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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Silent Prey by John Sandford

Book #4 in the Lucas Davenport Series. Unabridged audiobook.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From In Eyes of Prey (Book #3), Michael Bekker, an insane pathologist who experiments with his patients pain thresholds, is finally brought down by an unrelenting Lucas Davenport, who brutally maims the doctors beautiful face but leaves him alive. You should have killed me, were Bekkers parting and prophetic words.

In this sequel to Eyes of Prey, Dr. Mike Bekker, a psychotic pathologist, is back on the streets, doing what he does best—murdering one helpless victim after another. Lucas Davenport knows he should have killed Bekker when he had the chance. Now he has a second opportunity —and the time to hesitate is through.

This one was beginning to read a bit like a James Bond book. Our Hero (Lucas as Bond) always gets his woman.  The bad guy is always caught but not before our Hero (Lucas as Bond) is beaten up emotionally and physically.  The story started out fairly strong, picking up directly after book number three.  Not a bad plot device in a series - moves the story along but you don't have to create a whole new situation or characters.  However, the middle dragged.  Once again our protagonists are running around in circles trying to find our antagonist, who just somehow manages to elude darn near everybody.   Downside of said plot devise - same plot, different city.  It got tedious. 

There was a subplot, Lucas was brought to New York to find out who is the crooked cop on the force, but it felt like it was lost in the whole quest for the psycho-bad guy plot and honestly, I thought what sub-plot there was, was more interesting than the main plot.  So again, tedious that I had to slog through the rest to find out what happened here. 

Still, an enjoyable enough read on my daily commute and I'll continue with Book #5 Winter Prey in a month or so.  Meanwhile, I have Shock Wave with Virgl Flowers waiting for me.  Hooray!

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Recipe Review from 12/19/12

An odd week to be sure.  Andy's still getting twice daily dose of antibiotics for his laceration from the week before.  A daily dose of ear medicine, and we've done two ear cleanings now.  Med's must be working because this is the cleanest I've seen his ears since we adopted him in May!   Add in my book groups holiday outing, my snack day at work, and the Husband's office gift exchange (posting more on that later), it was also a long week. 

Merry Christmas!  Hope you had a decent weekend! I got to see the little nieces - Peanuts, both of them, and way to smart for their own good.  Love it!

Pork chops with Red-Eye Gravy and Grits  (Ckng Light Dec 2011)
The ingredient list looks daunting, but when prepared mise en place this truly is a snap to pull together.  I used pork cutlets because I had them in the freezer, regular cremini mushrooms (like I could find and "exotic mushroom blend" up here), and cider vinegar for the sherry vinegar.   I also used regular grits/polenta and not the quick cooking kind and just started them first.  They can easily sit while everything else comes together. I also added about 1/3 cup of Romano-Pecoricno cheese to the grits for a little flavor boost.   What can I say - I'll be making this dish again. 

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 (6-ounce) bone-in center-cut loin pork chops, trimmed (about 1/2 inch thick)
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
1/4 cup chopped shallots
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 (4-ounce) package sliced exotic mushroom blend
1/4 cup Madeira wine or dry sherry
1/2 cup hot strong brewed coffee, divided
1/2 cup lower-sodium tomato juice
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons 2% reduced-fat milk, divided
1/2 cup uncooked quick-cooking grits
1 tablespoon butter

1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Sprinkle pork with 3/8 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Add pork chops to pan, and cook 3 minutes on each side. Remove pork from pan; keep warm. Add shallots, thyme, and sliced mushrooms to pan; sauté for 4 minutes. Stir in wine, and cook 30 seconds, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, 1/4 cup coffee, juice, vinegar, and red pepper. Bring to a simmer; cook for 3 minutes. Combine cornstarch and remaining 1/4 cup coffee. Add cornstarch mixture to pan, stirring with a whisk; cook for 2 minutes or until mixture thickens, stirring frequently.

2. Bring 2 1/4 cups milk and remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Gradually stir in grits. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes or until liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently with a whisk. Remove from heat; stir in remaining 2 tablespoons milk and butter.

Robin Bashinsky, Cooking Light

Barley-Spiked Winter Veggie Casserole (The Vegetarian Slow Cooker by Judith Finlayson)
The author seems to have a tendency to make dishes more complicated.  I suspect it is flavor derived, to add depth to a dish, but really, in my humble opinion, the idea behind the slow cooker or crockpot is to make dinner easier.   Pre-cooking seems contradictory.  She also had a prevalence of "cook for 3 hours".  Ah, that limits me to the weekends?  So!  I simplified the recipe by just "dumping" the ingredients into the slow cooker and letting it do what it does best.  Cook.  This dish was...different.  In a good way... I think. 

A bit reminiscent of sauerkraut with the flavor of caraway seeds and the shredded celery root.  The barley really helped thicken this up by absorbing all the great juices from the leeks and parsnips.  It made for a very decent cold weather "casserole".   This made enough for 4 lunches for two people.  Perfect for this week!

1 large celery root
1 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp oil
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and thinly sliced
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
4 parsnips, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup barley (whole, pot, pearled - doesn't matter)
1 can diced tomatoes with juice
2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

1.  In a large bowl, toss celery root and lemon juice

2. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat.  Add leeks, carrots and parsnips and cook, stirring, until softened, about 7 minutes.  Add garlic, caraway seeds, salt and peppercorns and cook, stirring for 1 minute.  Add barley and toss until coated.  Add tomatoes with juice and vegetable broth and bring to a boil.

3. Transfer vegetable mixture to stoneware.  Add celery root and stir well.  Cover and cook on Low for 6 hours or on High for 3 hours, until vegetables and barley are tender.  Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

OR (My version) Dump and cook.   Cover and cook on Low for 6 hours or on High for 3 hours, until vegetables and barley are tender.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

My Rating: 3 of 5 stars

From Sky piracy is a bit out of Darian Frey’s league. Fate has not been kind to the captain of the airship Ketty Jay—or his motley crew. They are all running from something. Crake is a daemonist in hiding, traveling with an armored golem and burdened by guilt. Jez is the new navigator, desperate to keep her secret from the rest of the crew. Malvery is a disgraced doctor, drinking himself to death. So when an opportunity arises to steal a chest of gems from a vulnerable airship, Frey can’t pass it up. It’s an easy take—and the payoff will finally make him a rich man.

But when the attack goes horribly wrong, Frey suddenly finds himself the most wanted man in Vardia, trailed by bounty hunters, the elite Century Knights, and the dread queen of the skies, Trinica Dracken. Frey realizes that they’ve been set up to take a fall but doesn’t know the endgame. And the ultimate answer for captain and crew may lie in the legendary hidden pirate town of Retribution Falls. That’s if they can get there without getting blown out of the sky

This was a fun science fiction/pirate book reminiscent of the Firefly series, but without any love interest.  Retribution Falls is set on a world caught between having flying ships but yet power on the ground is generators,  so it comes across as a blending of subtle steam punk and space piracy.  It is also a story about finding oneself.  As our ill-lucked Captain of the Ketty Jay  finds himself a wanted man, he also begins to realize he holds the fate of his cobbled together crew in his hands.  And they find they need to learn to depend on each other as much as themselves. 

My one complaint comes back to how  the book reminded me of Firefly - a crew on the lam, living on the fringes of society, sneaking into and out of places they can't be found, having done dubious things that they don't want anyone else to know about.  The book at one point even had this societies version of Reavers (remember them?  Big nasty teeth?  Fly around in space looking for people to munch on? Yup. Got them here too.). 

This is by no means a in depth book on the ideology and morality of space pirates, but a fun beach read or even airport read.  Sit back and just enjoy.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Recipe Review from 12/12/11

A typical week: the usual work and yoga classes; a work Holiday Party on Tuesdaynight, an emergency run to the Vet on Wednesday, errands on Thursday, and was exhausted by the weekend. 

...wait, what was that bit about the vet?  Yup. Wednesday morning I found a severe puncture wound on one of Andy-pup's back legs.  He was in no immediate danger as the wound looked a couple days old - but it looked bad.  After thinking it over during my Wednesday meeting, I decided I wanted it checked for infection or embedded objects.  So, Wednesday night  I got to my vet a little before 5pm, and walked out at 6:18pm. Finally home by 7p. Thank god I brought a book (bkgrp book in fact!)   

It was a severe laceration and not a puncture wound. Dr said it was the second one they saw that day and it was already starting to heal nicely. They cleaned it up and he's on antibiotics for the next 10 days. AND, he has a severe yeast infection in BOTH ears.  Like major yucko. Lucky me - daily ear cleanings for the next week, daily ear meds, then going to weekly ear cleanings, then bi-monthly. I really don't like cleaning ears...grosses me out. ((sigh)) It is imperative to clear this up so we can ascertain if the little guy has allergies. We go back in two weeks to check ears. A positive about getting him when I did! That and I liked the Dr. - new to me - he was really positive and thorough for being so late at night and short notice. 

I won't even describe the "cone" debacle.  Andy does not do the head cone (if you've had pets, you know what I'm talking about). Abject failure. 

Any way, I managed to make one new recipe last week, and a slow cooker one at that so my weekly goal of one slowcooked meal continues.

White Bean and Hominy Chili  (Ckng Lght, Dec 2011)
This was just okay.  I love a good bean chili, but this just didn't quite meet my standards.  Husband was also less than thrilled with it.  It was more like a soup than a chili, was kind of bland, and seemed to lack flavor.  The Husband felt the beans had an odd texture - soft yet a bit crunchy.  Now, be advised that I did use my own dried beans for this and may not have cooked them enough.  Though I didn't notice that particular ailment.

I also skipped the whole "meatless Mexican chipotle sausage", because honestly, it was not to be found in two co-ops and one large supermarket in my corner of the world.  Decided not to substitute and omitted completely.   I won't be repeating this recipe.

  • 2 (15-ounce) cans no-salt-added cannellini beans or other white beans, rinsed, drained, and divided
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 (4-ounce) meatless Mexican chipotle sausage (such as Field Roast), finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped white onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 poblano chiles, seeded and chopped
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (15.5-ounce) can white hominy, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 8 lime wedges

  • 1. Mash 2/3 cup beans with a fork.

    2. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add sausage, and sauté for 4 minutes. Add onion, garlic, and poblanos; sauté 6 minutes. Add chili powder and cumin; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add mashed beans, whole beans, 1 1/2 cups water, and the next 4 ingredients (through hominy). Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes or until slightly thickened. Stir in green onions and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.

    Thursday, December 15, 2011

    Shoot To Thrill by P.J. Tracy (Monkeewrench #5)" style="float: left; padding-right: 20px">" />Shoot'>">Shoot to Thrill by P.J'>">P.J. Tracy

    My rating: 3'>">3 of 5 stars

    From  It begins with a floater.

    When Minneapolis homicide cops Gino Rolseth and Leo Magozzi are called to a derelict stretch of the Mississippi River, they see the bride, facedown, dead in the water. And when the Monkeewrench crew-computer geeks who made a fortune on games, now assisting the cops with special anticrime soft-ware-are invited by the FBI to investigate a series of murder videos posted to the Web, it's not long before the group dis- covers the frightening link between the unlucky bride and the latest, most horrific use of the Internet yet. Using their skills to scour the Net to prevent more killings, the team must race against the clock . . . before it's too late.

    Read as an audiobook.

    This book has been more sedate and grounded than the last couple of Monkeewrench book - a return to the feel of Book 1 (Monkeewrench) and Book 2 (Live Bait)  No one is running around the countryside in the dark trying to escape terrorists, no one is driving around the state in a week long blizzard; we have our characters knuckling down and working the crimes in their hometown of Minneapolis and St. Paul. 

    I can't decide if I felt there was a de-emphasis on the romantic interests that were developing but not really progressing in books 1-4.  Detective Leo Magozzi and Grace McBride continue their strange relationship, while unintended outside influences make them reconsider their lack of a relationship.  The epilogue makes me wonder if I was missing more in the relationship dance or if I just ceased to care.  Much like TV shows, when the unrequited love/sex interests drags on long enough, I loose interest.  And in the case of Grace McBride, I've lost interest. 

    I also particularly enjoyed the twists at the end - somewhat expected if you are paying attention, but delightful anyway.    Whole series is recommended.

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    Monday, December 12, 2011

    Recipe Review 12/5/11

    A fairly uneventful week food wise.  Sunday the Husband and I made a double batch of Chicken Wild Rice soup.  Half was for our lunches, half was for a "Frozen Food Santa Basket" for a gal at the Husband's workplace who is having some family medical issues.  I've made this recipe for years, and I need to remember to change the amount served - recipe says serves 6-8 and it's closer to four.

    I did use my slowcooker facilitate cooking the chicken - a method I like more and more each time I use it.   Take chicken, put in slow cooker, cook on high 6-8 hours, low 4-5 hours.  You will need a tongs to extract the chicken because it will just fall apart when done.   This is a great method for an easy dinner or if you need shredded chicken for another dish.  Highly recommended.

    The one noteable recipe was a surprise:

    Chip-Crusted Fish Filets (Ckng Lght Dec 2011)
    This was was surprisingly good!  I used a mondo huge filet of halibut (my favorite fish next to salmon) and had to cook it for about 45 minutes (did I mention this was a huge filet? Seriously, it was.).  The chips didn't burn or turn soggy.  We used Kettle brand chips which are a bit thicker than some national brands and that may  have made a difference.  So for ease of prep and great taste, this recipe is going into my 'regular' rotation. 

    4 (6-ounce) cod fillets (or other firm white fish)
  • 2 teaspoons canola mayonnaise
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (2-ounce) package salt and vinegar kettle-style potato chips, crushed
  • 1/2 cup light ranch dressing   I made my own tarter sauce

  • 1. Preheat oven to 400°.
    2. Arrange fillets on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush 1/2 teaspoon mayonnaise over top of each fillet; sprinkle evenly with salt. Gently press about 2 tablespoons crushed chips evenly on top of each fillet. Cook fish at 400° for 10 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Serve with ranch dressing.

    Thursday, December 8, 2011

    I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

    I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld, #38)I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    This is book four in the Tiffany Aching Series. Recommend to be read in order.

    Pratchett’s books are a delight to read. Granted, there are some that grab my fancy more than others, but the witticism, the insight into the quirky parts of the human psyche, and the dry (and not so dry) sense of humor is just outstanding.

    However, this was one that I thought got a bit…long. Once again, our young heroine seems to be at the center of Big Nasty Things. A Big Nasty Thing is turning people against witches, against the help they give the small communities, all the little wrongs they right, old people they care for, young people they bring into the world…you get the idea. Intolerance is blooming again in Discworld and despite knowing Miss Aching for 16 years, she’s now A Person of Dubious Character because she is a witch.

    And Miss Aching, for her part, spends a goodly portion of the book running around not getting enough sleep, not eating properly and wondering how she is going to take care of the most current problem.

    About half way through I was ready to skip to the end to find out. But then I might miss something cool that the Mac Nac Feegles did. So I doggedly kept going.

    Not my favorite Pratchett, but not my least favorite either.

    Gail’s review on Disorganized, As Usual

    Andrew Wheeler's review

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    Monday, December 5, 2011

    Recipe Reveiw from 11/28/11

    Back into the swing of things upon return from South Carolina!  We got our first sticking-snow this past week too - only an inch, but made roads trecherous enough that my usual 25 minute drive home took twice as long.  Not complainin' though!  Was listening to Shoot to Thrill by PJ Tracy.  Listening to a book on tape is a great way to spend time on a commute. 

    I actually did some pre-planning before we went on vacation and had several meals frozen and waiting for our return.  Simple things like pork cutlets (served with stuffing and acorn squash), pork chalupas over rice, and the Stratford 'sweet' chili.  I didn't want to have to stress over doing a grocery run immediately upon return.  Worked out pretty well except for being out of milk and apples. 

    And my goal to use my crockpot once a week continues with this recipe:

    Slow Cooker Lasagna  (Ckng Lght Bulletin Board)
    Oh my goodness! Was this quick, easy and good!  I think assembly took me maybe 30 minutes, and part of that was to caramelize the onions before adding the sausage.  I also used fresh mushrooms prefering the way they stay firm in the end product.  If you don't like you 'shrooms quite so robust in a dish, toss them in with the onion and before the sausage.   What I especially liked about this dish is that it is NOT a 9x13" pan.  This was the perfect size for two of us for about 3 lunches each and one supper. 

    Serving Size : 6-8
    1 lb ground round  mild bulk Italian sausage
    2 tsps minced garlic  (because I just didn't feel like dicing it...)
    [2/3 cup diced onion]
    1 tsp dried Italian seasoning
    26 ozs jar chunky garden-style pasta sauce
    1/4 - 1/3 c water
    8 lasagna noodles -- uncooked   (I used Barilla no-boil noodles)
    4 1/2 ozs jar sliced mushrooms -- undrained
    8oz sliced fresh mushrooms (I used crimini)
    15 ozs part-skim ricotta cheese
    1 1/2 c shredded lowfat mozzarella cheese  (I just used the whole 2cup bag of mozarrella...)

    Cook beef, garlic, [onion] and seasoning in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat until beef is browned, stirring to crumble. Drain and set aside. Combine pasta sauce and water in a small bowl and set aside. Place 4 uncooked noodles in a 4-quart slow cooker coated wit cooking spray, breaking noodles to fit. Layer with half of beef mixture, pasta sauce mixture, and mushrooms. Spread ricotta over mushrooms. Sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella. Layer with remaining noodles, meat, pasta sauce mixture, and mushrooms. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Cover and cook on high for 1 hour. Reduce heat to low and cook 4-5 hours.

    Thursday, December 1, 2011

    Use of Weapons by Iain Banks

    My rating:  4 of 5 stars

    An interesting story that smacks the reader upside the head with its conclusion.  I love it when a book does that. 

    From Goodreads:  The man known as Cheradenine Zakalwe was one of Special Circumstances' foremost agents, changing the destiny of planets to suit the Culture through intrigue, dirty tricks and military action. The woman known as Diziet Sma had plucked him from obscurity and pushed him towards his present eminence, but despite all their dealings she did not know him as well as she thought. The drone known as Skaffen-Amtiskaw knew both of these people. It had once saved the woman's life by massacring her attackers in a particularly bloody manner. It believed the man to be a lost cause. But not even its machine could see the horrors in his past.

     Ferociously intelligent, both witty and horrific, USE OF WEAPONS is a masterpiece of science fiction.

    My main complaint with the book is the flashbacks.  I'm not a fan of flashbacks and find they pull me out of the enjoyment of the main story line more often than not.  Even with Bank's, I get annoyed to be reading in the present and the past and my inclination (nay, knee jerk reaction) is to skip the historical trips down memory lane. 

    But I know better with the Culture books. Don't do it! The payoff is so worth it.  

    The favorite part of any Banks book? The ship names. They delight me every time. I used to keep track but have since lost those posty-notes.  Just awesome.

    I'd love to say more, but I can't. Go read it and find out why.

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