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Monday, September 29, 2008

Recipe Review from 9/22/08

This was "The Week" - The Mom's 60th birthday party and the Parent's 40th Wedding Anniversary party. I had initially planned a Greek Menu - I was going to do tabboli, an eggplant and chickpea dish, beef and chicken skewers with taziki sauce, roasted red pepper hummus with pita wedges, a Greek salad and baklava. I felt this would work for our families vegetarians, the allergies and meat eaters and would just be darn fun.

But then I received the Sept issue of Ckng Lght and there was a slew of Chili recipes. Doubts, angst and second thoughts crept in...yup, two weeks out I changed the menu.

So for the big night and nine people we gathered and enjoyed a Fall Chili Menu:

The Husbands Chunky Beef Chili
White Chili (chicken) Ckng Lght Sept 08
Zesty Wheat Berry and Black Bean Chili (vegetarian) Eating Well, Mar/Apr 07

Autumn Salad Ckng Lght
Cornbread Cooks Illustrated
Bread sticks

Apple pie
Carrot Cake Cupcakes Ckng Lght Annual 06, pg 123
Penzey's Apple Bread Penzey's Catalog - Fall 05?

Only the White Chili was new. The Husband's Chili has been one he's been making for oh, years and years. I made the Wheat Berry Chili back in 07 and really enjoyed it for it's bright flavors.

White Chili (Ckng Lght Sept 08, pg 82)4.0
This was super simple to make. Onion and garlic are sauteed till soft. Chicken thighs are added to the pan and brought to a boil then the thighs are simmered until done - about 15 minutes or so. I subbed thighs for breasts, a bit cheaper for feeding a group. The thighs are removed from the broth, to which 2 tbsp of cornmeal and a can of white beans (I used great northern because I had a can on hand) are added. This makes the broth nice and thick. The thighs are diced and added back in. That's it! Top with your favorite toppings.

I also made this dish midweek. Super good!
Slow cooker Tex Mex Chicken and Beans (Ckng Lght BB c/o Everyday Foods Nov 07) 4.5
A slow cooker dish doesn't get much simpler than this - or as versatile! In a slow cooker I combined one cup of dried beans, one cup water, a jar of salsa (I chose green salsa), chipolte in adobo sauce, chicken thighs (cheap! cheap!) sliced red onion and a sliced sweet pepper of choice. Cover and cook slowly for 6-8 hours -depending on your slow cooker and adding a tich more liquid if necessary.

Based on comments on the BB, I only used two chipoltes and it was plenty spicy. The recipe was also noted as serving 4, but I know that with a side of rice, I had easily 4 meals. I did freeze one tub for a later date. Oh, and I heated up some corn tortillas and made little tacos/burritos. But really, a person could do just about anything with the mixture, it's that good and versatile.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Call of the Cthulhu and other Wierd Stories

This was my Scifi book group’s selection for October. I was quietly hoping we'd pick Dracula as we read Lovecraft last year for October, but the size of Dracula put some people off.

This anthology was much better than The Thing on the Doorstep and other Weird Stories. Or maybe I was just more open to this genre this year. Whatever the case, I found this selection of short stories to be rather interesting and fascinating. There are always exceptions, of course - a couple of the stories seemed to me more streams of consciousness than an actual story. But out of the 15 or so, it was only a couple so-so ones.

I was especially looking forward to the Call of the Cthulhu and found that one disappointing. But at least now I have educated myself a bit on the whole "Cthulu" cult bit that keeps showing up at various scifi conventions.

I would recommend this short story selection - it's a fascinating look at early horror from a master. And take time to read the notes at the back of the book, I found those just as fascinating as the stories themselves.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

I liked this book - but with reservations.

The premise of the story is we follow a young Locke Lamora from the time he is picked up by the Master of the Thieves, and sold to the Temple of Perendelo and his subsequent training as a very masterful thief. We see how he becomes the leader of his "Gentlemen Bastards" and follow them on their adventures as they rid the rich of their wealth.

First, Lies of Locke Lamora has a two track story line - the plot bounces between Locke's past and his present situation. This...annoyed me. I am a linear person and I like things to putter along from point A to point B, and not deviate to point M then back to C then over to T, etc etc. Still, it was written well enough that I could mostly set aside my grievance and enjoy the story up until about 2/3 of the way through

My second reservation was the ending. I understand the tendency of an author to heap mounds and mounds of insurmountable troubles on their characters so they may triumph against all odds in the end, but this ending, for me, was over the top. Between bouncing from past to present and extraordinary troubles, I lost interest.

What I did enjoy, was the world of Camorr. Very cool. And I enjoyed the grimy underbelly world of the thieves, beggars, gang bosses and all the rest. I recognized similarities to say, The Scar, but it wasn't as depressing or dark and definitely had more humor. It's just too bad that that the plot became so implausible for me.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Recipe Review from 9/15/08

Urk. I have two recipes for review and I left my notes at home. I’ve had limited access to a computer this past week and weekend so I’m going to try and do this from memory (ha!). Sorry, no pics this week.

Black Bean and Tomato Soup with Lime Cream (Ckng Lght, Sept 08) 4.0
This was so easy and convenient to make that I would flag this one to make again. Bits of chopped bacon are fried, and just a teaspoon of bacon drippings are left in the pan. Onion and, in this case, swiss chard stalks as a sub for celery, are sauteed until softened. Cumin, chipolte chile powder and minced garlic are added and briefly toasted. A can of diced tomatoes, a can of black beans and a can of vegetable broth are added and everything is brought to a simmer. Then with the help of my FAVORITE kitchen tool (my immersion blender!) I blended until just a tich chunky but mostly smooth. I sprinkled the leftover bacon crumbles on top.

The lime cream was sour cream mixed with lime rind and lime juice. Reminded me of a margarita on the rocks. Yum! The Husband thought it was a bit to lime-y, but I loved it. The whole of dinner was ready in about half and hour.

Potato Gnocchi with Swiss Chard and Ricotta (Culinary in the Country) 4.0
I had some potato gnocchi languishing away in the freezer and some beautiful Swiss chard out in the garden and this dish called to me. I used Barilla marinara for the sauce and added some fresh zucchini and Swiss chard stems. So simple to assemble - mix ricotta cheese with an egg, thin sliced basil, mozzarella, asiago, and crushed red pepper. Layer sauce, potato gnocchi, zucchini, thinly sliced chard, ricotta mixture and top everything with some mozzarella. Bake till bubbly and cheese is nicely browned.

I wasn’t sure if the Husband was going to like this. When he first saw the picture he made the comment that it didn’t look very good. I waited a while before added it to the menu rotation and much to my delight, he really liked the dish. It’s definitely a cheesy gooey mixture, but with a side of bread, very good for a fall meal. This made enough for two meals.

I’ve got two more new recipes planned for this week:
Broccoli, Pine Nuts and Campanelle Pasta (c/o Culinary in the Country)
Slow-cooker Tex-Mex Chicken and Beans (Ckng Lght BB)

And, next week will include a review of the Mother’s 60th Birthday and the parent’s 40th Wedding Anniversary Party. It’s just immediate family, but there might be 12 of us if all the siblings can make it. I’ve got a fun menu planned (at least I think it’s fun). Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Killer Stitch by Maggie Sefton

A Killer Stitch is #4 in Maggie Sefton’s Knitting Series. It’s almost Christmas and Kelly is settling into her new home in Fort Connor, Colorado. Money is coming in from her Wyoming ranch and her accounting consulting work is keeping her busy, but a pall hangs over the festive spirit at the House of Lambspun. An alpaca ranchers death in Bellvue Canyon has the knitting regulars concerned. Diane, friend of Jennifer - and Kelly’s friend - is under suspicion of murder. But it doesn’t stop there, the group finds out Lucy, the spinning instructor, is pregnant with the dead man’s child. Jennifer is convinced Diane didn’t do it. Kelly thinks Lucy is hiding something more. Once again, Kelly finds herself unraveling a murder while trying to ignore Steve’s amorous advances, putting a bid in on Geri’s ranch (from Book 2), knit, work, play tennis for a charity event, helping Jayleen with a charitable children’s Christmas party and drinking her numerous cups of coffee.

I felt this one was pretty good. I’m still convinced there are way too many characters - especially when the author starts introducing “outside” characters - friends of friends. I still applaud Sefton’s knack of bringing the murder to Kelly with witness present (lately Burt, the retired detective) rather than having our heroine rushing off alone to her great peril. I am getting tired of Kelly not acknowledging Steve’s romantic intent, though in this one his intent was more difficult to ignore. My guess is a marriage proposal is but a couple books away. So while the book has its quirks, I am still interested enough to keep reading the series.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Recipe Review from 9/8/08

Wow. This is a first in a long time! No new recipes this week. I had a couple planned, but schedules and leftovers shifted them to this coming week. I did make a repeat recipe and tried out a news spice, so I'll review those.

Simple Italian Meat Sauce (Cooks Illustrated, Mar/Apr 08, pg 8)
I reviewed this 2/8/08 and gave it a good rating. I had noticed in my notes that I had used buffalo then, and I used buffalo again this time. But for some reason, I was not as pleased with the results. I think it was because I made it in a saucepan instead of a frying pan and the burger did not crumble as I would have liked. The recipe also calls for draining the diced tomatoes, but I ended up putting all the liquid back in as it seemed to be a bit on the dry side when it came time to simmer. It again made a very decent amount, and I froze about 6 cups worth. Very handy to have some sauce on hand. You can read the original review here.

Photo from

New Spice review: Penzey's BBQ 3000
The Husband wanted to do more dry rubs this summer when grilling, and on a visit to Penzey's I grabbed a small jar of this to sample. I thought a simple meal of grilled chicken, corn-on-the-cob and a salad would be delightful this past week, and picked out a package of chicken thighs (great for grilling) and a small package (is there such a thing? No! But that's another rant...)of bone-in chicken breasts. I sprinkled the seasoning on ahead of time and let it sit until I was ready to pull dinner together. I liked the seasoning well enough, but found it a bit on the salty side. But that could be me. I don't use a lot of salt in my cooking. Might have been the chicken too - it was very juicy. Still I think this is going to be a pretty versatile rub and will look for other ways to use it.

This coming week is also going to be a bit of a slow week recipe wise. I have one new one planned - a Black Bean Soup with Quesadilla's. It is my intent this week to use up some spinach turnovers with some meat sauce, plus I think I'll be going out to eat for at least one meal for the Husbands birthday. Don't know yet. He's been a bit indecisive about what he wants to do.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Knitting Project #19: Little A’s new hat, and a new arrival!

Little Amelia turned two on Monday and her parents threw a lovely 2nd birthday for her this past weekend. The bonus was I got to see the new arrival, little Lydia!

Lydia came into the world on Sunday, August 24 at 10:00a. She was about 7lbs. Lydia was just under a week old in this picture.

Little Amelia loves the color pink. I had knit little Finny a hat for his birthday (still haven’t gotten a picture of him in his hat) and decided I needed to do the same for Amelia. I found a lovely pink merino wool:

I used my favorite London beanie hat pattern. It's so simple and quick to do. Initially I had cast on the usual 120 sts, but decided that I might not have enough yarn to make a full size, and while the one I made for Finny fit perfectly, Amelia’s a bit more petite. I re-cast on at 100 sts and only knit for 5" before decreasing. It fit perfectly.

Pattern: London Beanie by Regia
Needles: #3 circular and dps
Yarn: 100% merino wool by Claudia Hand Painted Yarns ( "Pink Posey"

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross

This was a fun book! Bob Howard works for the Laundry, and uber secret organization that is the front line defence against the things that go bump in the night (or worse). He's a computer geek by trade and now he becoming a field agent. Except there are a heck of a lot of meaningless meetings, training sessions, and paperwork to deal with in order to get there. Including references to being ISO-9000 certified.

Bob is sent to the states to meet with Mo, a professor who is having difficulty getting back to Britain. Except all is not as it appears after meeting the lovely Dominique and discovering the States don't want her out of their sight. She's kidnapped, he attempts a rescue and everything goes downhill from there. When he wakes up back in England, he discovers Mo has been conscripted into the Laundry and he's to find out what and who is behind her kidnapping. It gets ugly, and worse, he forgets to fill out the correct form for making an emergency call while in the field.

The interplay between secret agent man and bureaucratic nonsense is absolutely great. My only complaint with the book was all the acronyms. I had difficulty keeping track of what meant what, even with the help of the glossary in the back. Still, the wry sense of humor Stross liberally distills in the books is fantastic.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Recipe Review from 9/1/08

The Husband had the laptop this weekend so I’m a bit behind getting my recipe review out. And, once again, only two recipes to review. It was a bit of an odd week and the Husband was gone for 3 nights, my niece A had her 2nd birthday party and the yoga studio where I teach had their open house. It’s amazing how busy evenings can become!

One recipe was a hit, one was a miss:

Lemon-Grilled Chicken Breasts (Ckng Lght, Aug 08, pg 84) 4.5
For such simple ingredients, these were fantastic! Chicken breasts (thighs would be good too) were briefly marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt and pepper. I didn’t pound them flat, I just tossed them into the bag and then onto the grill. Moist, flavorful, delish! The recipe has you make extra for...

Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken (Ckng Lght, Aug 08, pg 84) 2.5
This was a disappointment in a big way. I’ve made several different styles of Caesar Salad, but this one just didn’t make the cut. The dressing was extremely runny and had undertones of metallic flavor. The Husband thought I should have upped the anchovies, and I thought there was too much. The dressing just completely lacked any flavor at all. Won’t be repeating.

(Both photo's from

Friday, September 5, 2008

Dracula by Bram Stoker

I've recently discovered books on tape and grabbed this one as a) I was going to be spending some time in the car and b) I hadn't read it yet. I have been trying to catch up on some of the "classics" that I feel I should have read. This was an unabridged version of Dracula, 18 hours long with 15 CD's.

I don't think I'll review the plot as it's so widely known, but expound on the reading.

It was, to put it simply, amazing. The two readers had a way of bringing each and every character to life with subtle inflections in mannerisms and speech. Though, I must admit it was amusing to hear an "American" accent as done by a Brit, but it worked. The listener knew it was Quincy, knew it was VanHelsing, knew it was Johnathon Harker. The emotions rolled out and drew the listener in to the joys, the terror and the dismay of the characters. So much so I would find myself missing exits or driving below the speed limit!

There were a few expositions that got a bit long, but I think having them read, with the intonation of emotion behind the words, made those longer passages more palatable and quickly over. I must say, I was rather sad when the last CD was done. I really enjoyed each and every chapter on my way to and from work. It's going to be difficult to find something to read after such an awesome book.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Wild Ricing, 2008

I again had the good fortune to be asked to go wild ricing, and having immensely enjoyed myself in 2006 (after all, it did involve food,) I again happily accepted. As my ricing companion and his wife have done this for several years, he had all the equipment at hand. I only had to provide myself with beverages, lunch, and one ricing permit.

The last time I went was about Sept 12, 2006, and it was very chilly. I was bundled up in my rain suit with long sleeves under that. At least with it being chilly the spiders and worms aren't nearly so active.

This year was a bit different. We were out earlier (Labor Day weekend) and it was hot! hot! hot! Luckily there was a beautiful wind blowing which kept my friend (who was in charge of poleing us around) cool. Not so good for me as it would blow the grass over and I couldn't get the stalks into the canoe.

We had a great time - the sun was shining, the wind was blowing, the ducks were moving around (saw a beautiful blue winged teal) and there was NOBODY else out there! Don't know why. I did better this year too: I harvested about 80lbs unfinished rice. This should make about 35lbs of processed rice.

I won't go next year, but in two years my goal is to try and harvest 100lbs in one day. I did 50lbs in 2006, and 80lbs in 2008, so I should be able to improve my technique and reach 100lbs for 2010. Stay tuned!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Recipe Review from 8/25/08

Warm weather continues to bless us with it's presence, though parts of Minnesota to the north of us has freezing temperatures early last week. I only made 8 new recipes for August, quite a bit less than I had hoped. But I was gone for 5 days the first week of Aug and the second week of August was all "leftovers". So not bad for two weeks of actual cooking.

(Photo from

Yellow Pepper Soup (Fine Cooking, July 08, pg 60) 4.5
This was supposed to be a chilled soup, but the weekend was cool enough that I served it warm. This was also a recipe that I just sort of followed: I was to bake the peppers for 1 hour, but I decided I wanted to grill them, I seeded and halved before grilling, and I used my immersion blender instead of farting around with a food processor.

The flavor of the grilled yellow peppers blended with onion and jalapeno pepper for a bright kick was good. The recipe lost points in the putzy department. I probably should have baked them, but it seemed easier to grill. But it still took time to peel and quarter the darn things. For such a simple soup, having only a handful of ingredients, it took over an hour to make.

(Photo from

Zucchini Eggplant Lasagna (Ckng Lght, Aug 08, pg 119) 4.0
This recipe has been receiving quite a few comments on the Ckng Lght BB. The most common comments were how dry the recipe turned out to be and some concerns over the “no-boil” noodles. For some reason I had it in my head that the recipe turned out runny. I made sure I had the correct type of “no-boil” noodles and I decided to take the extra precaution of de-watering the eggplant a bit more. Well, as I was assembling I observed that in no way was there going to be enough liquid and I had to ADD water to the dish. Had I read the reviews correctly I would have known that...

This was a beautiful, light, and tasty vegetarian lasagna, and like the majority of lasagna’s, heavy on the prep. I sliced, peeled and salted the eggplant and let it sit for 15 minutes; then blotted dry and popped it into the oven for 10 to start baking. The zucchini needed to be sliced. The cheese grated. The sauce simmered. Thank heavens I just needed to take the noodles out of the package.

I’m also becoming more convinced that the US should move to a weight measurement instead of a volume measurement. Recipe called for 1 large eggplant. Well, my 1 large eggplant wasn’t big enough. Recipe called for 2 medium zucchini. Ummm...what is considered a “medium” zucchini? Again, I'm not sure I had enough. Same with one large onion - homegrown garden large or supermarket large?

However, when all was prepped, counters and dishes cleaned and the dish baked, this was a very good lasagna, and I had to tell the Husband hands off! for lunch the next day as it’s our dinner for the coming nights. I would make this again, putzy-ness and all.

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