) 6
The sister-in-law (SIL) introduced this dish to me many, many years ago at a holiday dinner and I really enjoyed it for it's flavors and simplicity. I obtained the recipe...and never made it until now. A friend and I got together and made a joint dinner. I was in charge of sides and they chose to do a planked salmon (turned out fantastic by the way) and I thought a rice dish would complement salmon quite nicely. This is a make ahead and bake ahead dish: wild rice is combined with vegetable broth, mushrooms, onions, almonds and red pepper. Throw into a casserole dish, cover and bake! I did decrease the cooking temp to 300* and bake for 2 hours (down from 325* for 1 1/2 hours) with satisfactory results. Toward the end of cooking I added some extra broth and stirred to allow the rice on top to soften. I think this would be a perfect dish to add to the Thanksgiving table.

Warm French Lentils with Kielbasa (Fine Cooking, Mar 07, pg 80) 7
This was a delightful, warm dish with subtle flavors that tickled the nose and delighted the tongue. Regular lentils could be subbed with no problems, but I was feeling adventurous and bought some French Lentils at the co-op. It is a pretty simple dish: lentils, onions, seasonings, kielbasa (maybe one other ingredient...). Cook lentils with thyme, onion, carrot, bay leaf, and garlic (herbs in a cheese cloth ball) and remove. Add a splash of vinegar, add kielbasa. Serve. Very homey and comforting. I served this alongside a green salad. My only complaint was that I may have over cooked my lentils as I'm still adjusting to cooking on gas.

Stay tuned for next week when I review what happens with a blizzard and a new stove!

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain

Through a series of articles written over the last year or so from his travels and writing assignments, we are once again plunged into the gritty reality of travel, food, and a chefs world as explained byAnthony Bourdain. And, like Kitchen Confidential, he doesn't sugar coat reality...just the opposite perhaps...he gives us the grimy, the grease trap remnants, the world as it is view of food. Thus the full name of the book: The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps and Bones.

And I liked it.

Bourdain is raw. Raw like the oysters he loves . Raw as in "Noo Yawk" raw. Raw like the offal meats he's always pontificating about. He compares eating to sex, leads Michael Ruhlman on a foodie version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (I saw that episode of No Reservations!), bombast's English pubs for going vegetarian, rants against Woody Harrelson and his "raw food movement", and again describes his love of all food. Especially the food produced by the average person in Saigon, China, Rio de Janerio, Taiwan, anywhere at all actually. To him, street food is a sublime as any meal produced by Thomas Keller of French Laundry fame.

And sugar never comes into it. Bourdain is not here to tell us how much fun it is to be a celebrity chef, he's not here to tell us about the next up and coming young chef, nor to wax poetic about the newest food trend. His books are not for those who turn starry eye gazes upon Bobby Flay, Emril, Mario Batali, placing these and other celebrity chefs upon doric columns garnished with flowering herbs.

What you are going to get are the varietal cuts, usable trim, scraps and bones with a solid peppering of colorful language sprinkled throughout.

Yum yum.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Drumroll please...

rat-a-tatatatatatatatatat....

Ladies and Gentlemen! Friends and Relatives! Humans and Aliens! May I now unveil the one, the only (well, I'm sure there's more than one, but it's the only one in my house!) The new, the shiny, the...

GE Stainless Steel Gas Stove!

The sous chef didn't want to pose for this pic...

The door opens and closes with out falling off!
All four burners work!
The oven works! (Hey - I've got three racks in there!)
It's GAS!

'Tis true! After 2 months of researching, shopping, ordering, and waiting...the gas stove was installed on Monday. The stove showed up at 9:00a. The electrician at 9:10a. The gas company at 4:00p the afternoon. You might be wondering why I needed an electrician - you see, I had an electric range prior to this and that uses a 220/240 outlet. I needed to convert to a 110 outlet for a gas stove. Much to my delight, this was very easily done as he just hooked into a nearby 110 line and popped a new wire up through the floor.

Whoo hoo! I'm cooking with gas now! (Actually, I'm just thrilled to have four functional burners and a working oven again.) Stay tuned for further recipe reviews.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Omega by Jack McDevitt

To call this the sequel to Chindi would be misleading, but the book is set shortly after the Chindi story and does indeed touch upon the former book. Fortunately, one doesn't have to read Chindi to understand Omega.

Again, the known universe is beset with an "unknown object" - this time it is the Omegas, deep space clouds that portend great disaster and attack anything with right angles. Cities, past civilizations, spaceships, doesn't matter; if it has a right angle it is utterly destroyed with lightening, tornadoes, gale force winds and tsunamis.

Pricillia Hutchins is in charge of the Academy, an organization that regulates space research and exploration. One of their ships has discovered a planet complete with an advanced alien race and one of the omegas is heading right for it. Hutchins diverts what meager resources she has at her disposal and attempts two rash plans: one to try and destroy the omega (which no one has done yet) and the other to try and establish incognito communication with the planets inhabitants and convince them to flee the city before the onset of the clouds destruction in 9 months earth-time.

A ship of linguists is dispatched on a rickety ship and they quickly decipher and learn the language of the goompahs as they are named. Meanwhile, a smaller research vessel that happened to be in the area is tasked with sending the linguists as much as they can of the Goompahs language, social habits, government, etc. Surprise, surprise, the linguists rickety ship breaks down and only one of them can continue on with the the second mission ship, and it just happens to be the most obnoxious person on the ship.

Meanwhile, we leave Hutch and spend the bulk of the story with Digger and his fiance Kellie as they wander invisible around the planet - now called Lookout - planting recording devices and then moving them at the direction of the linguists. They attempt to contact one of the Goompahs and discover that the human body shape is thought to be demonic to the Goompahs and worthy of exorcisms. But somehow, the humans persevere and the Goompahs are convinced to move to higher ground just hours before the omega lashes Lookout. The attempt to divert or kill the omega failed.

This was just an okay book. Like Chindi, McDevitt leaves the great unknown hanging, unsolved, perhaps unsolvable. I appreciate that. Not everything can be answered. It was the alien content/contact that was...tedious. The main characters spend months wandering around the cities of Lookout, trying to figure out the Goompah language, their habits, inadvertently revealing themselves at awkward times (which is against "Protocol") only in the end to figure out all they needed to do to get the Goompahs to leave the cities was to invoke their gods and create some holographic projections.

So the story had some cool science and some so-so characters. And, as trivial as it is, this book had a lot of spelling errors and one obvious inconsistency toward the end of the book. Messy messy.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Recipe Review 2/12/07

I had plans to be in the Cities last week for a yoga workshop, which fell through in a spectacular fashion which included, no less, getting stuck in a snowstorm in rush hour traffic...precluded much in the way of new recipes. I consoled myself with another batch of homemade pudding. This time, appropriately, it was chocolate.

Chocolate Pudding (Ckng Lght Annual 07, pg 293) 7
This was another recipe from the pudding article from what was the August issue. This was also incredible easy to make. Boil some milk, add a mixture of sugar and eggs, boil again - at this point I was dancing around the kitchen because the time to bring the mixture back to a boil was almost instantaneous and it threatened to overflow - and add semi-sweet chocolate and vanilla. I think I'm missing a couple of ingredients in my description but you get the gist. It was tasty warm, and good after a couple of hours chilling though super rich. After sitting overnight it was darn tasty. I topped it off with some Reddi Whip and we were good to go!



And once the weekend rolled around and life calmed down, I fit in two more quick recipes:

Catfish Amadine (Eating Well, Jan/Feb 07, pg 17) 6
I was in the mood for something other than stew, risotto, or other creamy casserole-ish type dishes and this one fit the bill. A very quick recipe to assemble: slivered almonds and thinly sliced garlic are sauteed until nicely browned in olive oil and butter. A catfish fillet (I quartered the recipe) was dipped in egg and lightly dusted with a flour, salt and cayenne pepper mixture then lightly pan fried. The almond mixture was gently re-heated with a splash of lemon juice and sprinkled over the top of the fillet. The result was very satisfying. I would have had an accompaniment but I had a pudding recipe going on my second burner and thus, no veggie for me.



Vanilla Bean Pudding (Ckng Lght Annual 07, pg 293) 7
I'm still on my pudding kick - this is what happens when one doesn't have an oven, you get creative in the desert department! Saturday's selection was Vanilla (who doesn't like a good old fashioned vanilla?). Assembly was the same as the chocolate - bring some milk and vanilla bean seeds and bean to a boil, add a mixture of sugar, egg, cornstarch and half-n-half, bring back to a boil, quickly cool, then cover and put in the refrigerator. I chose this recipe in part because I actually had some vanilla beans in the cupboard. I had bought them for an angel food cake that never got made -in many ways, it's almost been more fun picking out other recipes where this rather expensive spice is required. I would also like to say this pudding was absolutely divine warm.



For those of you following my stove drama, I have an update! The new stove was ordered and I got the call on Friday that it has arrived at the store! Stay tuned for further updates.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Tar-Aiym Krang by Alan Dean Foster

On my old blog at Yahoo, I reviewed For Love of Mother Not, the first book in the Pip and Flinx novels. I enjoyed it and went out and picked up book two, The Tar-Aiym Krang. These are quick little books, brain candy so-to-speak, a light read between weightier tomes. Book two was no exception. One thing I'd like to note is it seems Foster has written these so that it is not necessary to have read the previous volume. I applaud that in this day and age of R. Jordan and G.R.R. Martin and others.

In The Tar-Aiym Krang young Flinx has moved out of the apartment he shared with Mother Mastiff into a place of his own. One evening on his way to get some dinner, he gets involved in a scuffle in an alleyway where a star map comes into his possession. The next day, a Bartender friend of his directs his attention to a human and a Thranx (think large ant) who are in need of a guide. The next thing Flinx knows he is included in an expedition to a planet in the blight system where they are looking for either a very large weapon, or a musical instrument left behind by the Tar-Aiym. The only think they know is it is named the Krang. What about the starmap? It just so happens that the two he is guiding around and the merchant who funds the trip are the ones looking for the starmap.

Like I mentioned, these are not deep technical books. The biggest thing I found in this one was that the writing style between book one and book two seemed so very different. Almost as if someone else had written the books. Book two had more background information about Flinx's home planet - some of which was different - it had slight deviations between Flinx's own street knowledge from Book one and two, and there was almost no reference to Flinx's escapades from book one.

Now the gentle reader is wondering why I haven't looked at the copyright dates and compared them, and I assure the gentle reader I would do this, except my copy of book one is currently in Savanna, Georgia, and will be there for the duration of the month.

In the meantime, I am content with having enjoyed this book and I will shortly (if not sooner) be obtaining book three. It's nice to have these little books to read between the book group selections and some of the weightier (literally) scifi that I tend to gravitate to.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

This book was lent to me as it is not my usual tendency to read fiction bestsellers. I'm also not entirely certain what I think of it.

13 year old Anna Fitzgerald is suing her parents for sole rights to her body and all medical decisions. Anna was conceived and born for the purpose of providing umbilical cells, then marrow and subsequent blood transfusions for her older sister Kate, who has a rare form of leukemia. Anna has now been asked to donate a kidney. Campbell Alexander is the lawyer young Anna solicited and Julia becomes the guardian ad litium - a court appointed overseer so to speak.

Sara is Anna's mother, and she is angered and shattered at the same time as she tries to save the life of her older daughter while the younger one, to all outward appearances wants to kill her sister. Brian, Sara's husband and father to Jesse (the older boy) and the two girls, seems to understand what Anna is doing. Jesse, as a kind of subplot, has become a juvenile delinquent who is smoking pot, doing drugs and setting fires to vacant buildings around town. The family ignores his behavior because Kate's health is more important.

Overall, I found this book to be somewhat trite and melodramatic. Sara runs around in anger telling everyone it's just a misunderstanding, Brian retreats to his job at the fire department where they are trying to figure out who the mystery arsonist is, Anna treats her lawyer like a friend, while the lawyer is quietly pining after Julia - who he met 15 years previous at a private high school and wishes he had married. Campbell also has a service dog, and the author - rather poorly in my opinion - tries to make it a big mystery that Campbell is an epileptic and the dog senses his on coming seizures.

Warning, big spoilers ahead.

The entire story (not including all the flashbacks of which there are a lot) takes place over the coarse of a week. Seems unlikely given the pace of our legal system - anyway, in the big courtroom drama at the end, Brian testifies for Anna, but not really, saying he can't decide between his girls and he breaks down and cries. Sara, representing herself because she was a lawyer 10 years ago, claims she only did what she did because she loves both girls. Campbell has a huge grand mal seizure right in front of Anna as she's testifying it was Kate who put her up to this, that Kate had had enough and if she was going to die, then let her do so with out more harm to Anna. Julia realizes she does truly love Campbell as he's flopping around the courtroom floor. Brian saves Campbell's dignity by getting him to the bathroom. Anna said all she wants is to grant Kate's wish, but that she would donate a kidney if Kate asked.

But it was this ending that really drove home just how much of a soap opera this book became: Brian goes back to work only to get pulled out on a emergency call that two cars collided at an intersection. Upon arriving he finds it's Campbell and Anna. Anna is rushed to the hospital and pronounced brain dead upon arrival - does the family wish to donate any organs? Kate gets her kidney, goes into remission, and graduates against all odds from high school.

I think this could have been a much better book if it wasn't for all the drama. The author touches on some very interesting points, such as creating a child to harvest blood, parts, etc to save another child. It could also have been an interesting examination of how a family copes with such a severe illness, but I felt that most of that was glossed over and dramatized. She also used an interesting technique in that every chapter was written from a different characters point of view, complete with different fonts. Now this was both interesting and annoying as some of the chapters felt like they were stuck in just for fillers and when a new character was introduced I found myself wondering 'where did they just come from?'

Would I recommend this book? No. But keep in mind, fiction bestsellers usually aren't my genre.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Tis a Might Bit Chilly

Gail did this over on her blog yesterday and I thought it was a really cool idea - take a picture of the temperature! When it's this cold, why not? So here is Monday morning's temperature:




Yes, that is a minus sign in front of the 23. -23 degrees at 7:15a. The bottom temp is the inside of my house. When this was taken the wind chills hadn't started yet, but they are predicting -40 degree windchills today with a high of -7. Schools are cancelled all over the region. My poor Ben dog wants so badly to be outside, so out he goes, and after 5 minutes he's right back in. We repeat this several times a day when I'm at home till I tell him to go lay down.


Soon, Ben, soon, the door will open into summer!

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Ilium by Dan Simmons

This is the SciFi book group selection for February. It's a small tome at 725 pages - which is why I was reading it early - but not very often do I get a page turner like this was. And since Ilium is a rather large book, I'm afraid my review my get a bit long. I mean, how does one sum up such a great book in an itty bitty space?

(Possible Spoilers Ahead!)

Ilium is based off of Homer's Illiad, but the reader doesn't need to know anything about Homer's story to follow the plot in this one. And in fact, there are three plots happening simultaneously. First, we have the basis for the book, the Illiad, being played out in full force complete with resplendent heroes, powerful gods, and humble scholic Thomas Hockenberry - a literary professor from the 20th century put in place by the Muse to watch and observe the battle and report any anomalies. Hockenberry is given tools to move around the battles; a morphing bracelet that allows him to assume any form so he may go unnoticed by the soldiers and heroes he watches, a quantum transfer medallion so he may teleport and zip around as need be, a levitation harness, special lenses to see farther, a recording wand, and specialized armor so he doesn't become an inadvertent casualty.

Hockenberry's trouble starts when the Muse through Aphrodite gives him the Helmut of Hades so he may spy on the Gods unnoticed. Much to his surprise, he is then tasked with killing Athena. From here, Hockenberry discovers the battle on the plains of Illium have now diverged from Homer's Illiad. Events are now up in the air as to what the outcome may be.

Meanwhile, on a much changed far future Earth, young Ada, Hannah, Daemon have met up with Harmon, who is in his fifth Twenty (nearing 100). Harmon doesn't want to "die" (be faxed up to the rings to live in resplendent idleness for ever after), so he and the others set out to try and find Savi. Savi is an almost mythological human, known as the Wandering Jew, and they suspect she knows how to get them to the rings that circle earth where the post-humans live. (Like I said, thick book, three plots, lots of concepts.) Harmon wants to bargain with the post-humans for a longer life. The three do meet up with Savi, and with the mythical yet alive Odysseus. The three recognize Odysseus from the "turin drama" they have been watching and following (which is indeed the one and the same Hockenberry is following). Ada and Hannah are instructed to take Odysseus back to Ada's home and introduce him to people while Savi, Daemon and Harmon continue their quest to reach the rings above Earth.

The third plot revolves around two Shakespeare and Proust quoting morvacs (autonomous, sentient, bio-mechanical organisms seeded though out the outer solar system by humans during the "lost age"). Little Mahnmut is pulled from the depths of Europa oceans and Orphu is selected from the fringes of the moons around Jupiter to join Koros II and Rhi Po on a mission to Mars to find out just what the heck is going on (think of investigating Iran for nuclear weapons here). On their entry, the ship is attacked by two Gods and Koros II and Rhi Po are vaporized instantly, leaving Mahnmut and Orphu to struggle on alone. Orphu was all but destroyed by the blast, leaving him legless, limbless and without sight. Mahnmut refuses to leave his one and only friend and struggles on with the larger morvac. Upon landing on Mars, they are met by LGM (little green men - I kid you not), who assist them in their quest to get the device to Mount Olympus.

Now, without revealing too much more, the three story lines are interconnected and mostly converge by the conclusion of the book. The last 1/4 of the book was absolutely fascinating as each sub-plot came step by step closer to the others. The plot with Daemon and Harmon was not as closely interlinked as the other two, but it's storyline was no less fascinating. The book does have it's few quirks and annoying characters, but I don't want to write a book about this book. You will just have to read it yourself!

Enjoy! I certainly did.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Recipe Review 1/31/07

January certainly ended on a better note than it started. I was quite concerned I wasn't going to have a good representation for the month but I did alright. January's new recipe tally is 9 new recipes!

Here are the last three:
Butternut Squash Soup (Food & Wine, Nov 06; as posted on the Ckng Lght BB) 9
This was very good. This was a delightful variation from the standard pureed butternut squash soup (which I love). Two pounds of squash is simmered in chicken broth with some leeks and celery till tender, then pureed till smooth (have I mentioned lately how much I Love my immersion blender? I may have to post a picture of my favorite kitchen tool.). Then corn, diced red pepper, and pinto beans were added along with some spinach in place of collard greens or kale. The resulting soup is bright, colorful, flavorful and delicious. Super easy to make too.

My only negative comment would be I would perhaps skip the greens next time unless serving immediately. I have found they are becoming a bit bitter as they sit. This dish makes a generous 6-8 servings.

Sweet Pea Risotto with Corn Broth (Ckng Lght Annual 07, 295) 6
This is a continuation of my exploration into the world of risotto. The bright colors grabbed my attention for this one and it helped that I already had most of the ingredients. This came together very smoothly. I don't believe in constant stirring so I can chop and clean and assemble as the risotto cooks.



This dish started out by making a corn broth. I subbed frozen corn for fresh, boiled it up, pureed (love my immersion blender!) and strained before setting aside. The rice cooked up in about twenty minutes, combined with carrots, celery and onion. After the rice was cooked I added two cups of peas and another cup of corn and grated Parmesan.

In between all this, I assembled a quick vinaigrette of white wine vinegar, olive oil, sugar, salt and garlic. I inadvertently pitched the first tub I made - I was cleaning the counter and oops! into the sink it went. I'm know to be the mad mad cleaner...

A half cup of corn broth is ladled into a bowl, followed by the pea infused risotto, and drizzled with the vinaigrette. The dish is finished with a splash of fresh grated Parmesan and parsley. The end result is an explosion of flavor. I found it almost too busy. You have the creaminess of the corn broth, the brightness of the pea, the smoothness of the rice, the dancing flavors of the vinaigrette and the mellowness of the Parmesan. It was all very good...just too many flavors at once and I found that distracting.

Old Fashioned Tapioca Pudding (Ckng Lght Annual 07) 9
I was in the mood for some tapioca pudding and when I was transferring my magazine notes into the annual cookbook, I came across a whole article on homemade puddings. This was super easy to make and delicious too. It used small pearl tapioca (which I found in the spice section at Whole Foods Co-op), milk, water, sugar, eggs and vanilla. The actual cooking times were significantly shorter than the written times, which was nice. And I confess that I didn't follow the directions exactly - the sugar was to be mixed with the egg but I missed that little detail so it got dumped in on it's own. That mistake didn't seem to adversely affect the final product, which was so good I ate a small bowl while it was still warm. Yummy! This made 5 - 1/2 cup servings. (I know this 'cause I carefully measured them out into small ramekins for individual servings.)