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Monday, February 28, 2011

Recipe Review from 2/21/11

Whoo.  We were quite the chemists this past week.  On one day, we had no less that four different cultures fermenting in our kitchen.  On purpose I should add. 

Sourdough culture (Harold)
Sourdough bread dough  (Son of Harold)
Creme fraiche
Honey mead (part one)

Sorry, got so caught up in the chemistry stuff that I forgot to be artistic and snap some photo's! 

Sourdough Starter and Multigrain Soughdough Bread Dough (Vegetarian Times, March 2011)
To make this, we needed to start Harold (aka 'the starter') three to four days in advance.  Harold needed to be fed two times a day.  By day four, we decided this was a PITA (pain in the ass).  Now, the advantages to doing the starter in advance like this was we made sourdough pancakes twice!  Love pancakes.  Especially with blueberries. 

The ultimate goal is nicely fermenting starter by day three/four.  We did four days because our house is on the chilly side for fermentation - about 64*; Harold would have been happier at about 74*.  But he wasn't going to get that.  We also planned this so the final assembly and rise would happen in the evening.  This turned out to be a very wet dough, and the Husband had to add nearly 3x the amount of flour called for to make the bread kneadable. 

I'm not going to type the recipe out - it's two recipes actually, and in my opinion, too putzy  for one loaf of bread.  I think the next time I want sourdough, I'm going to order some from San Francisco where they know how to make it. 

We did save a bit of the starter for:

Sourdough Blueberry Pancakes (modified; Vegetarian Times, Mar 2011)
Okay, we made these three times, only ONCE following the recipe.  Odd?  Yes.  Because! You have to start this recipe the NIGHT BEFORE and well, we managed to miss that tidbit of info twice and just went with what we had.  Still, this makes a fluffy, somewhat dense, pancake.  It has some stick-to-your-ribs attitude, with a nice tang offset by the blueberries.  Leftovers were frozen for later.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Peace War by Verner Vinge

$14.95 reprint pb; 304 pgs
From BarnesandNoble.comThe novel that garnered Vinge his first "Best Novel" Hugo Finalist nomination, back in print after thirteen years. With a combination of hard-SF concepts, tight plotting, and appealing characters, Vinge tells a now-classic story of the Few triumphing over the Many. The Peace Authority, wielding a new state-of-the-art weapon, takes over the world, and claims to be "maintaining the peace" while really controlling the scattered survivors of the new world. The inventor of their weapon, which was never meant to be a weapon at all, leads a resistance of high-tech "tinkers" who fight to defeat the "Peace."I had to check the publishing date on this book and saw it was 1984, which would explain the feeling of chronic fear from Authorities, the aftermath of another world wide war, and the fall of civilization. All speculative fiction surrounding the Cold War. However, I thought it read like a blend of the scifi from the 1950's and the early 1980's.

I also noted this was a Hugo Nominee in 1985, pitted against the likes of:

Neuromancer by William Gibson [Ace, 1984]
Emergence by David R. Palmer [Bantam, 1984]
The Peace War by Vernor Vinge [Bluejay, 1984]
Job: A Comedy of Justice by Robert A. Heinlein [Ballantine Del Rey, 1984]
The Integral Trees by Larry Niven [Ballantine Del Rey, 1984]

A rather eclectic selection of books, with the winner being Neuromancer by Gibson. Cyberpunk.

The book dealt with fear and paranoia on both sides - the 'Tinkers' fear of being discovered as one tried to 'reinvent' past contraptions, electronics, and other devices; and the Peace Authorities fear of someone actually doing exactly that. It went farther though, it was the fear of one man in the Peace Authority and his all encompassing paranoia of one man - a Tinker - who in his mind had created the whole problem in the first place. Which never really made sense and left me scratching my head more often than not.

Worth reading, but not one of Vinge's best in my opinon.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Recipe Review from 2/14/10

What a week!  Temperatures 20* above normal - more in some places. Hibbing, MN hit 60* on Wednesday!  An all time record for them, but it should also be noted that their weather records only go back maybe 50 years or so. 

We got the dog kennel dug out and, while not fixed, at least usable if temperatures warm back up again.  Won't be able to store the canoe on top unless we get a new back panel.  What to do, what to do. 

In the meantime, we don't have to worry about putting the hounds out for a while again.  Temps have dropped back down into the teens which is too cold for my pups to be outside all day.  We had a front move through with 45mph winds.  Power went out for about three hours during the night.  Wow, house is soooo quiet with nothing running!  Could really hear the wind howling.

Couple new recipes from last week: 

Hearty Irish Lager Stew  (Veg Times, March 2011)
This was simpler to make than the directions indicate - simply because I combined a few steps.  I sauteed the leeks with the rest of the root vegetables and tomato paste.  I completely dropped the tapioca (didn't want to buy it for just, what, 1  tsp? Ridiculous.) and I dropped the miso for the same reason.  The stew was plenty thick and had a nice "sheen" all on it's own. 

My only complaint with this recipe was it turned out on the tomato-y side.  I realized in hindsight (actually, as I was typing this out) that I completely forgot the thyme.  I would have used dried - I'm not paying $3.00 for fresh herbs this time of year - but I think that would have mellowed some of the predominant tomato taste.  Made 7 servings for lunches. 

Pale lager beer adds the mellow flavors of barley, hops, and malt to a rich vegetable stew.  The secret ingredient is quick-cooking tapioca, which thickens the stew and gives it a glistening sheen.

1 tbsp vegetable oil
8 oz button mushrooms (I used crimini), sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup (1 medium leek), white part only, sliced
1 1/2 cups (3 small) red potatoes,  cubed
2 cups (2 medium) carrots, peeled and sliced
1 1/2 cups (2 small) parsnips, peeled and sliced
1 1/2 tsp tomato paste
1-15oz can crushed tomatoes
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
2 sprigs fresh thyme, tied in a bundle, plus 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme, divided
1/2 cup lager beer
1 1/2 tsp quick cooking tapioca
1 cup shredded cabbage
1 tbsp white miso
2 tbsp chopped parsley

1. Heat 1/2 tbsp oil in large pot over medium heat.  Add mushrooms and garlic, saute 8 minutes or until mushrooms are browned.  Remove from pan. Add remaining 1/2 tbsp oil to pot.  Add leeks, and cook 5 minutes.  Add potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and tomato paste.  Cook 2 minutes.  Add tomatoes, broth and thyme sprigs, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Add lager, tapioca, and mushrooms.  Simmer 10 to 15 more minutes, or until thickened, stirring often.  Remove thyme sprig, stir in cabbage and miso and simmer 4-5 minutes, or until cabbage softens.  Season and serve. 

Pulled Pork with Caramelized Onions  (Eating Well, Jan/Feb 2011)
This was also a very easy dish to make since prep can be broken up into say, morning prep and final dinner prep.  I seasoned and put the roast into the slowcooker before work.  After work was a matter of slicing onions, caramelizing, and adding the rest of the ingredients.  Pork is so tender it shreds without any effort.  Serve.  Seriously.  That's it.  Best part was it tasted great.  I did served this on hard rolls with shredded cabbage.  Excellent as leftovers.  I would make this again. 

Traditional pulled pork is barbecued, which gives it a smoky flavor. But the slow cooker happens to be the absolute easiest way to cook pulled pork—and you can get a hint of smoke by adding chipotle chile. Serve the pulled pork with potato salad, collard greens and grits. Or make it into a sandwich and serve it on a bun with coleslaw.
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 large onions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup raw cane sugar, such as Demerara or turbinado (see Notes)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1 cup chili sauce, such as Heinz
1 1/2-3 teaspoons minced chipotle chile in adobo sauce (see Notes)
3 pounds boneless pork shoulder or blade (butt) roast, trimmed

1.Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, 3 to 6 minutes. Add sugar and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the onions are golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes more. Add garlic, oregano, pepper and salt and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add vinegar and bring to a boil. Cook until mostly evaporated, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in chili sauce and chipotle to taste.

2.Place pork in a 4-quart (or larger) slow cooker and cover with the sauce. Cover and cook until the pork is almost falling apart, about 4 hours on High or 8 hours on Low.

3.Transfer the pork to a cutting board and shred using two forks. Stir back into the sauce.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mercy Falls by William Kent Krueger

Book 5 in the Corcoran O’Connor series; Audio book

Premise of the book from Goodreads.comBack in the saddle as sheriff of Tamarack County, Cork O'Connor is lured to the nearby Ojibwe reservation on what appears to be a routine call -- only to become the target of sniper fire. Soon after, he's called to investigate a mutilated body found perched above the raging waters of Mercy Falls. The victim is Eddie Jacoby, a Chicago businessman negotiating an unpopular contract between his management firm and the local Indian casino. Okay, I confess I don’t know why I’m still listening to these. Being from Northern MN and knowing the town of Aurora, I have brain skids trying to place his fictional ‘Aurora’ to a live landscape. I had to do some mental town swapping to make the location work in my head – and on the map. That irritates me.

Sparks fly when the wealthy Jacoby family hires a beautiful private investigator to consult on the case. But once Cork discovers an old and passionate tie between one of the Jacoby sons and his own wife, Jo, he begins to suspect that dark, personal motives lurk behind recent events. Murder, greed, sex, and jealousy hide around every corner in this maze of danger. But somewhere beneath the turbulent Mercy Falls lies the truth -- and Cork is determined to find it.

Jo O’Connor, for having married a Chicago cop who now lives in an isolated Northern MN town, is a worry wart and seems to have forgotten what it is like to be a cops wife and she vacillates between being the poor housewife and a nosey lawyer. And for being a cops wife and a lawyer, her common sense shorts out somewhere at the beginning of the book. I called her names several times – luckily no one noticed me muttering under my breath. The downside of an audio book. a putz. For many reasons. But what I think drove it home for me is when he goes dashing off into the BWCAW on a man hunt, he doesn’t bring any K9 sniffing dogs with. No. He brings Henry Milieu, who’s age is not revealed, but must be in his 80’s. I’m seriously shaking my head on this one.  He has at his disposal air scent dogs, ground scent dogs, and he brings a nearly blind Trial Elder.  It was almost as if Milieu hadn't been part of this mystery and the author needed a way to bring in one of his favorite characters.  I would have been happier if he had left Milieu at home for another day and brought a dog.

I'm also very undecided about the Ending as Beginning literary technique.  I found it revealed more than I cared for and I basically spent the book fitting plot to the "beginning/ending" rather than just being able to enjoy the story (see comment above where I'm swearing at the book). 

And lastly, without giving anything away - in case there are still folks out there reading this series - the end annoyed the begeebus out of me.  I don't like to be annoyed when reading a book.  Entertained, amused, saddened, those are all fine emotions to elicit. But annoyed?  Don't even go there...and this book did. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Recipe Review from 2/6/11

Part of this encompasses Superbowl Weekend - the Husband and I usually do our own mini-party, making some appetizers, maybe pizza, or some other appropriate football party type food.  This year we did an actual meal: warmed goat cheese in almonds drizzled with honey and served with pita chips; pickled herring on saltines; slow-cooked pork spare ribs; homemade baked beans, and a mixed-fruit pie with a crumb topping (from Rustic Inn; best pies EVER). 

We've been attempting to make a decent batch of baked beans for a while now.  The Husband was gifted with a cast iron dutch oven for just this purpose, but we've had...issues.  Beans not softening and staying crunchy (does not make for good beans); the seasoning in the dutch oven flaking off (black specks in ones beans also does not make for good beans).  

We ascertained the beans not softening was due to several factors
  • Hard water - our well water is very high in calcium which inhibits softening.  Fixed by using bottled/filtered water.
  • Tomato paste/sauce - we read in Cooks Illustrated that the acid in tomato products inhibits the softening of the beans and should be added toward the end of the cooking process.  Didn't seem to help.  Still had somewhat crunchy beans.
  • Salt - inhibits the softening of beans.  Now add only at the end of the cooking process.
  • Vinegar - as an acid, it also inhibits the softening of beans.  Now add only at the end.
So when I saw the recipe below, I was intrigued.  No tomato products...but would it taste good?  Only one way to find out...

Bourbon Baked Beans (Ckng Lght, June 2010)
This was OUTSTANDING!  Seriously good - I could have easily shoved the spareribs aside and just eaten a big ol bowl of beans.  I did do some significant modifications to the recipe, mainly in bean prep.  I soaked my beans the day before for about 6 hours.  I then put them in the slowcooker for 4 hours with 2 bay leaves.  Drain and put in fridge.  This will save time later and help prevent crunchy beans. 

This was thick, saucy, and oh so flavorful.  The maple syrup is a great counterpoint to the dijon mustard, and the bacon really brings all the flavors together.   These can be made ahead of time and reheated when needed.  Great as leftovers!  I'll definitely be making these again. 
Bourbon Baked Beans
Yield: 6 1/2 cups (serving size: 1/2 cup)

1 pound dried navy beans (about 2 1/2 cups)
3 applewood-smoked bacon slices
1 cup finely chopped onion
5 cups water, divided    3 cups water, divided   ** see note above
1/2 cup maple syrup, divided
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons bourbon, divided    I only had brandy so I tossed some of that in.
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt


1. Sort and wash beans; place in a large Dutch oven. Cover with water to 2 inches above beans; cover and let stand 8 hours or overnight. Drain beans. Wipe pan dry with a paper towel.  **I cooked in the slow cooker for four hours after soaking.

2. Preheat oven to 350°. 300*

3. Heat pan over medium-high heat. Add bacon to pan, and cook for 4 minutes or until crisp. Remove from pan, reserving 1 1/2 tablespoons drippings in pan; crumble bacon. Add onion to drippings in pan; cook for 5 minutes or until onion begins to brown, stirring frequently. Add beans, bacon, 4  2 cups water, 1/4 cup maple syrup, 1/4 cup bourbon, and next 3 ingredients (through pepper) to pan. Bring to a boil; cover and bake at 350° 300* for 2 hours.

4. Stir in remaining 1 cup water (if necessary!), remaining 1/4 cup maple syrup, and remaining 2 tablespoons bourbon. Cover and bake 1 hour or until beans are tender and liquid is almost absorbed. Stir in vinegar and salt.

Check your beans 10 to 15 minutes ahead of time [periodically] to make sure they're not drying out.

Chicken Alfredo with Broccoli (Ckng Light BB, from Bon Appetit)
This one...didn't turn out so well.  Brain fart on my part - I only had milk on hand having forgotten to buy some half n half, and I didn't see that I needed some Monteray Jack cheese when I wrote the shopping list.  I guess that's what I get for writing it at the last minute.   And actually, everything was coming together smoothly until I had to add the pasta.  It was like suddenly there wasn't enough sauce.  I think in hindsight, too many toppings, not enough pasta and sauce. 

To thicken the sauce without half in half, I added some flour to the red pepper and chicken strips after I sauteed them, then pour the milk over that and allowed to thicken.  To which I then added the Parmesan cheese.  This went very nicely, until I had to add the pasta then it became rather thin and runny.   I would try this again, but perhaps cutting the chicken and broccoli in half, or skipping the chicken altogether. 

Chicken and Broccoli Alfredo (Bon Appétit, February 1995)
Yield: Serves   easily 6

4 to 5 cups broccoli florets (from about 1 large bunch)
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 skinless boneless chicken breast halves, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide strips
1 large red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 2/3 cups whipping cream
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
3/4 pound penne or mostaccioli, freshly cooked

Steam broccoli florets until just tender, about 3 minutes; set aside.

Preheat broiler. Butter 13x9x2-inch broilerproof baking dish. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in heavy large Dutch oven over medium-high. Working in batches, sauté chicken strips until just cooked through, about 4 minutes. Transfer chicken strips to bowl. Add sliced red bell pepper to Dutch oven and sauté until just tender, about 5 minutes. Add whipping cream, 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese and all of Monterey Jack cheese. Simmer until sauce thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Add chicken strips and any juices in bowl to sauce. Add freshly cooked pasta and steamed broccoli florets and toss until sauce coats mixture, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer pasta mixture to prepared baking dish. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup grated cheese over. Broil until just golden on top, about 3 minutes, and serve.

And, if you've made it this far - pics of the busted kennel:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies by Alexander McCall Smith

Book #6 in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series

Mma Ramotswe, happily married to Mr. J:LB Maketoni, owner of Tolkengway Speedy Motors, has some personal issues to resolve in this edition.  Note Makoti has turned up in town and is demanding money from her and is threatening to ruin her marriage, she found an intruder under her bed, and a mysterious pumpkin in her flowerbed.  Meanwhile, at the garage, one of the apprentices has flown the coup with a rich lady, Mma Makutsi has taken up dancing lessons, and her van is stolen. 

I found this to be a fun light read. No big mysteries to be solved, but a series of smaller ones interwoven into the lives of Mma Makutsi, Mma Ramotswe and Rra Maketoni. Some new characters are introduced and some old faces reappear.

The downside is watching the HBO series and then reading the books - the series pulls from multiple books and multiple subplots and just when I think I've caught up in the series I realize that I had already seen the story on DVD. Still, fun to see how HBO brings the characters, plots and Botswana to life.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Recipe Review from 1/31/11

Uff.  Not sure where the week went, but it sure wasn't into new recipes!  Had good intentions, but ((shrug)) that's how it goes.  Monday is yoga night and leftovers - ended up having grilled cheese (LOVE grilled cheese!).  Tuesday was bottle beer night and to save time in the kitchen, was take-n-bake pizza.  Wednesday night the Husband had Bulls-eye League and I was left to my own devises - which means grilled cheese.  Thursday is yoga night and a fried egg sandwich (LOVE fried egg sandwiches).  Friday we had to do errands then shoveling and snowblowing at the Folks place so it was Chinese take-out. 

In other news, we had a minor catastrophe this weekend: came home from a jaunt up to Ely only to discover that the dog kennel had collapsed under the weight of the snow on the canoe.  Major bummer.  No pups were harmed - they are kept inside during the winter and were with us on Saturday besides.  I'll post pictures later this week.
One good dish for lunches during the week: 

Vegetarian Country Captain  (Ckng Lght, Jan/Feb 2011)
This was very easy to assemble (30 minutes really isn't out of line!) and the Indian flavors are just perfect right now.   A couple of modifications - I subbed carrots for the cauliflower since the Husband doesn't care for it (I know, I know, very sad); I also used peas for the edamame (had them in the freezer), and half n half for the whipping cream (again, had it on hand).   I also used wild rice instead of regular rice.  Not sure why...I had brown basmati rice in the cupboard that would also have been outstanding.  Still, this made excellent lunches for the week. 

Traditionally, Country Captain is a mild chicken stew seasoned with curry powder. Myth has it that a British sea captain working in the spice trade introduced this classic, comforting dish to the southern U.S. in the 19th century. Here, we've replaced chicken with edamame and cauliflower for a version loaded with vegetables to help you meet your daily produce goals.

Total: 30 minutes

Yield: 4 6 servings (serving size: 1 1/4 cups cauliflower mixture, 3/4 cup rice, 1 tablespoon currants, and 1 tablespoon almonds)

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
1 1/2 cups diced peeled Granny Smith apple (about 1/2 pound)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon curry powder
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups organic vegetable broth
2 tablespoons mango chutney
2 tablespoons whipping cream  1/2n1/2
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups cauliflower florets  carrots
2 cups frozen shelled edamame (green soybeans)
3 cups hot cooked long-grain white rice

1/4 cup dried currants
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
Chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
Sliced green onions (optional)


1. Heat a large, heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan, and swirl to coat. Add chopped onion, and cook for 7 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Add apple; cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add flour, curry, and garlic; cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add broth, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 2 minutes or until slightly thick. Stir in chutney, cream, and salt. Add cauliflower and edamame; cook for 8 minutes or until cauliflower is tender, stirring occasionally. Serve over rice, and top with currants and almonds. Garnish with cilantro and green onions, if desired.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Rough Country by John Sandford

Book #4 in the Virgl Flower's series.

From Goodreads. comVirgil's always been known for having a somewhat active, er, social life, but he's probably not going to be getting too many opportunities for that during his new case. While competing in a fishing tournament in a remote area of northern Minnesota, he gets a call from Lucas Davenport to investigate a murder at a nearby resort, where a woman has been shot while kayaking. The resort is for women only, a place to relax, get fit, recover from plastic surgery, commune with nature, and while it didn't start out to be a place mostly for those with Sapphic inclinations, that's pretty much what it is today.

Which makes things all the more complicated for Virgil, because as he begins investigating, he finds a web of connections between the people at the resort, the victim, and some local women, notably a talented country singer. The more he digs, the more he discovers the arrows of suspicion that point in many directions, encompassing a multitude of motivations: jealousy, blackmail, greed, anger, fear. Then he finds that this is not the first murder, that there was a second, seemingly unrelated one, the year before. And that there's about to be a third, definitely related one, any time now.

While the who-done-it wasn't hard to figure out, this book was worth every word with the wry wit expressed by Virgl and one-liners had me chucking out loud. This book also seemed to have less insight into the killers mind than the previous books, which I appreciated. It was becoming a distraction knowing more than the main character.

If you like audio books, the reader does a fabulous job with the voices and made the book fun to listen to.  I'm looking forward to book #4: Bad Blood.

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