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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
and
Markheim

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!


Ingredients
•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

Preparation
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.



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)

Yield
6 servings

Ingredients
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)

Preparation
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)

Ingredients
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
Preparation
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.

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

Ingredients
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

Preparation
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.

Ingredients
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

Preparation
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.

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

Ingredients
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

Preparation
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.