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Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Full Cupboard of Life by Alexsander McCall Smith

This is book #5 in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.

Precious Ramotswe is finding life quite busy in this selection. She has been hired by a local, wealthy beautician to ascertain if four men would be suitable for marriage. Meanwhile, her fiance, Mr. J.L.B Matekoni finds himself in quite the pickle as the Matron of the orphanage farm has arranged for him to jump out of an aeroplane for charity. And of course, there is the ever present question of when Mr. J.L.B Matekoni will agree to a wedding date.

The Full Cupboard of Life brings us back to life in Gabarone, Botswana, to the dusty edge of the Kalahari and reminds the reader of the simpler aspects of life; knowing who your relatives are, your friends, and where you stand in life. I thought this was one of the stronger books in the series so far, full of great little insights to life and the pursuit of contentment. Which can all be accomplished over a good cup of bush tea.

A quick enjoyable book.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Recipe Review from 12/21/09

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I've got one week left to go on my 2009 New Recipe Tally. It's looking a bit bleak for getting to the 100 new recipes this year, unless I find some sudden urge to bake a slew of cookies or desserts.'s not pay day donuts at work this next week, and I don't have any evening yoga classes, hmmm... something to consider at any rate.

And we are finally digging out from under a significant snow storm! Sorry, no pictures as I left my camera at work (grrr). With temperatures sitting at 32* it was the wet heavy snow. Storm tally's are now coming in at 22". I'm not surprised - it's over chest deep on the dogs!

Luckily I had some great leftover food in the fridge to satisfy that stay at home and curl up feeling:

Minestrone Soup (Moosewood Ckbk by Molly Katzen) 5.0
We had a family get-together and given current diets, dietary requirements, allergies and general food likes and dislikes with 10 people, I found myself needing a vegetarian dish that would travel well, could be reheated on the stove to free up oven space, would complement the main meal (ham) and that majority of the Family would like.

I picked Minestrone Soup. This actually came together very quickly. I did a couple of modifications - I caramelized the onion, I roasted the garlic ahead of time to mellow the flavor, and I used Swiss chard instead of celery (omitting the leaves - potentially distasteful to some). Since this wouldn't be served until the next day, I held off adding the noodles and when reheating the soup, cooked them then. This did turn out more stew-like than soup like, but a bigger pot and more liquid would quickly fix that. Reheating would also be a snap in a crockpot if feeding a crowd. I'll be making this again.

Potato Gratin (Ckng Lght, Nov 2009) 4.0
This was amazingly easy - especially with my new mandolin! Zip! Zip! Zip! 2 lbs of potatoes were evenly sliced in about 5 minutes (Even better with no lost finger tips!) Combine the potatoes with whole milk, shallots and seasoning in a skillet and cook for about 10 minutes. Spread into a oiled baking dish, top with some Gruyer and Parmesan cheese and bake for about 35 minutes. That is it! I thought these could have used a little more flavor in the way of a bit more butter or seasoning. Perhaps even a bit of cheddar cheese added to the mix. Still, they turned out very good and I won't hesitate to make these again.

Lentil Walnut [Loaf] (modified from Moosewood Ckbk by Molly Katzen)
This cookbook is really my go-to cookbook for good vegetarian recipes. It's the one I reach for when I need to make something for the SIL because the flavors are ones that are easily recognized and the dishes are not "out there". I picked this dish to complement a roast beast dinner and thought it would go good with gravy (she not a strict vegetarian). It was fairly simple to make - cook the lentils until soft, about 40 minutes, then combine with sauteed mushrooms, onion, garlic, walnuts, Swiss chard and seasonings. Add some bread crumbs or wheat germ as binder.

This was originally supposed to be a burger recipe, but I turned it into a loaf. My alterations included: roasting the garlic, red wine vinegar instead of cider, Swiss chard for the spinach, and wheat bran (because I couldn't find my wheat germ). I also added one egg because the mixture seemed rather dry. I loosely formed a loaf and then put it in some saran wrap to chill overnight. It has to travel so baking will occur when I arrive.

Well, if this was supposed to be a burger recipe, and I added an egg to make it stickier for a loaf, I can't imagine how the burgers were going to stay together! The loaf crumbled upon cutting, but that's okay, it still tasted very good. I would make this one again and perhaps cook the lentils longer to make them a bit more mushy for cohesion.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Faceless Killer by Henning Mankell

Henning Mankell is a Swedish author whose books have been popularized in part by the Wallander series on PBS. I fully admit, I bought this book because I’ve watched all three episodes of Wallender (hey, Kenneth Branaugh is Kurt Wallander, how could it not be good?).

Faceless Killers is set in the early ‘80s in Ystad, Sweden. Kurt Wallander is a 42 year old police sergeant whose wife has just left him, his daughter’s estranged, his Dad is going senile, he has the hots for the new prosecutor, and he is faced with one of the most gruesome murders he has the misfortune to have to investigate. An elderly couple has been tortured and beaten in a remote farm and nobody knows why. The only clue Wallander’s team has to go on is the dying woman’s final word of “foreign”. When the press gets a hold of this tidbit, in an already strained society that lets refugees cross in at any time, this is fuel on the flames and suddenly local refugee camps are the target of hate crimes. Wallander must quickly figure out why these simple farmers would be subject to such a brutal end while balancing his own precarious life.

This was an okay read, a bit typical in the detective genre (ie washed-up alcoholic cop whose wife left him and now he has to solve horrible crime). What I like about this book was I could feel the cold of Sweden, I could sense the desolation in the landscape, and I could see how everyone could be depressed. The story moves along pretty briskly, then seemed to peeter out a bit at the end, as if the author couldn’t quite figure out how to tie everything up in a realistic manner. Still, I think Mankell pulled it off.

As I mentioned earlier, this was the first book in the series and I’m willing to try a couple more to let the characters and setting coalesce.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Recipe Review from 12/14/09

Holey Snowmen! I was on a bit of a cooking spree this last week! It helped that I had a couple of functions that needed extra dishes, and I probably would have had one more if I had been able to make my office potluck. I also realized I don't have any pictures. Sorry! You'll have to use your imagination.

Cranberry-Orange Scones (compliments of the San Gabriel House Bread and Breakfast, Georgetown, TX) 5.0!!
I don't have permission to post this recipe to blog-land, but just let me say these were as good as when the Husband and I visited this past June. I just wished I had made some Devonshire Cream or had thawed some raspberry jam to dollup on them. Light, medium crumb, with a deliciously browned exterior and just enough sweetness to satisfy the tastebuds. I will be making these again, maybe playing around with adding raspberries instead of cranberries...or maybe not. Cranberry orange scones are my favorite flavor!

Wildrice and Dried Fruit Breakfast (Molly!) 5.0
Molly is Office Person Extraordinaire at my local yoga studio. We recently held a staff potluck brunch and she brought this fabulous dish. It was, simply, cooked wild rice mixed with cinnamon and dried fruit, topped with bananas, brown sugar, walnuts and/or almonds, and your choice of (soy) milk or vanilla yogurt. I have to say the vanilla yogurt on top was absolutely divine. She did warm the rice/dried fruit mixture before serving.

I tried this the next day - the dried fruit is whatever grabs your fancy, or in my case, whatever I have in the cupboard, which was apricots, dried plums, and cranberries. I did find the brown sugar to be too sweet when I tried it at home, so I omitted it. So that's what went in. I have a new favorite breakfast dish! Or supper dish! Or munchie dish! It's that good.

Sun Dried Tomato Soup with White Beans and Swiss Chard (Vegetarian Times, Jan 10) 3.0
This was fairly easy to assemble, especially when I can use my immersion blender for that part where the recipe calls for "take x amount out and puree until smooth. The flavor is that of a tomato soup ratcheted up with beans, zucchini, Swiss chard, onion, and parsnips (my sub for carrots). I felt it was like a bisque style soup, with a bit of zing. VT hasn't posted the recipe yet and I'm to lazy to type it out, but it is in the current magazine. This was one of their "Honor Roll" of best up and coming Chefs. I've been enjoying this for lunches with some crackers and cheese.

Wild Mushroom and Lentil Cottage Pie (Ckng Lght, Dec 09) 3.0
Sorry, no typed recipe for this one either. For some reason it's not showing on the Ckng Lght website for me to link to. This one was a bit putzy; you have to start the mashed potatoes first, and while they are cooking, make the lentil and mushroom mixture. You could cheat and buy pre-made mashed potatoes, but I dislike using processed food.

Recipe called for "exotic" mushroom, but since I live in N MN, the most exotic that I can reasonably obtain is shitake. So I used shitake and baby crimini. I also used regular lentils instead of petite and just made sure to cook them longer. This was a satisfying dish. The dash of nutmeg in the mashed potatoes kept my tastebuds going "heeyyy, this is different, and I liked the creamy almost gravy like consistency mushroom/lentil mixture with the potatoes. Very hearty.

I did halve this recipe and still had four, almost five, meals.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

In the Court of the Crimson Kings by S.M. Stirling

This is Decembers book group selection, and I may be jumping the gun a bit by posting my review (we don't meet until the 29th).

From In a stand-alone adventure set in this world’s 2000 AD, Jeremy Wainman is an archaeologist who has achieved a lifelong dream; to travel to Mars and explore the dead cities of the Deep Beyond, searching for the secrets of the Kings Beneath the Mountain and the fallen empire they ruled.

Teyud Zha-Zhalt is the Martian mercenary the Terrans hire as guide and captain of the landship Intrepid Traveller. A secret links her to the deadly intrigues of Dvor il-Adazar, the City That Is A Mountain, where the last aging descendant of the Tollamune Emperors clings to the remnants of his power…and secrets that may trace their origin to the enigmatic Ancients, the Lords of Creation who reshaped the Solar System in the time of the dinosaurs.

When these three meet, the foundations of reality will be shaken—from the lost city of Rema-Dza to the courts of the Crimson Kings.

This was a fun little read. It was interesting to set a book in our "past" and it gave it a 1950's feel but more modern, if that makes any sense. The Martians play a game similar to chess, but they take the principles and apply them to real life. I also found the Martian society interesting and would have liked a bit more explanation and depth to that.

Criticism's include a darn romance. I just don't care for romance in my sf novels. Still, it was tolerable and didn't detract too much from the story. I had trouble swallowing it's probability - the world was set up where Martian's don't particularly like Terrans and here a tough mercenary woman falls in love with the archaeologist she's supposed to be protecting. And yes, if you are thinking Indiana Jones it was mentioned several times in the book as well.

Still the book was pleasant and I would consider reading S.M Stirling again.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Recipe Review from 12/7/09

Whew! The weather sure took a turn toward full fledged winter this week with a semi-blizzard on Tuesday and Wednesday (we ended up with only 3" of snow while parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin topped out at over 20") and temperatures that have dipped well below 0*. Good soup weather and that's what I made!

Carrot and Parsnip Soup (Ckng Lght Annual, 2005) 4.5
I had carrots. I had parsnips. I LOVE soup! What I didn't know was that nearly 2lbs of my carrots had composted on me in the fridge and I barely managed to salvage the 1lb I needed for this recipe. Still, a pound made the soup! Super easy, very tasty and great as leftovers for lunches during the week. I skipped the "parsnip chips" and toasted pumpkin seeds instead. I also added a dollup of heavy cream (I had some to use up) to make it a bit thicker. Delicious!

(Picture from

Carrot and Parnsip Soup with Parnsip Chips
"Winter root vegetables lend their complementary, slightly sweet flavors to this hearty bowl. Stir in more water or broth if you prefer a thinner consistency."

Yield: 6 servings (serving size: 1 1/3 cups soup, about 2 teaspoons parsnip chips, and 1/2 teaspoon chives)"

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion
3 cups coarsely chopped parsnip (about 1 pound)
3 cups water
2 1/2 cups coarsely chopped carrot (about 1 pound)
2 (14-ounce) cans fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup (1/8-inch-thick) slices parsnip
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook 10 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add chopped parsnip, water, carrot, and broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 50 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Remove from heat; let stand 5 minutes.

Place half of carrot mixture in a blender; process until smooth. Pour pureed carrot mixture in a large bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining carrot mixture. Stir in salt and pepper.

Heat remaining 5 teaspoons oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add parsnip slices; cook 5 minutes or until lightly browned, turning occasionally. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle parsnip chips and chives over soup.

Antipasto-Style Penne modified (Ckng Lght, Dec 09) 3.5
But I also needed something for dinner and I had bought the ingredients for this a while back. I kept forgetting to buy the penne pasta that it calls for and so I finally said "to heck with it! I'm using whole wheat spaghetti!" This does come together fairly quickly so it's good for a week night dinner. It was okay, not outstanding, a good hearty meal for cold nights. It re-heated well which was in it's favor and I did like the combination of pesto, olives, and artichokes. Skip the proscuittio to make it vegetarian.

Antipasto Style Penne
If you prefer crisp prosciutto, spread it out on a baking sheet and broil 4 minutes.

1 medium bell pepper
1/2 cup pitted kalmata olives
1/3 cup refrigerated pesto
3 oz prosciutto, chopped
1 (7 oz) jar oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes halves, drained and chopped
1 (6 oz) jar marinated quartered artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
8 oz uncooked penne pasta (about 2 cups)
1/2 cup (2 oz) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

1) preheat broiler.

2) Cut bell pepper in half lengthwise, discard seed and membranes. Place pepper halves, skin sides up, on a foil lined baking sheet; flatten with hand. Broil 8 minutes or until blackened. Place in zip-top plastic bag; seal. Let stand 5 minutes. Peel and chop bell pepper; place in large bowl. Stir in olives, pesto, prosciutto, tomatoes, and artichoke.

3) Cook pasta according to directions on package omitting fat and salt. Drain. Add cooked pasta and 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to bell pepper mixture, and toss gently to combine. Spoon about 1 cup pasta mixture into each of 6 bowls, and sprinkle each serving with 2 teaspoons remaining cheese and 2 teaspoons pine nuts.

Serves: 6

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Movie Reviews!

Being in a mind for a movie this past week rather than the usual PBS Mystery selection, I had Earthsea in my Netflix que. It wasn't the scifi movie I wanted, but it was next best thing.

Somehow, though, I had initially overlooked that this movie was 3 hours long. Yikes! That would mean having to set aside a bit of extra time, make sure the dogs were exercised (otherwise we make multiple trips to the door because Ben wants out, Ben wants in, Kia wants out, Ben wants out, Kia wants get the idea.)

Earthsea is a trilogy by Ursula LeGuin, which I've read ages and ages ago. This description from works pretty well for the movie:

Originally broadcast as Legend of Earthsea in December 2004, the Sci-Fi Channel's four-hour miniseries of Earthsea rides the coattails of the Lord of the Rings trilogy with its quest-driven story of humble blacksmith Ged (Shawn Ashmore), a wizard-to-be who is mentored by the magical Ogion (Danny Glover) as he seeks to preserve the realm of Earthsea from the evil King Tygath (Sebastian Roché). Ged's adventures lead him to the priestess Tenar (Kristen Kreuk, from Smallville) and with secrets shared by High Priestess Thar (Isabella Rossellini), they gain the power to prevail over Tygath. [This] skeletal rendering of Earthsea boasts a wealth of digital effects and semi-lavish set design, but Ashmore's lack of charisma hampers a production already fraught with problems. It provoked the wrath of fantasy fans and a firm rejection by author Ursula K. Le Guin, who had watched helplessly (she wasn't involved or consulted) as her classic novels A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan were racially "whitewashed" (in Le Guin's words) nearly beyond recognition. As TV fantasy goes, Earthsea is admirably ambitious, but best enjoyed by those with no awareness of the classic books it is very loosely based on.

I certainly don't know about the "wrath of fantasy fans", but was more dismayed when I realized I had already seen the movie!! I must have borrowed it from someone in my book group. Oh well, it was in and playing, might as well finish it.

As with any fantasy book that is made into a movie, there are going to be notable differences between book and film. No exception. I treated this just like I treated LOTR, it's meant to be enjoyed. So if your a purist, then don't watch the movies. If you like to see a different artists interpretation of a book (like a different artists interpretation of a song) then sit back and enjoy the movie. Just don't get to worked up about some of the mediocre acting.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

This was a 2005 Hugo Winner in the Novel Category for the Glasgow, Scotland, Worldcon. The other nominees included:

• Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke [Bloomsbury, 2004]
• River of Gods by Ian McDonald [Simon & Schuster UK, 2004]
• The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks [Orbit, 2004]
• Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross [Ace, 2004]
• Iron Council by China Miéville [Del Rey, 2004; Macmillan UK, 2004]

This was the only selection I wasn’t able to read in 2005. I wasn’t paying $30.oo for a hardback book of this size and at the time I didn’t have convenient access to a library (downside of living out in the country). However, in the intervening years, one of my fellow book group members found a copy and sold it to me for a mere pittance – like $5.00 or something.

To greatly summarize, set in the early 1800’s, Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell have become England’s last great magicians. Mr. Norrell is very conservative in his use and instruction of magic. Mr. Strange is very outgoing and wishes to share what he knows with whomever he can. As Napoleon threatens English independence, Mr. Strange heads off to the Spanish front to assist where he can in thwarting the enemies war efforts. When Mr. Strange finally returns to England after a three year absence, the two great magicians come to disagree and part ways, each disliking the other more and more. Meanwhile, due to a summoning Mr. Norrell did very early on, we find there is a malignant Fairy who is intent on bringing mischief to our two magicians in the worst possible ways.

I’ve read numerous reviews and talked to others about this book, and this is a Love It or Hate It book. And I can see why. At [900] pages hardback, the book is a doorstop. It is written in the style of Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters – very stylized and formal, full of olde English spellings and mannerisms. Clarke has added significant footnotes that lead the reader off onto other topics for explanation, which can be interesting or annoying at the time. Some of the reviews I’ve read characterized this book as pompous, pretentious and a waste of time.

However, I did find this a fascinating read. I will say first and foremost that Strange/Norrell is NOT a book that can be skimmed. It is a book that requires a bit – no, a lot - of patience to let the story gradually unfold. I think Clark succeeded in doing just that. The plot unfolds subtly, almost silkily, as the reader follows Strange from his discovery of magic, to his instruction under Norrell, to his rise in fame for his assistance with the war effort, and to the precipice that will be his undoing. This was, in my opinion, well worth reading.

If you don’t like long, ‘classically’ written English books, then I will confidently say, don’t bother with this one. However, if you do and you can be patient, you will be rewarded with a really good story. This is good winter reading.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Recipe Review from 12/1/09

It was my intent to have two recipes for review this week, but only one got made. I ended up doing a splurge purchase of rotisserie chicken, boxed stuffing and a jar of gravy one night. Such is the power of grocery shopping when you are really really hungry!

I made this one pretty much as written subbing venison kielbasa for regular. Much to my surprise, this came out a bit on the spicy side - maybe 'tangy' would be a better word than spicy. It made enough for about 4-5 lunches for me, with cheese and crackers along side. I would make this again.

Parkey Stew (Penzeys Dec 2009 catalog)
1 TB olive oil
4 carrots, thinly sliced
3 leeks, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
16 oz chicken broth
1 15 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 small head cabbage, roughly chopped
1 lb kielbasa, sliced
1 tsp caraway seed (optional)
1 tsp marjoram (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper (or to taste)

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the carrots and leeks to the pot. Cook until tender, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for two minutes. Add the broth, tomatoes, cabbage and keilbasa to the pot, along with caraway and marjoram if using. Simmer until the stew is hot and the cabbage is tender 20-30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Movie Reviews!

Much to my great surprise I've watched two movies this week and because my usual book reviews have been a bit slow, I thought I would talk about something different.

Star Trek (the prequel)
I am a closet Star Trek fan...let me clarify...I am an original series Star Trek fan. Yes, <> A Trekkie. On Saturdays my local station used to air the original series and I would plan my afternoon so I could be done by five with my chores so I could sit and watch Capt Kirk and the gang. Until some "Chopper" motorcycle show is on, blast them!

Anyway, this summer I wasn't able to see the new movie in the theaters and my friends tormented me with how awesome of a movie it was and when was I going to see it, and why hadn't I seen it yet, etc. So this Fall I broke down and got a Netflix subscription and carefully arranged my que so Star Trek the prequel would arrive in my mailbox the week it was released on DVD.

OMG! This was soooo cool! I e-mail this response to my tormentors:

There were cool aliens...but not too many.
There was a love interest...but not to much.
There were cool space scenes...can never have too many of those.
There was great special effects...and you can have too many of those**.

I loved how the 'crew' was assembled as they went along. Except Bones seemed older than he should be. And Ohura's pony tail bugged the heck out of me. And FINALLY! An engine room that actually LOOKS like what I imagine an engine should! With tubes and pipes and water and things that go hiss and plink and steam and barrels - kinda looked like the Budweiser or Miller breweries actually.

Criticism's - the red matter. I have to say that was, mmm, not quite right. But I can overlook that. And Scotty's little green man. Phuleze. Over the top cuteness. And I wonder if they got the bug out of Capt Pike (had to close my eyes during that scene...) or if he's still wandering around telling the truth.

I give this 5 stars and may have to go buy the DVD. Can't have too many scifi DVD's in my opinion.

Planet 51 (animated)
I saw a trailer for this while at Worldcon in Montreal and it had me laughing pretty good. It was actually rather accidental that I saw it was going to be released this week and when the parents suggested some Jazz at the 'Toga and dinner, I counter suggested with an animated movie and dinner.

Premise of the movie is an 'alien' lands on Planet 51, where young Lem's life is going pretty good....until he finds himself trying to hide Chuck the astronaut from the Military. The movie is full of misunderstandings, fun special effects, a wheeled robot "Rover" who likes rocks, and all the cute things that make animated movies, well, fun.

I can't say this was the best animated movie I've ever seen (that still might be the first Shrek movie or Spirited Away), but it was a fun way to spend an afternoon. Good for kids older than 5. I think younger than that there isn't much to keep their attention.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Recipe Review from 11/23/09 (with adventures!)

Oh, do I have the adventure for you this week! It was my intent to make two main course dishes, but I only fit in one. But I did make a fantastic pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. The recipes weren't available on-line yet so I'll have to come back and link to them. Sadly, I don't even have any pictures. Husband has the camera at the moment.

Ancho Pork and Hominy Stew (Ckng Lght, Dec 09) 4.5
This was a great stew - chili like in its flavors but not heavy or 'saucy'. Recipe called for 1 1/2 lbs of pork, but I only had 1 lb on hand, so I added about 1 lb of cubed butternut squash. A great addition! Chicken would also be a good substitution if one doesn't eat pork.

And this is where the adventures begin - not wanting to overwhelm my fridge with a hot pot of stew, I dished out a small bowl for my lunch on Monday and put the rest outside on the porch to cool - LOVE this time of year where you can use the porch to cool things off!.

The evening grew late, I fell asleep on the porch (darn brandy old-fashioned's!) and woke up in time to go to bed. Hounds needed last piddle run so I sent them outside and decided to quick run the vacuum around. As I was putting the vacuum away I heard a strange clink clink clink out on the porch and realized with horror my STEW was still OUT THERE!!!

Flying to the door I opened in time to see two happy hounds licking their chops and one empty, very clean and shiny pot. BUT! It doesn't end there! Kia-dog was having surgery the next morning and wasn't supposed to have any food after 10p! Not only did she eat half a pot (or more) of chili, but it was almost 10:30p! Arrgghh!

I decided it would be best for all involved if said chili didn't sit on her tummy over night. She had a 7:45am vet drop-off. So we commenced barfing activities. I learned hand-down-the-throat doesn't work very well and I just ended up with a stressed out dog and a chewed up hand. So we tried the hydrogen peroxide method (after Googling to verify safety and quantities) and that worked. Poor hound didn't get to enjoy her booty very long.

So, the Ancho Pork with Hominy gets two thumbs up and two tail wags.

Spiced Pumpkin Chiffon Pie (Ckng Lght, Dec 09) 4.0
Quite frequently, come Thanksgiving, I need to try out new pumpkin pie recipes. This one caught my eye this year and after waffling about buying a pie from Cub (I was super tired and the pies were on sale for $3.00 each from the bakery) I decided to just make one.

I will say up front this was a slightly putzy recipe, but it moves along very quickly. The pie crust is baked in the oven and set aside to cool. The pumpkin, milk, spices, and egg yolk are cooked on the stove top. Meanwhile, gelatin is dissolved in orange juice and added to the pumpkin mixture. This is set aside to cool.

Next step - egg whites are beaten to soft peaks and set aside while a simple syrup mixture is brought to 250*. I didn't know if I could make this part work as it was awkward to get a good temperature reading with such a small quantity. But lo! it finally hit the magical temperature and was added to the egg whites to be beaten to stiff peaks. Then this was added to the filling and everything put in the fridge to set up.

Good? Oh yes! It was light, creamy, and full of pumpkin-y goodness. I would make this again. Sometimes the second time around with a recipe it goes more smoothly.

On deck for this week:
Parkey Stew (Kielbasa and cabbage stew) from Penzey's Dec 09 catalog
Anti-Pasto Style Penne (Ckng Lght Dec 09)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

May everyone, someday, find Freedom from Want.

(Picture by Normal Rockwell, Freedom from Want)

Have a very Happy Thanksgiving Day.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Recipe Review from 11/16/09

Oh my goodness, if you are living up here in the Midwest, hasn't this been a FANTASTIC November? Temperatures up here in Duluth have been between 45 and 50* (warmer in the Twin Cities) and days filled with beautiful fall sunshine. A great reprieve from the dreary, cold and wet October we had. Though sadly, the weatherman says this warm weather is going to move out of the area come Monday and we will have closer to normal temps in the 30's.

I have been dreadfully busy of late which has affected my book reviews and knitting. I am reading two books at the moment: In the Court of the Crimson Kings by S.M.Stirling and Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark. Crimson Kings is for book group in December and Strange/Norrell is one of three Hugo winners I have left off of the novel category on the complete Hugo winner list.

Last weekend found me in the Cities for an Anusara yoga workshop. It was a good weekend, I met a great gal from Grand Marais and the weather was lovely. Session focused on a lot of technique so I'm still not sure exactly how an Anusara class is structured.

This past weekend we had an early Thanksgiving with the Brother (K3) and his family. So much fun to play with the nieces! Miss A is 3 and Miss L is 1. Miss L is on the move and getting into EVERYTHING! Both are cute as a couple of buttons!

And despite everything going on, I have two more recipes to report on. One was quick and tasty, the other a complete flop.

Shrimp Saltimbocca with Polenta (Eating Well, Nov/Dec 09) 3.0
If you buy peeled and deveined shrimp, this comes together very quickly. This dish encompassed such simplicity that I didn't even do any substitutions. As suggested, I did use chicken broth instead of clam juice. Do pay attention while broiling the proscuitto though, it will go from toasty to burned rather quickly! I had two meals out of this, with leftover polenta.

(Photo from

Shrimp Saltimbocca with Polenta
1 16- to 18-ounce tube polenta, cut into 8 rounds
1 thin slice prosciutto (about 1/2 ounce)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/4 teaspoons cornstarch
1 pound peeled and deveined raw shrimp (21-25 per pound)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely diced onion
3/4 cup clam juice (see Note) or reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage or 3/4 teaspoon dried rubbed

1) Position rack in center of oven; preheat broiler. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

2)Place polenta rounds and prosciutto on the baking sheet. Broil on the center rack until the prosciutto is crisp, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the prosciutto to a plate. Continue broiling the polenta, turning once, until golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes per side.

3)Meanwhile, whisk lemon juice and cornstarch in a small bowl. Sprinkle shrimp with 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until beginning to brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add shrimp and cook, stirring, until the shrimp just turn pink but aren’t cooked through, about 2 minutes. Pour in clam juice (or broth), bring to a boil and cook until the liquid is slightly reduced, about 2 minutes more.

4)Whisk the cornstarch mixture again and add to the pan along with sage and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring, until thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Top the polenta with the shrimp and sauce, crumble the prosciutto over the top and serve immediately.

Beer Battered Fish (Ckng Lght, Dec 09) 1.0
I had some whitefish fillets (a Lake Superior fish) in the freezer from when the Husband was home on leave when the December issue of Ckng Lght arrived. Lots and lots of great looking recipes in this issue! The Beer Battered Fish caught my eye, and I've had whitefish prepared so up at Angry Trout Cafe in Grand Marais so I thought I would give this a whirl.

This was a complete and total flop. Recipe recommended a dark beer so I used an Oatmeal Stout - too dark. The batter didn't puff up at all, which means I probably didn't have my oil hot enough. And I even did the drop something in test and watched the oil splatter all over! This didn't taste good in any way shape or form. I am bummed. I'm not even going to post the recipe.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Recipe Review from 11/9/09

Two more recipes from last week and both made waaayy more than I had anticipated! I’m still eating the soup this week for lunches - not that I’m complaining! I was gone all weekend to the Cites so having lunches already for the week was a big help. The spinach pie made a 9x13" pan and I tried my best to eat it all but just couldn't finish it before I left town.

If you click on the links provided, it will take you to the recipe with a picture.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup (adapted from, Ckng Lght, Nov 09) 4.0
I made significant changes to this recipe. You can link to the original recipe above. I cubed and roasted the squash rather than bake whole, I roasted the garlic, I caramelized the onions, and I used parsnips instead of potatoes because I have a slew of them in my garden.

Results? Very good. I wish I had thought to roast the onion along with the squash but I didn’t. Next time.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
• 2 1/2-pound butternut squash
• Cooking spray
• 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
• Small head of garlic
• 4 cups Vegetable Stock
• 2 cups water
• 2 cups coarsely chopped peeled Yukon gold potatoes (or parsnips)
• 3/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400°.

2. Peel squash and discard seeds; cut into 1” cubes. Place in roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 400° for 30-45 minutes or until tender. Mash pulp. Cut top off garlic to expose bulbs (do not peel or separate), place on piece of aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil, wrap and roast along with squash.

3. Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion; sauté 10 minutes or until nicely caramelized. Add Roasted Vegetable Stock, water, and potatoe/parsnips. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 20-30 minutes or until potato/parnsips are tender, stirring occasionally. Let stand 10 minutes.

4. (IF you don’t have an immersion blender do this.) Place one-third of vegetable mixture in a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Blend until smooth. Pour into a large bowl. Repeat procedure twice with remaining squash mixture. Return pureed mixture to pan; cook over medium heat 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Spinach Pie with Goat Cheese, Pine Nuts and Golden Raisins (Ckng Lght, Nov 09) 4.0
I didn’t change this much at all – the only thing I did differently was substitute 6 oz of queso seco cheese for 6 oz goat cheese as I didn’t have the full amount of goat cheese (I needed 12oz). I also only used four bags of spinach rather than five as cooked spinach can get a bit overpowering. As I made this the same day as the soup above, I wish I had roasted some additional garlic to go with it. I think that would have added some nice background flavor. This wasn’t as putsy as it looks. Just make sure you pick a BIG pan/pot to cook those five bags of spinach down. And having a Misto oil sprayer really makes final phyllo dough assembly a snap. I didn’t serve anything along side, but some carrots or sweet potato would have made a nice colorful side dish. I did drizzle honey over the top – yum yum!

Spinach Pie with Goat Cheese, Pine Nuts and Golden Raisins
• 1/3 cup olive oil, divided
• 2 cups minced onion (about 1 large)
• 5 (9-ounce) packages fresh spinach
• 1/2 cup golden raisins
• 2 cups (8 ounces) crumbled goat cheese
• 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 12 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
• Cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 400°.

2. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion to pan; cook 5 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally. Add spinach, 1 bag at a time; cook 3 minutes or until spinach wilts, stirring frequently. Simmer spinach mixture 40 minutes or until liquid evaporates. Stir in raisins. Remove from heat; cool completely. Stir in cheese, nuts, salt, and pepper.

3. Press 1 phyllo sheet into bottom and up sides of a 13 x 9–inch baking dish coated with cooking spray (cover remaining dough to keep from drying); lightly coat phyllo with cooking spray. Repeat procedure with 7 phyllo sheets. Spread spinach mixture in an even layer onto phyllo. Place 1 phyllo sheet on a large cutting board or work surface (cover remaining dough to keep from drying); lightly brush with 1 1/2 teaspoons oil. Repeat procedure with the remaining 3 phyllo sheets and the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil. Place phyllo layer over spinach mixture; tuck in sides to enclose spinach fully. Bake at 400° for 30 minutes. Remove from oven; let stand 15 minutes.

On deck for this week: Spicy Shrimp with polenta (Eating Well) and Pecan Crusted Trout (I think). It might be another soup. I forget so just stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman

This selection is for November's book group. The meeting is next Monday so hopefully I'm not posting too soon. We've already read Forever War, Camouflage, and Old Twentieth.

This was an okay selection, a quick read (I finished it in a day), and definitely not one of Haldemans stronger books.

The premise is Matt Fuller is an underemployed research assistant at MIT, part time druggie and has recently been dumped by his girlfriend when he discovers a piece of equipment that "disappears". He sets up a series of experiments in his apartment that results in him eventually taking a three month trip through time. Each successive push of the button on the time machine sends him farther into the future, but he quickly finds out it's a one way trip. There is no going back...

This book reminded me of H.G. Wells Time Machine, and of another selection I've read but cannot recall. Where each stop is a snapshot in time but with the decline of humanity rather than the rise. We have the religious conversion stop, we have the dinosaurs stop we have the artificial intelligence stop, you get the idea. On the other hand, the ending has a nice twist that I appreciated - it rather made up for the rest of it. If you need something while you wait at the airport, this would be a good pick.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Recipe Review from 11/2/09

I've been comfortably making about two new recipes a week for the last several months. Sunday has become my "cooking" day and then the leftovers bring me through the week. I don't think I'm going to be breaking any cooking records this year, in fact, this may be my slowest year since I started keeping track of new recipes. Oh well, so it goes.

Last week I made one so-so dish and one very good dish:

Chicken Orzo Soup (Ckng Lght, Oct 09, pg 28) 3.0
This was lunch, along side some cheese, crackers and dried fruit. This comes together very quickly, so it is also great for a weeknight. As usual, I have some substitutions: the celery and spinach were replaced with Swiss chard. My preference. I hate buying a thing of celery only to use it once where I can use most of a bunch of Swiss chard up. And the fresh herbs were replaced with dried. Again, cost savings here. I have dried on hand and can't justify spending $2.00 each or more for some fresh herbs that I'm only going to be able to use once. My only complaint with this recipe was it comes out a bit on the bland side - flavors are bright and fresh, but bland. Might be good if you have kids tho.

Chicken Orzo Soup
1 (32-ounce) container fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth, divided
1/2 cup uncooked orzo
2 teaspoons olive oil
2/3 cup coarsely chopped carrot
1/2 cup coarsely chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
3/4 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/4 cups water
3 fresh parsley sprigs
1 fresh thyme sprig
4 cups fresh baby spinach
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1. Bring 1 3/4 cups broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add orzo; cook 10 minutes or until done. Drain.

2. While orzo cooks, heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add carrot, celery, onion, and chicken; cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in remaining 2 1/4 cups broth, 1 1/4 cups water, parsley, and thyme; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Discard herb sprigs. Add orzo, spinach, juice, salt, and pepper; simmer 1 minute.

Chicken-Butternut Tagine (Ckng Lght, Nov 09, pg 96) 4.5
This was for dinners, and I did cut waaayyy back on the chicken - I only used one chicken breast. And no olives. I didn't feel like figuring out a good substitute for pincholine olives. This dish also comes together very quickly and I LOVED the flavors in this. Don't let the dried plums turn you off in this dish! They were nice and tasty and added a bit of sweetness that was a good counterpoint to the spices. For a vegetarian or vegan version, use all butternut and vegetable broth. I served this over Israeli couscous. Yum yum!

Chicken-Butternut Tagine
Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 1/4 cups)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
8 ounces peeled cubed butternut squash
1/3 cup halved pitted picholine olives (about 3 ounces)
8 pitted dried plums, chopped
Fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves (optional)

1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion; cook 8 minutes or until golden, stirring occasionally. Stir in cumin and next 7 ingredients (through chicken); cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in broth, squash, olives, and dried plums; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 10 minutes or until squash is tender. Garnish with parsley, if desired.

(Photo's from

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

From the jacket cover: Football has come to the ancient city of Ankh-Morpork — not the old fashioned, grubby pushing and shoving, but the new, fast football with pointy hats for goalposts and balls that go gloing when you drop them. And now, the wizards of Unseen University must win a football match, without using magic, so they’re in the mood for trying everything else.

The prospect of a Big Match draws in a street urchin with a wonderful talent for kicking a tin can, a maker of jolly good pies, a dim but beautiful young woman, who might just turn out to be the greatest fashion model there has ever been, and the mysterious Mr Nutt, who no one knows much about. As the match approaches, four lives are entangled and changed forever.

Because the thing about football – the important thing about football – is that it is not just about football.

Where Nation was cute in a young adult sort of way, Unseen Academicals really delved back into the world of Ahnk Morpork and the quirks of Unseen University. Ventari, dictator of Ahnk Morpork has agreed, nay, subtly encouraged the Wizards to a game of football - but with the condition they use the newly "rediscovered" rules.

With typical aplomb, Pratchett weaves together multiple stories: Trevor and Juliet; Glenda and Nott; and the Wizards and their quest for a football team. And with typical Pratchett subtleties - there are multiple tags a person can pick up on: The Barber of Seville, Romeo and Juliet, I'll let the reader find the rest.

I really enjoyed this one. Nations was good, but this was story that returned to all that made - makes - the Disk world books shine.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Recipe Review from 10/26/09

After hearing Duluth (and possibly the rest of Minnesota) has experienced one of the coldest, wettest Octobers on record AND Duluth has received more rain than Seattle this month, it's no wonder my recipes have been leaning toward the hearty side. This past week was no exception.

(pic from

Acorn Squash with Swiss Chard (Eating Well, Nov 09) 4.5
When I saw this recipe I knew this was a MUST TRY NOW. I lovelovelove squash, and it can only be improved with chard and beans. It was only a shame that my Swiss Chard has long since been frozen and snowed on so I had to buy some.

However, the evening I went to make this I had made the tactical error of NOT pre-soaking my beans. Alas, no canned ones on hand either. But...I did have a ham shank leftover from the previous weeks chili (used it to add smokiness) and, yes...yes...I think the smokey flavors of the ham would go quite well with squash and chard. Besides it would be a great way to use that ham up and it would be the perfect amount. And so it came to be!

Darn tasty it was. I also halved the recipe to accommodate just two servings. Below is the recipe as posted in the magazine.

Acorn Squash with Swiss Chard and White BeansIngredients
2 medium acorn squash, halved (see Tip) and seeded
1 teaspoon plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon tomato paste
8 cups chopped chard leaves (about 1 large bunch chard)
1 15-ounce can white beans, rinsed
1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
1/3 cup coarse dry whole-wheat breadcrumbs (see Note)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Cut a small slice off the bottom of each squash half so it rests flat. Brush the insides with 1 teaspoon oil; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Place in a 9-by-13-inch (or similar-size) microwave-safe dish. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave on High until the squash is fork-tender, about 12 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion; cook, stirring, until starting to brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add garlic; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in water, tomato paste and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Stir in chard, cover and cook until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in white beans and olives; cook until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes more. Remove from the heat.

3. Position rack in center of oven; preheat broiler.

4. Combine breadcrumbs, Parmesan and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a bowl. Fill each squash half with about 1 cup of the chard mixture. Place in a baking pan or on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture. Broil in the center of the oven until the breadcrumbs are browned, 1 to 2 minutes.

The other recipe was a departure from soups and stews and instead took a trip to the lovely country of Malaysia (closing my eyes here: mmmm, sun, heat, spicy food...)

(pic from

Spicy Malaysian Stirfry with Noodles (Ckng Lght, Oct 09) 4.0
Spicy? oh yes! I even cut back the siracha sauce by a full tablespoon. Super easy to make and great to warm up the system on a cold evening. I did slightly alter the directions by pan-searing my tofu ahead of everything else; I like how it tastes lightly browned. Other modifications included: skipping the sweet bean sauce (I detest buying a flavor/condiment that I may only use once) and using linguine for Asian noodles. We don't have an Asian market in Duluth anymore - just an "international" section at Cub.

Spicy Malaysian Stirfry with Noodles
This popular Southeast Asian street fare is known as mee goreng (fried noodles). Look for the sweet bean sauce and noodles (which are sometimes frozen) at Asian markets; substitute dried linguine for lo mein. You can always use less chile paste to make a milder version.
Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 2/3 cups)

1 (14-ounce) package water-packed extra-firm tofu, drained
1 (1-pound) package fresh Chinese lo mein egg noodles
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 heads baby bok choy, trimmed and cut crosswise into 2-inch-thick strips
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons chile paste with garlic (such as sambal oelek)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons sweet bean sauce
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1. Line a plate with a triple layer of paper towels; top with tofu. Place a triple layer of paper towels on top of tofu; top with another plate. Let stand 20 minutes. Cut tofu into 1/2-inch cubes.

2. Cook noodles in a large pan of boiling water 3 minutes or until done; drain in a colander over a bowl, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid. Wipe pan with paper towels. Heat oil in pan over medium heat. Add garlic to pan; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add salt and bok choy; cook 30 seconds, stirring frequently. Stir in 1/2 cup reserved cooking liquid; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and cook 4 minutes.

3. Combine sugar and remaining ingredients, stirring until combined. Add noodles, remaining 1/2 cup cooking liquid, and sugar mixture to pan; toss to combine. Cook 30 seconds or until thoroughly heated, tossing to coat. Add tofu; toss to combine. Serve immediately.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

This was October's book group selection. Over the last 10 years we seem to have developed some habits as a group: we *always* read the Nebula awards when they are published in May; we like to read a Halloween styled book in October, and we like aliens.

So this year we voted on The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Stories, with introduction and notes by Jenny Davidson.

I am fond of the classics and this one didn't disappoint. I will say, however, that I found the other stories a bit more engaging than that of Dr. Jekyll. Perhaps it was because I knew the basic premise of the story long before I read it - this was my first time reading it - so I knew what to expect. And because it is part of our culture, I won't review it again.

I would like however, to touch on the additional stories which included:
Lodging for the Night
The Suicide Club
Thrawn Janet
The Body-Snatcher

If you haven't had a chance, do read some of these. In particular, I really enjoyed the Suicide Club. On some levels, I found it more engaging and interesting than Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. Lodging for the Night just amused me, but honestly, they all amused me. I recommend this one as a good Halloween read.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Recipe Review from 10/19/09

I don’t know what I’ve been doing with my time, but it certainly hasn’t been knitting, or reading. It’s been ages since I’ve had a book review and I have two new projects on the needles but haven’t made much progress. The weather outside has been less than stellar - cold and wet punctuated by the occasional snow squall. Any garden work that needed to get done will have to wait till spring now, unless we get a stretch of dry weather.

But somehow I’ve managed to make a few recipes:

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Apples (Ckng Lght, Nov 09, pg 150) 3.0
This was super easy, but both the Husband and I agreed that the dish lacked flavor. Perhaps it was my choice of apples, or I didn’t toss the sprouts in enough olive oil, or it could have been the sprouts themselves. One item of note: recipe said serves 2, there was enough for 4.

½ cup diced apple
8 oz Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
2 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp apple cider
1 tsp minced fresh thyme
¼ tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper

1)Preheat oven to 375*.
2)Combine apple and sprouts in a small baking dish.
3)Add apple cider, olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper; Toss well.
4)Bake for 25 minutes or until sprouts are tender.

Smoky Slow Cooker Chili (Ckng Lght, Jan/Feb 2009) 4.0
I don’t know what I’ve been doing with my time, but it certainly hasn’t been cooking, knitting, or reading. It’s been ages since I’ve had a book review and I have two new projects on the needles but haven’t made much progress. The weather outside has been less than stellar - cold and wet punctuated by the occasional snow squall. Any garden work that needed to get done will have to wait till spring now, unless we get a stretch of dry weather.

But somehow I’ve managed to make a few recipes:

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Apples (Ckng Lght, Nov 09, pg 150) 3.0
This was super easy, but both the Husband and I agreed that the dish lacked flavor. Perhaps it was my choice of apples, or I didn’t toss the sprouts in enough olive oil, or it could have been the sprouts themselves. One item of note: recipe said serves 2, there was enough for 4.

½ cup diced apple
8 oz Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
2 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp apple cider
1 tsp minced fresh thyme
¼ tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper

1)Preheat oven to 375*.
2)Combine apple and sprouts in a small baking dish.
3)Add apple cider, olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper; Toss well.
4)Bake for 25 minutes or until sprouts are tender.

Smoky Slow Cooker Chili (Ckng Lght, Jan/Feb 2009) 4.0

This was a surprisingly good chili. I did make some notable modifications: I dropped the ground pork altogether. I don’t care for ground meat in my soups/stews/chilies. I ended up using a center cut pork and dicing it into cubes – it was the closest thing we could find at the store. The store also didn’t carry ham hocks – we bought something else that the butcher said was comparable and would add that same smoky flavor (sorry, I don’t remember what it was!). And for the green pepper I used red. I think green pepper tends to be a bit bitter and I prefer the sweetness of a red in most of my dishes. And lastly, the store was out of fresh tomatillos so I used canned. Worked pretty slick!

•1 pound boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
•3 cups chopped onion
•1 3/4 cups chopped red bell pepper
•3 garlic cloves, minced
•3 tablespoons tomato paste
•1 cup lager-style beer (such as Budweiser)
•1/4 teaspoon salt
•3 tablespoons chili powder
•1 tablespoon ground cumin
•2 teaspoons dried oregano
•3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
•6 tomatillos, quartered (or 1 can tomatillos, drained)
•2 bay leaves
•2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans stewed plum tomatoes, undrained and chopped
•1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added pinto beans, drained
•1 (7 3/4-ounce) can Mexican hot-style tomato sauce (such as El Paso)
•1 smoked ham hock (about 8 ounces)

•1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled queso fresco

1. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork shoulder; cook 5 minutes or until lightly browned, turning occasionally. Transfer pork to slow cooker.

2. Recoat pan with cooking spray. Add onion and bell pepper; sauté 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add tomato paste; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in beer; cook 1 minute. Transfer onion mixture to slow cooker.

3.Add 1/4 teaspoon salt, chili powder, and next 9 ingredients (through ham hock) to slow cooker. Cover and cook on MEDIUM** 5 hours or until meat is tender. Remove bay leaves and ham hock; discard. Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and sugar. Ladle about 1 1/3 cups chili into each of 8 bowls; top each serving with 1 tablespoon cheese.

**Chili was done in about 4-5 hours on Medium.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Recipe Review from 10/12/09

Good Heavens! Where does my time go?!? Well, if you find my lost time, please send it back...I could use it.

Last week or so I've made a smattering of recipes. Most of these have ended up being sides, so I won't post the full recipes.

photo from

Tuscan Style Potato Soup (Ckng Lght, Oct 09, pg 102)
I modified this one pretty significantly. Original recipe (here) called for a spicy sausage to be cooked and crumbled over the top along with a pureed kale drizzle. Then there was a whole food mill issue, where after the potatoes were done cooking, they were to be mushed through a food mill. Um, whatever. I'll use my immersion blender thanks. Quicker and less clean up.

I also subbed diced kielbasa for the sausage, cooking it briefly to get a quick caramelizing before tossing it in the finished, blended soup. This can easily be omitted for a vegetarian dish.

Don't be intimidated by the whole head of garlic. Roasted garlic is sooo good and mellow and adds a great backdrop to the potatoes.

Tuscan Style Potato Soup (modified)

6 servings

2 heads garlic
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cups finely chopped onion, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
2 1/4 pounds cubed peeled Yukon gold potato (about 6 cups)
4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 cup half-and-half
4 ounces pecorino Romano cheese, divided
6 ounces Kielbasa, cooked (optional)
1 ounce pancetta, finely chopped (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400°.

2. Cut off pointed end of each garlic head to partially reveal cloves (do not peel or separate the cloves); place each head in the center of a small sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Drizzle 1/2 teaspoon oil over each head; wrap each in foil. Bake at 400° for 45 minutes; cool 10 minutes. Squeeze to extract pulp; discard skins.

3. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 1 1/2 cups onion; sauté 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in pepper, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and potato; sauté 2 minutes. Add broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until potatoes are very tender, stirring occasionally. Using an immersion blender, blend until desired consistency.

Stir in half-and-half. Finely grate 2 ounces cheese to yield 1/2 cup; stir into soup. Cook over medium heat 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

4. Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add remaining 1/2 cup onion; sauté for 6 minutes, stirring frequently. Add kielbasa and pancetta; cook until browned. Toss into soup when done or add to individual bowls.

Zucchini Oven Chips (Ckng Lght, Aug 2005)
The mother has made these several times with good results, and I needed a quick side dish that would use up some summer squash. These were perfect. You can also read about them here: Culinary in the Country.

Zucchini Chips
Yield: 4 servings (serving size: about 3/4 cup)

1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fat-free milk
2 1/2 cups (1/4-inch-thick) slices zucchini (about 2 small)
Cooking spray
Preheat oven to 425°.

Combine first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Place milk in a shallow bowl. Dip zucchini slices in milk, and dredge in breadcrumb mixture. Place coated slices on an ovenproof wire rack coated with cooking spray; place rack on a baking sheet. Bake at 425° for 30 minutes or until browned and crisp. Serve immediately.

I recently bought Michael Ruhlman's new book, Ratio. The premise of the book is just about everything in cooking is a ratio and once a person understands the relationships between the different ratios in cooking, you can begin to move away from dependency on recipes. I bought the book for the Husband, but found myself totally intrigued by the concepts. I intend to try several things, but the first ratio I tried was the popovers.

Good? Yes, very much so. But I managed to set off two smoke alarms while talking on the phone and freaked out my lab. She sat outside in the dark while I had the husband run around opening windows. I DON'T recommend making popovers in muffin tins. Use ramekins if you don't have a popover pan. If you are interested in the ratio, let me know and I'll post it.

And lately I've been on a Spaetzle streak. I've tried one recipe from Better Homes and Gardens, the New Cook Book (1989 ed) and one from Food Network Magazine (Oct 2009). The Food Network version was better, but I need to work on my boiling technique. The BH&G version had a thicker batter, and for some reason we decided not to put the batter through the ricer. Welll...we ended up with small dumplings instead.

The Food Network recipe I decided to try mushing it through a colander (ricer was at the parents place). Batter was nice and smooth, so much so it wouldn't mush through the holes of the colander so I kinda ended up with oddly shaped little glops. Still, it was closer to what I remember spaetzle looking and tasting like than the first version. I have not given up! Hmm, I thought I took a picture of this meal but I guess I didn't.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Chasing Days Gone By

Saturday morning we woke up to this:

24*, snow...yes, it was a might bit chilly. However, that did not deter the parents, the husband and myself from heading up to Two Harbors to "chase" this lovely back to Duluth:

For the last several years, the Depot in Duluth brings in a steam engine for four weekends of Fall colors. They run the engine up to Two Harbors, hold over for two hours so folks can have some lunch and walk the pier, then head back. We did this ride a couple years ago, and while it is always fun taking a trip back in time to ride the rails, you really couldn't see much of the engine that was pulling you. At the time, we thought it would be more fun to chase the train, snap some pictures, then go out to eat without having to worry about missing your ride back.

So we did. I don't have the best camera for doing this (a Canon Elph), and I had it on the wrong setting for the first couple of shots, but toward the end I think I captured a few good pics.

Perhaps K3 will pop by and remind me what kind of engine this is. You would think growing up in a house that loved trains I would know, but it's a short term memory thing and there are no aliens involved... ;)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Recipe Review from 9/28/09

Woot! I feel like I've hit the jackpot lately in the cooking department. I had another couple of noteable successes this past week and all were very quick to assemble. Within 30-40 minutes give or take.

The most noteable changes I made were to the soup. I used Swiss Chard instead of Kale; I used dried soldier beans instead of canned cannelli as I had some to use up; I would have liked to have added some kielbasa to the soup, but my kielbasa was still in my folks freezer (they were storing our venision for us) and I kept forgetting to grab it when I was over. I have since brought some back...

I also made some changes to the couscous recipe, but I've listed those below so they wouldn't get lost.

Two Bean Soup with Swiss Chard (Ckng Lght, Oct 09)
This hearty vegetarian soup warms up chilly nights. Use any type of canned beans you happen to have on hand, and add rotisserie chicken or Italian sausage for a heftier dish, if you prefer.

6 servings (serving size: about 1 1/4 cups)

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1/2 cup chopped celery (I used Swiss Chard stems)
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups organic vegetable broth (such as Emeril's), divided
7 cups stemmed, chopped kale (about 1 bunch) (I used 3 cups chopped Swiss Chard leaves)
2 (15-ounce) cans no-salt-added cannellini beans, rinsed, drained, and divided
1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

1. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add olive oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion, carrot, and celery, and sauté 6 minutes or until tender. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt and garlic; cook 1 minute. Stir in 3 cups vegetable broth and kale. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 3 minutes or until kale is crisp-tender.

2. Place half of cannellini beans and remaining 1 cup vegetable broth in a blender or food processor; process until smooth. Add pureed bean mixture, remaining cannellini beans, black beans, and pepper to soup. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, vinegar, and rosemary.

Chicken with Lemon Caper Sauce (Ckng Lght, Oct 09)
Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 breast half and 1 tablespoon sauce)

**I suggest doubling the sauce recipe - 1 tbsp sauce just wasn't enough IMO.

4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (I used 3 as that's what comes in a pkg)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons capers, drained
3 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley

1. Place chicken between 2 sheets of plastic wrap; pound to an even thickness using a meat mallet or small heavy skillet. Sprinkle chicken evenly with salt and pepper. Place flour in a shallow dish; dredge chicken in flour.

2. Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken to pan; cook 3 minutes. Turn chicken over. Add broth, juice, and capers; reduce heat to medium, and simmer 3 minutes, basting chicken occasionally with sauce. Sprinkle with parsley; cook 1 minute. Remove chicken from pan; keep warm.

3. Bring sauce to a boil; cook 2 minutes or until thick. Serve over chicken.

Couscous Pilaf (Ckng Lght, Oct 09)
This versatile side dish pairs well with most any entrée.

4 servings (serving size: about 3/4 cup)

2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 cup uncooked couscous
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

1. Heat oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and bell pepper; sauté 7 minutes.

2. While vegetables cook, bring broth to a boil in a medium saucepan; gradually stir in couscous. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Stir in onion mixture, salt, and black pepper. Sprinkle with nuts.

My notes: I used 1 cup israeli couscous to 1 1/4 cup water; I sauted the vegetables 5 minutes, added the water, and brought to a boil. Add the couscous and simmer, covered until water was mostly absorbed. Turn off heat, cover tightly and let stand until rest of dinner is ready or at least 5 minutes. Fluff and serve. This makes the recipe a one pot dish.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Superior Hiking Trail, Fall 2009 (maintenance)

On Saturday I was invited to partake in trail maintenance on the Superior Hiking Trail. This segment was just south of the strenuous 11.1 mile bit I did last Saturday. For my readers out there in blog world who may not be familiar with the Superior Hiking Trail, this is a 260+ mile hiking and backpacking trail that runs adjacent to Lake Superior. The trail is maintained in part by a large group of volunteers who adopt segments and walk them twice a year to check for problems and clean them up.

This segment is 5 miles long. Going from South to North, is begins by paralleling the Beaver River before meandering up the ridges to provide some great overlooks of the Beaver River gorge and Lake Superior. With the Fall colors just beginning to turn, it was very dramatic. The day itself was overcast, about 50*, with a light drizzle that turned to rain at the end.

(our fearless leader S.)

This segment has maintained by S. for about 10 years (if I remember the conversation correctly) and he pulled together a crew of 10 for the day. Armed with loppers, hand pruners, one chain saw certified person, a bow saw (me!), shovels and polaski's, we headed out. The group collectively checks for low hanging branches, fallen trees, obstructions to the paths, loose rocks on the steeper climbs/descents, and does campsite maintenance. Most of the group has done this before, I think there were a couple of us newbies along - I figure we're in training.

(D. and S. with Greta and Toby)

Lunch was on a great rock knob that provided quite the view of the lake shore and parts of Beaver Bay. This segment of trail does wind through Mining Company property so there is more evidence of industry here than other segments. Also due to it's proximity between the two towns, there was the occasional sound of alternative recreation (ATV's). I don't mind the ATVer's; they have their trail and I have mine and I think it's great that people are just getting out and about.

We were off the trail by 1:30ish and back in Duluth by 3:30. Everyone parts ways, runs home to clean up, then meets back at S.'s for a fabulous dinner and great conversation. Someday I'd like to know how everyone met S. and ended up being a part of this wonderful tradition.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Defining Diana by Hayden Trenholm

I picked this selection up at Worldcon based off a recommendation on a panel on up and coming Canadian SF&F authors. If memory serves me right, and I have been known to be wrong, Trenholm was mentored by Robert J. Sawyer of the Hominids; Humans; Hybrids trilogy. Sawyer makes a great panelist, I just can't read his books.

Defining Diana is another book in the SF detective noir genre. Superintendent Frank Steele is in charge of the SDU, the "small, elite police unit that is handed all the bizarre and baffling cases" no one else wants. His is a misfit group: Buzz Wannamaker, a Borg; Willa, recent divorcee; Cat, the units forensic expert; Ross, a demented psychopath; and Steele himself, an alcoholic who daydreams of Willa. They have too many cases and not enough time or outside respect to get them solved.

But then beautiful Diana Doe shows up dead in a locked room, having died of apparently nothing. Rather quickly after finding her the bodies start to pile up, but solving the mystery of all the bodies is rather hard to to when the Commissioner disbands the SDU.

I don't normally read detective noir, but this began as a moderately interesting read that pulled me along. The author bounces from first person POV to third person POV which if you are not paying attention to how he is doing it, can leave you momentarily perplexed. There are more cliches than I would have liked for a setting of 2043, but I think that's the point of this subgenre. *However*, my critism aside, after I picked up on a not so subtle clue, the whole tone of the book changed from interesting and shoved me right into wow, that was really cleverly done! So, it could go either way. I will probably track down his next book as it comes avaliable.

Defining Diana was a Prix Aurora Nominee in 2009 and is published by Bundoran Press, Canada.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Recipe Review from 9/21/09

Okay, get your printers and/or pencils ready, this past weeks recipes were AWESOME!

I did Indian this week: Aloo Palak, basmati rice and pineapple lassi's. Heaven, simply heaven. And so simple too! Just two noteable changes to the Aloo Palak: I decreased the spices (which I did note below) because the amounts given just seemed like overkill, especially if you are using Penzey's spices. And I decreased the coconut milk as I didn't want soup. Creamy yes, runny no.

I served this over basmati rice and I winged this part: it was about 1/3 cup rinsed basmati rice to about 1 cups water (these are approximate amts as I really didn't measure). Put rinsed rice in ovenproof baking dish that has been lightly coated with oil; boil the water, add to rice. Cover tightly and bake for 45 mintues along with Aloo Palak. PLEASE NOTE: This only makes about 1 1/2 cups of cooked rice. It was all I had on hand...

Aloo Palak (Vegetarian Times, Sept 09)
2 10-oz. pkgs. frozen spinach, thawed and drained, liquid reserved
2 medium potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (3 cups) (I used 4 small yellow potatoes)
2 Tbs. garlic powder (I used 1 Tbs)
2 Tbs. curry powder (I used 1 Tbs)
1 tsp. ground cumin (I used 1/2 tsp)
1 tsp. salt (I used 1/2 tsp)
3/4 cup light coconut milk (I used 1/2 cup)

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Stir together spinach, 3/4 cup spinach liquid, potatoes, garlic powder, curry powder, cumin, and salt in 9-inch square baking dish. Cover with foil, and bake 45 minutes.
2. Remove from oven. Stir in coconut milk, and transfer to serving bowl.

And lastly, the Pineapple Lassi. Oh, be still my beating heart! Modifcations here were I didn't used canned crushed pineapple - I had cut up a fresh one for my Green Smoothies so I just tossed in what I thought was comparable. I also cut the ingredients by 1/3 so I made just one serving instead of three.

My first lassi turned out runny, and recipe says it would be, so second lassi I upped the ice and added frozen mango chunks for a nice thick refreshing drink. Play around with this recipe to suit your tastes, it really is good.

Pineapple Lassi (Ckng Lght, Oct 2009)
A frothy South Indian yogurt-based beverage, lassi often contains seasonal fruit and spices. This recipe yields a drink that's a bit thinner than the average smoothie.

Yield: 3 servings (serving size: about 1 1/2 cups)

2 cups vanilla low-fat yogurt
1 cup canned crushed pineapple in juice, undrained
1/4 cup light coconut milk
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon bottled ground fresh ginger (such as Spice World)
6 ice cubes

1. Combine all ingredients in a blender; process until well blended. Serve immediately.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Superior Hiking Trail, Fall 2009

Saturday I found myself out on the Superior Hiking Trail for another Fall Guided Hike sponsored by the Superior Hiking Trail Association. I went on one last October that was amazing and so I found myself returning this year.

(View North from Bear Lake)

This segment was 11.1 miles (yes, that .1 mile is important!) from Silver Bay, MN, to Hwy 1 just north of Tettagouche St. Park. The first segment takes the hiker past Bean and Bear Lakes, with some truly stunning drop-offs and overlooks. Then the trail meanders its way down into maple/birch forest with a relatively flat stretch. But what goes down on the SHT must come back up again and you find yourself climbing climbing climbing up to Round Mtn and then after a little dip, up to Mt. Trudee with again, some fantastic overlooks.

(View West from Mt. Trudee)

But the trail doesn't end there, and it winds its way through Tettagouche St. Park, down across the Baptism River Gorge and up the opposite side. The trails through the park are wider and less cobbly than the SHT trail...that is until one gets to the that last .1 mile, where you hike straight up this rock knob, admire the amazing view, then follow the trail down to the parking lot at Hwy 1.

Like I mentioned above, this was a "guided hike"; we met at one trail head and half of the group shuttles everyone down to the opposite end. Forty-three people turned out for the hike on Saturday. The sun peeked out briefly, sending temps soaring to a humid 65*, then the clouds slid in and a breeze picked up moderating everything quite nicely. By 3p a front moved through pushing those clouds out and clearing the skys for a splendid late afternoon.

As I was last in line for the biffy at the trail head, I hiked with the "sweep" (the person designated to make sure everyone gets off the trail safely) a lovely gal from Rochester, MN. Because we were following the slowest person on the hike, it took us 8 hours to finish. I have no complaints, it was just simply too nice of a day to rush things. The bulk of the group probably finished in about five to six hours and the slower folks in seven.

I hope to get out on a couple more October hikes, but we will see how the weather cooperates. Next Saturday I will be lending a hand for some trail maintenance so I look forward to reporting back about that. Stay tuned!

(late blooming asters along trail)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Recipe Review 9/14/09

It must be Fall, the cooking is picking up again and I have one notable recipe to share this week and one so-so beverage.

If you recall from last weeks post with the brown and wild rice, I was left with some leftover rice. This next recipe caught my eye and was a great way to use it while it was still fresh.

Autumn Wild Rice Patties (Vegetarian Times, Oct 2009, pg 32) 4.5
The flavor of this was that of my favorite Thanksgiving Day stuffing! Now I will add that they turned out nothing like the picture the recipe gave, I didn't have enough binder to make the little patties work so I just plopped everything in a pan and cooked it up that way. Seemed to work fine - tasted fantastic. I also made my own cranberry sauce. I think there are a lot of things a person could do with these, such as use it as a stuffing for pork chops or stuffed peppers.

Autumn Wild Rice Patties
1 cup cooked wild rice
1 cup cooked brown rice
1/2 cup finely chopped small red onion
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup finely chopped, marinated and drained, artichoke hearts
1/4 cup chopped toasted pecans
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp chopped fresh sage (1 tsp dried)
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves (1/4 tsp dried)
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary (1/4 tsp dried)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup crushed saltine or rice crackers
1/4 cup chunky cranberry sauce

1) stir together wild rice, brown rice, onion, dried cranberries, artichoke hearts, pecans, oil, and herbs in a large bowl. Fold in eggs and then cracker crumbs. Season with salt and pepper. Shape into 12 1/4 cup patties. (At this point, patties can be chilled for up to 24 hours.)

2) Heat 1 tsp olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add 4 patties to hot skillet and cook 3-4 minutes, or until browned and crispy. Flip and repeat until browned and crispy on opposite side. Repeat with remaining patties. Serve with chunky cranberry sauce.

This recipe came from a different source, my Yoga Journal magazine. Jury's still out on this beverage. It wasn't bad, but it didn't leap out and say "drink me again!"

Breakfast Tea (Yoga Journal Sept/Oct 09)

1 cup water
1/2 tsp fresh ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 pinch ground cardamom
dash of milk for those of you with a "pitta" constitution (a yogic thing)

Bring water to a boil. Add spices, cover and let stand 5 minutes or so. Drink.

That's it. I didn't think the ginger flavor was all that prevalent, and the Cinnamon smelled fantastic but there again, no taste. It was rather like this fantastic smelling beverage that simple didn't taste like anything. I can get that with warm water and save my spices. I think the preparation for this needs to be a bit more like making homemade chai, where the spices are simmered for a while to release the essential oils and flavors. A 5 min soak just doesn't cut it.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Green Smoothies

This one deserved a post all to itself...

The yoga studio I attend (Yoga North) has been raving about these "green smoothies". I've been watching rather dubiously as more and more folks have been running around with mason jars full of what only appeared to be pond water. You know, when it's August and the top of the pond is this vibrant shade of green; sometimes it's algae, sometimes it's duckweed and if you go swimming and you open your eyes under water and you can see the bits and pieces of aquatic vegetation suspended in the dappled sunlight...

Yes, mason jars of what appeared to be just that.

The green smoothie is from a book called Green for Life by Victoria Boutenko. The premise behind this blended green concoction is we don't eat enough veggies, and by making a smoothie out of greens and fruits we not only meet our daily intake of veggies and fruit we can surpass it. Boutenko and her family are raw foodist's and she found for her and her family that even with the amount of fruits and veggies they were eating, they hit a 'health plateau' and this was her answer to moving beyond that.

Now, this is my opinion only, but I found the book to be poorly written and the claims dubious. For example, early on in the book she was explaining why her family went raw-food and ultimately to raw-food and green smoothies: her son had type 2 diabetes, her husband had debilitating arthritis and could barely walk, someone else had severe allergies, and she had a heart arrhythmia. Yet they started the green smoothies and in three months they all ran a 10k. Um, right. I am in pretty decent shape between yoga, bicycling, spin class, gardening, hiking, etc, and I couldn't run a 10k without issues. Walk it - yes. No problemo. Run? No.

However, the premise of a green smoothie makes sense. You are drinking 12-16oz of blended spinach, kale, or Swiss chard with banana's, oranges, pineapple, mango's, cantaloupe, blueberries...pick your fruit, daily in addition to your regular diet. The initial quantities should be 40% leafy green veggie, 60% fruit, and water. Blend together and waa-la! You just drank a goodly portion of your fruits and veggies for the day.

So at the recent studio open house I got to try one. And it was good. Really good. So I went home and combined some Swiss chard leaves, a couple of banana's, part of an orange, water, and because I can't just follow a recipe without changing it, some yogurt. The yogurt is purely optional and not part of Boutenko's recipes. Result? A bit vegetal, but pretty darn good! I think I had too many Swiss chard leaves.

I've been drinking one daily for a week now: alternating between having it with breakfast or as a mid morning snack. I'm still trying to figure out how to transport it as I think it's best cold, plus I'm adding yogurt for the calcium and to make it thicker. My smoothies have to be thick! Frozen banana's are a great thickener as well.

Some folks are using it as a breakfast replacement because they really aren't breakfast people. Others are just noshing on it all day long (I recommend keeping it cold somehow - potentially fermenting fruits and veggies could do some less than interesting things to the digestive tract). I like it as a mid morning pick-me up or as a evening meal for those nights I get home at 8:00p from class.

And here's my basic recipe:

2 big handfuls (about 2 packed cups) spinach, Swiss chard, kale or a combination
2 banana's (can be frozen)
1 orange (or pineapple)
+/- 2/3 cup water
about 6 oz (2/3 cup) vanilla or plain organic yogurt (purely optional)

(I don't have a Vitamix blender - just a Cuisinart - so some extra hand chopping is necessary.)

Chop larger green leaves (Swiss chard) into smaller bits, place in blender with water. Start to puree. Once greens are blending well, add banana chunks and orange (try not to sploot green smoothie on cupboards or ceiling...) and then add yogurt. Makes 2 servings.

The Swiss chard and kale are going to be a bit more 'vegetal' tasting. Spinach is not as strong. Adjust fruit/yogurt to desired taste.

Other variations: pineapple and banana, peach and banana, peach and mango...use your imagination here! I did pick up some frozen peaches, mango, and blueberries to have on hand as they cost $$$ for fresh.

I like to make a batch in the evening so it's ready to go the next morning when I'm trying to get myself out the door and puppies fed and watered. One batch will last me two days. Like I mentioned above, I'm still trying to figure out how best to transport it for consumption later in the day. I'm also going to try experimenting with adding some soy protein powder as I need a bit more than my diet is providing right now.

Truly, this is really good and the fruit combinations are really versatile.

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