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Monday, October 29, 2012

Recipe Review from 10/22/12

Week started out good recipe and weather wise.  By the end of the week the weather had turned crapola and so had my intent for cooking.  Supper one night was leftover pizza, pie and hot cocoa.  Dinner of champions!

Foundation on the outbuilding is in and curing. Contractors won't be back for  a while - probably a good thing given the wind and rain/sleet/snow we had this week.  Parts of the Iron Range got 5"! Two inches at our house, nothing in downtown Duluth. 

And the recipes:

Skillet Baked Beans (Vegetarian Family Cookbook by Nava Atlas)
Super easy and very tasty.  I used dried beans, cooked them in the slow-cooker, timing it so I could start dinner assembly as they finished.  I admit, I overcooked my beans just a tich, but I really dislike crunchy beans so I'm not complaining.

I made this an 'adult' beanie and wienie dish by sauteing some kielbasa first, removing, then caramelizing the onions.  If you haven't noticed before, caramelizing onions is pretty much a given for me.  I love the sweetness they bring to a dish.  Then I proceeded to make the recipe as written.  Very good in my opinion.

This dish is GF if you watch the ketchup and mustard ingredients and vegan if you skip my kielbasa addition.

This made 4 servings with my dried beans. 

 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium-large onion, thinly sliced (I diced)
2 garlic cloves, minced
Three 16 oz cans navy beans, rinsed and drained
(OR 2 cups dried beans, cooked)
1/3 cup good quality ketchup
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp molasses
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp ground ginger

1. Heat oil in a large skillet.  Add the onion and saute over medium-low heat until translucent.  Add the garlic and continue to saute until the onion is golden.

2. Add the remaining ingredients plus three tbsp water, stir together, and continue to cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, 10-15 minutes.  Serve.

Authors Make it a Meal Recommendation:  Serve with baked or microwaved sweet potatoes and a simple cooked grain - brown rice is good...  Then add a high-nutrient steamed green vegetable.  

Pumpkin Pancakes  (Ckng Lght BB/Taste of Home Oct/Nov 01)
It's Fall, and nothing says Fall like PUMPKIN!  This was a nice way to change up Sunday Pancake Day.  Lightly flavored pumpkin cakes with nuances of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.  No single spice dominates creating a lovely infusion of flavor.  Pure maple syrup or  apple butter are excellent toppings.

1 cup all purpose flour
1 T. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
3/4 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. ginger
1/4 t. freshly ground nutmeg or mace
2 eggs -- separated
1 cup milk (I used goat)
1/2 cup cooked or canned pumpkin
1 1/2 T. vegetable oil   (I forgot it completely and didn't even notice)
splash of 1 tsp vanilla 

Combine the dry ingredients in a medium or large bowl.

In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks, milk, pumpkin, oil and vanilla.

Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened.

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form; fold into batter.

Pour batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto a hot greased griddle. Turn when bubbles form on top of pancakes. Cook until second side is golden brown.

Original Posters Notes:  Original recipe only called for 1/2 t. cinnamon and no vanilla and 2 T. oil. I used 1 1/2 T. oil and think 1 T. would probably be fine. I used a 1/3 cup measure and got 12 pancakes. Might up the sugar just a bit next time? 

"Nettle" Tarts  (Irish Pub Cookbook by Margaret M. Johnson)
These look complicated, but really assembly went very quickly especially with two of us dividing duties.  While I chopped the Tuscan kale (my sub for nettles) in the blender, the Husband caramelized the onions.  I used a pre-made pie crust (Pillsbury) so I just had to unroll and cut out.  The cut outs do need to be 4" and not 3" as written.

My only other modification was to cut back the heavy cream to 1 cup.  I think 1/2n1/2 could be easily substituted.  These baked up very nicely and with a side of colorful baked veggies are definitely fit for company.

I used Pilsbury.  Can make your own.

8 oz (nettles) or spinach or kale, washed and trimmed
3 tbsp EVOO
1 cup chopped onions
2 tbsp sugar 
2 tbsp dry white wine
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream (I recommend 1 cup 1/2 n 1/2)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Prepare crust if making own.  Let crust warm up if not.

2. Preheat oven to 350*

3. Working in batches, combine the [greens] with 2 tbsp of EVOO in a food processor.  Process for 8-10 seconds or until finely chopped.

4.  In a skillet over medium heat, warm 1 tbsp EVOO.  Sitr in the onions and sugar and cook for 5-7 minutes or until the onions begin to caramelize.  Stir in the wine and continue to cook for 3-5 minutes or until the wine is nearly evaporated.

5. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and cream for 2-3 minutes, or until well blended.  Season with salt and pepper.

6. Roll out dough.  Cut dough into 4" circles - you will need 12 "cookies".  Place circles into lightly greased muffin tins.  Place [greens] into prepared muffin cups.  Spoon onions on top and fill each cup with some of the egg mixture.

7.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the filling is set and the tops are brown.   Remove from the oven and let cool cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes.  Remove from tin and serve.   

Friday, October 26, 2012

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

  Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From  It's the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune--and remarkable power--to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday's riddles are based in the pop culture he loved--that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday's icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes's oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt--among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life--and love--in the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready

This was Octobers book group selection.

A fascinating melange of 1980's pastiche and a future post-apocalyptic society where everyone lives in virtual reality.   A billionaire computer programmer has died (think Bill Gates or Steve Jobs), leaving his entire company and estate to whomever can solve his Quest.  Hundreds of thousands of people will attempt in the coming years, either solo, in groups or clans, or as part of a corporation known as the Sixers.  There will be only one(Highlander)winner .

We follow Wade from the mobile home 'stacks' in Oklahoma City, where he loosely lives with his Aunt, until he solves the first riddle and reignites the Quest fever.  The Sixers attempt to convert him to the dark side (Star Wars), he refuses, and they blow up the trailer stack.  Wade goes incognito, moves, and falls in love with a fellow player named Art3mis.  As the pace of the Quest picks up, Wade, Art3mis, Aech, Shoto all vie against each other and the Sixers for the Grand Prize.  The four avatars find that bonds formed on-line will eventually lead to friends in the real world.

The dichotomy between the 1980's that everyone must learn in order to solve aspects of the Quest and this future virtual  world is kinda fascinating.  As an 80's child myself, I know most of the book, movie, game, TV's shows, and music references.  I was a bit shaky on the anime and I didn't do RPG.   Too look at the 1980's from the stand point of a future society is a bit bizarre and kinda cool.  

My only serious complaint was the love affair.  It was too...perfect.  When our Hero finally gets to meet the girl he loves, who has rebuffed all advances until now because she is "not what he expects",  her only 'flaw' is a birth mark on her face.  I would preferred something a bit more substantial.

Otherwise, a fun, futuristic, virtual reality romp.  Recommended.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mortal Prey by John Sandford (Davenport #13)

Mortal Prey (Lucas Davenport, #13)Mortal Prey by John Sandford

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

From Years ago, Lucas Davenport almost died at the hands of Clara Rinker, a pleasant, soft-spoken, low-key Southerner, and the best hit-woman in the business. Now retired and living in Mexico, she nearly dies herself when a sniper kills her boyfriend, the son of a local druglord, and while the boy's father vows vengeance, Rinker knows something he doesn't: The boy wasn't the target-she was-and now she is going to have to disappear to find the killer herself. The FBI and DEA draft Davenport to help track her down, and with his fiancee deep in wedding preparations, he's really just as happy to go-but he has no idea what he's getting into. For Rinker is as unpredictable as ever, and between her, her old bosses in the St. Louis mob, the Mexican druglord, and the combined, sometimes warring, forces of U.S. law enforcement, this is one case that will get more dangerous as it goes along. And when the crossfire comes, anyone standing in the middle won't stand a chance.... 

Hit woman Clara Rinker (book #10) is back with a vengeance, methodically doling out revenge on old contacts in St. Louis, MO, for the murder of her Latino boyfriend and unborn baby.  The change of venue was good - like the "Murder, She Wrote" TV series, you can have only so many big crimes in one metropolitan area.

And, like a typical Sandford/Davenport book, the criminal is one step ahead of the FBI and Lucas for 2/3 of the book.  She knows not to get caught on a phone trace, she slips through surveillance like my dog escaping from the kennel (with ingenuity and determination), and leaves no trace behind. When I hit the halfway point of the book, I noticed I was just ticking off chapters/CD's until I could get to the end.

This selection left me underwhelmed and a significant skip in the CD at integral plot point ended leaving me somewhat confused through part of the book.  I wasn't really wild about Clara in book 10 and even less than thrilled in book 13.  Ultimately I found the plot and ending predictable from Chapter 1 despite the skip on the CD. Not my favorite Davenport book.

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Recipe Review from 10/15/12

By the time this is posted, I'm hoping the cement will have been poured for the outbuilding that I talked about Saturday.

Otherwise, a mostly uneventful week.  I took of early one super nice day to work in the yard and ended up sweeping out and tidying the garage for winter. That was followed by three days of dreary.

Several new recipes to comment on:

Caramelized Banana Bread  (Ckng Lght Oct 2012)
First, let me say right off the spatula, that my banana's were extremely ripe. And frozen/thawed.  So I ended up heating up the butter, then simmering the bananas in the butter and brown sugar till thickened.  Ultimately, this was okay.  I'm not sure it was worth the whole cook in butter and brown sugar bit.  The bread does turn out darker than a traditional banana bread, and perhaps a bit more buttery, but not enough to make me say THIS is the recipe.   I also skipped the glaze - seemed overkill for banana bread which is sweet enough on its own.
Photo from  
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened and divided
  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 medium ripe bananas, sliced
  • 1/2 cup fat-free buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons amber or gold rum
  • 2 large eggs 
  • 9 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2 cups)
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Baking spray with flour (such as Baker's Joy)
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons half-and-half

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add brown sugar and bananas; sauté 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; cool 10 minutes. Place banana mixture in a large bowl. Beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth.

3. Combine buttermilk and next 3 ingredients (through eggs). Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Add flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately to banana mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat at low speed just until combined. Scrape batter into a 9 x 5-inch metal loaf pan coated with baking spray. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs clinging. Cool for 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Remove bread from pan, and cool on wire rack.

4. Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a small, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook 3 minutes or until butter begins to brown; remove from heat. Add powdered sugar and half-and-half, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Drizzle glaze over bread. Let stand until glaze sets.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Building Adventures!

The Husband is embarking on a new project - he's having a outbuilding constructed, which I have dubbed The Man Barn.  Earlier this year we had the little sinking brown shed torn down in preparation.  And over the last couple of weeks, the Husband has been clearing trees so the dirt work could start.

Photo from Spring 2008 - didn't have anything more recent!

Monday the guys came and grubbed and dozed the site.  They were amazed at how much old junk was buried on the site!  Yeah, we live on an old homestead that was built in the 1940's, back when the junk yard was a ravine out back.  Wednesday the foundation was shaped and set for the slab.
Oct 16, 2012

Oct 16, 2012

Meanwhile, we learned that my Andy-dog took great exception to being confined to his kennel when there was activity in the yard.   First he went after the door, because that worked the last time he got out.  Our deterrent system worked...mostly.  He decided he'd go out the side since the door wasn't cooperating.   The hand in the picture is mine to give you an idea of how small a space he needed to facilitate his prison break.  Of course, he left behind Ben-dog in a state of great agitation.

The Escapee.  Yes, we know you are cute...
The gate fencing after The Husband tried to put it back. 

The cement block usually sits in the corner.  Andy moved the block to facilitate his escape. Not sure if he was planning on putting it over the hole once he was out or not.

The hole. That's my hand.  The wire was originally buried (you can see the metal kennel frame at the bottom).  Yes, the hole is that small. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Lost Fleet #6: Victorious by Jack Campbell

Victorious (The Lost Fleet, #6)Victorious by Jack Campbell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book number 6.

From Goodreads:  As war continues to rage between the Alliance and Syndicate Worlds, Captain "Black Jack" Geary is promoted to admiral-even though the ruling council fears he may stage a military coup. His new rank gives him the authority to negotiate with the Syndics, who have suffered tremendous losses and may finally be willing to end the war. But an even greater alien threat lurks on the far side of the Syndic occupied space.

In which Admiral Geary, fresh on the heels of his victorious return to Alliance Space, convinces the powers in charge that he needs to go back to Syndicate territory to kick their butts for the final time AND take on the unknown alien race.  The Good Admiral can Do No Wrong.  Except in the mind Vice Co-President Rione who's still not entirely convinced he can remain the good guy.  We have Epic Space Battles, Unrequited Love, and Aliens Knocking at the Door.   

Two complaints. One: an Admiral who's too damn perfect.  Seriously.  He is the perfect Captain/Admiral, Gentleman, a Man of Honor.  He makes Bond look like a villian.  Two. This book felt incomplete.  The conflict with the Syndics seemed incredibly short.  The conflict with the aliens seemed incomplete, like I missed something in all the blustering.  Yes, the author tied everything up with a nice big bow and some of that twisty ribbon, but it felt off.  Three complaints actually -  the book covers.  But you'll have to read the books to figure out why.   

That, sums up book 6.  Recommended if you've read the first five in the series and like space operas.

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Recipe Review 10/8/2012

I WANT MY SUMMER BACK!!!   Seriously.  I'm just not mentally ready for 30* and snow.  I shouldn't complain too much, I also love this time of year because I can warm up the house with a batch of fresh baked bread or apple pie.  I can indulge in hot apple cider, homemade hot cocoa or hot Chai.  Blustery days are an excuse to nestle into the couch for some afternoon football and a book or knitting.

Meals are going to be a bit simple over the next couple of weeks.  A friend and I are embarking on a freezer reduction project.  I've inventoried my upstairs freezer and, while I knew I had a plethora of grains, I had just kinda let them languish.  Like, say, three bags of quinoa.  Really? Three bags?  And a large bag of wheat berries - need to boil some up and start adding them to the morning oatmeal.  A bag and a half of polenta will make some great sides.  A bag of barely will make its way into soup. 

Haven't looked at the downstairs freezer yet... 

Pulled Pork Tacos (365 Days of Slow Cooking blog)
Repeat after me:  The Slow Cooker is My Friend!  Say it again:  The Slow Cooker is My Friend!  If you haven't pulled this very handy kitchen tool out, do so now.  This is great for hot weather, cold weather, busy schedules, this is the one kitchen utensil that can be used year round.  I'm a strong advocate of the 'dump-n-go' as I noted a couple weeks ago with the Greek Soup.  You can do soups, meats, pasta dishes, rices dishes, you name it. 

This week was pulled pork tacos.  Very quick and simple.  Onions, broth and pork go in in the morning.  Right after work before I went outside to help with yard chores, I shredded the meat (it shreds itself, it's that tender) and let it finish cooking for another hour or so. 

Makes about 6-8 servings
1 large onion, cut into large slices
2 cups chicken stock
2-3 lbs shoulder pork roast (look for the words shoulder, butt, or boston), trimmed of excess fat
1 (15 oz) can diced tomato with jalapenos    (I used diced tomatoes with chilies)
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp garlic salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp oregano
1 cup frozen corn (you could probably use canned and it would be fine)
1 (14 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
Any toppings that you'd like (sour cream, cheese, chips, cilantro, lime, avocados etc)

1.  Place onion slices in bottom of slow cooker.  Pour in the chicken stock.  Place trimmed roast on top of onions.

2.  Cover and cook on LOW for 7-9 hours, or until roast is very tender and falling apart.

3.  Remove roast and place on large cutting board.  Discard the onion and juices in the slow cooker.  Shred the roast, discard of any excess fat, place meat back into the slow cooker.

4.  Stir the tomatoes, paste, garlic salt, pepper, oregano, corn and peppers into the meat.  Cover the slow cooker and cook for another 30-60 minutes on HIGH until flavors are incorporated and corn and beans are warm.  Adjust seasonings if needed.

5.  Serve as tacos, nachos, quesadillas, tostados, over salad...the options are endless!

Review by 365 Days:
I don't know what it was about this recipe but I just keep dreaming and thinking about it.  It was so good!  Maybe it's because I love pulled pork.  Maybe it's because I was super hungry.  I'm not sure.  I loved how easy it was to get started in the morning.  It cooks all day and smells great.  Then add in a few ingredients and boom you have dinner!  The options of how to serve it are endless too.  My kids ate theirs in a taco, my husband over nachos and I ate mine over salad.  So many choices.  I had never heard of diced tomatoes with jalapenos before (I have often used the tomatoes with green chiles).  But I really think they were the key ingredient.  Delish!  5 stars (I could eat this every week for sure).

Southwestern Baked Rice Casserole  (The Vegetarian Family Cookbook by Nava Atlas)
This was not the rice dish I had intended to make, but was what worked in the end.  I *think* I made have made this before, but I didn't note it as such in the cookbook.  This is a nice change from they typical orange-Spanish rice; creamy with Southwestern flavors and versatile.  I think this could easily be a main dish or a side dish.  I  have been neglecting this cookbook - I think it's time to pull it out and start using it!

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cups cooked brown rice  (about 1 1/3 cup raw)     I used white - was out of brown
8 oz (2 cups) grated Monterey Jack cheese     I used sharp cheddar
1/2 cup low-fat plain yogurt
1/2 cup low-fat milk, rice milk or soy milk
1 cup salsa
1/2 cup minced cilantro  (optional)
1/3 tsp chili powder

1. Preheat oven to 350*.   Lightly oil a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish. 

2. Heat oil in a small skillet.  Add onion and saute over medium heat until lightly browned.

3.  In a mixing bowl, combine the onion with all the remaining ingredients.  Sitr together thoroughly. Pat the mixture into the prepared pan.  Bake at 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown and bubbly. 

Serves 4-6
Dubbed as kid friendly, but might want to omit the cilantro if serving kids.  

And as it's fall, it's bread baking time!  
Molasses Wheat Bread - Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads  
This was an awesome bread.  Perfect crumb, great crust and a really nice sweetness to it.  I'll be making it again.  

2 cups hot water 120*-130*
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup non-fat dry milk
1 tbsp salt
2 1/2 cups WW Flour
2 1/2 cups bread or unbleached flour
2 pkg dry yeast
3 tbsp shortening, room temperature (I used butter)

Pans: 2 medium loaf pans (8"x4"), greased or teflon

1.  Into a mixing or mixer bowl pour the water, molasses, dry milk, salt and 1 cup each WW and bread flours.  Stir to form a thin batter.  Sprinkle on the yeast and add the shortening.  With a mixer flat blade, beat for one minute at medium speed or use 75 strokes with a wooden spoon. 

2. Add the balance of the WW flour (1 1/2 cups).  Beat at high speed for 3 minutes or 150 strong strokes with the spoon.  Stop mixer. Gradually work in the white flour, first with the spoon and then by hand, or with a dough hook if using a mixer, until a rough and somewhat shaggy mass if formed.

3. Turn dough onto a floured work surface and knead with a strong push-turn-fold motion.  If the dough sticks to the work surface or your fingers, dust lightly with flour.  Knead in this fashion 8 minutes or an equal length of time in the mixer bowl with the dough hook.

4.  First Rising 1 Hour.  Shape the dough into a ball and place in a grease bowl.  cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until the dough has risen to about twice its original size, about 1 hour. 

5. Shaping.  Punch down the dough and knead for 30 seconds to press out the bubbles that formed during rising.  Divide into 2 pieces.  roll and press under the palms so that each piece is about half again as long as the pan and shaped somewhat like a fat French baguette.  Let the dough rest for 5 minutes or it will resist twisting.  Twist each piece 2 or 3 times and place in the pan.  

6. Second Rising 45 Minutes.  Cover the pans with wax paper and leave at room temperature until the center of the dough has risen to 1/2" to 1" above the edge of the pan, about 45 minutes.  

7. Preheat the oven to 375* 20 minutes before baking. 

8. Place pans in the oven.  When the loaves are dark brown and tapping the bottom yeilds a hard, hollow sound, they are done.  about 35-45 minutes.  If the crust is soft and gives off a dull thud, return to the oven, without the pans, for an additional 5-10 minutes.  

9.  Remove pans form the oven and turn the hot bread onto a wire rack to cool before slicing.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Off the Grid by PJ Tracy (Monkeewrench #6)

Off the Grid (Monkeewrench #6)Off the Grid by P.J. Tracy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The newest installment in the Monkeewrench series was released sometime this past summer.  Lucky me was able to get my hands on a untarnished audiobook!   No skips, no scratches, new new new CD's.  Hooray!

From  On a sailboat ten miles off the Florida coast, Grace MacBride, partner in Monkeewrench Software, thwarts an assassination attempt on retired FBI agent John Smith. A few hours later, in Minneapolis, a fifteen-year-old girl is discovered in a vacant lot, her throat slashed. Later that day, two young men are found in their home a few blocks away, killed execution-style. The next morning, the dead bodies of three more men turn up, savagely murdered in the same neighborhood.

As Minneapolis homicide detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth struggle to link the three crimes, they learn that there have been similar murders in other cities around the United States. Piece by piece, evidence accumulates, pointing to a suspect that shocks them to the core, uncovering a motive that puts the entire Midwest on high alert and Monkeewrench in the direct line of fire. Before it's all over, Grace and her partners, Annie, Roadrunner, and Harley Davidson, find themselves in the middle of a shocking collision of violence on a remote northern Minnesota reservation, fighting for their lives.

We start the book with a series of murders in Minneapolis that, while at first glance seem unrelated, but are soon discovered to be connected to something much farther reaching.  While Gino and Leo are scratching their heads over the bizarre killings, Grace McBride is somewhere off the coast of Florida with retired FBI agent John Smith on a three month cruise.  We see a Grace transformed, briefly, before someone tries to kill John ala pirate style.

And then everyone is off and running.  Literally.  It was reminiscent of the flight in book #3 which found Grace and Annie running around the woods in Northern Wisconsin.  And similar to book #3, we are dealing with a terrorist threat that revolves around one person who was doing a bit too much snooping. 

While I found the book enjoyable, I felt it really didn't have much substance.  The plot seemed a bit fantastic for the setting (Minneapolis and Northern MN).  The ending - which I won't give away - was overly predictable and should come as no surprise to someone used to reading this genre. 

And my biggest peeve is almost no character development.  I like a series that moves the characters forward not only in a spatial sense, but also in personal growth.  I just don't see that happening in this series.  It's like the authors are afraid to move away from what made the Monkeewrench crew the Monkeewrench crew.  People grow and change in real life, events of the magnitude these characters go through are life changing.  Yet no change.  A bit frustrating. 

Recommended if you like the Monkeewrench series and books set in Minnesota.

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Chosen Prey by John Sandford (Davenport #12)

Alas, we went back to the format of knowing what the psychotic killer is thinking and doing since book #11.  And yes, the guy is a scumbag of the worst kind.  Not even a bad buy the reader can emphasize with.  You want him caught, and you want him caught now.

The downside to Chosen Prey is our killer seems to be one step ahead of the police.  I've noticed this pattern in previous books:  something alerts the killer by accident that the police might be looking for him, the murderer does a few things to hide evidence, the police actually meet the psychopath but only the creep knows it, then ah ha! Davenport has a strong hunch he knows who done it and puts a tail on our perp.  But guess what! Yes! The perp figures out he's being tailed and slips the net!  Oh no!

And so on and so forth till we come to our Big Dramatic Conclusion, or in this case, Big Let Down because I saw the ending(s) coming much like a severe thunderstorm sports tornadoes on the prairie during July. 

The one other item that distracted me a bit was we've moved forward a solid year since book 11: where Davenport had a college friend wanting to get in his pants, was screwing a potter, and had his ex-fiance making noises like she wanted to get back together.  Book 11 left off on a bit of a cliff hanger, which was not really picked up here because we find that Weather has overcome all of her issues and is now talking baby.  Whaa?  It felt like a lot was just kinda skipped to move the Weather/Davenport personal issues forward. 

Not one of my favorites because the plot and characters were so transparent to me in this book.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Recipe Review from 10/1/2012

In Minnesota (and even moreso in Duluth)  you get used to extreme weather swings.  30* changes are not uncommon.  This week we went from a balmy, beautiful 70* to 30*.  Yes.  The temperature dropped 40* in about a day.  All the brightly colored red, orange, and golden leaves are now somewhere out over Lake Superior or on the south shore of Wisconsin.  Yes, we get used to these temperatures swings, but I didn't say we liked it.

Saturday I had volunteered to facilitated a group hike for the Superior Hiking Trail Association.  Boy, did I pick the wrong weekend.  The previous weekend (which a friend of mine lead a hike on) was in the 70's, sunny, peak fall color viewing. This weekend Saturday started out at 28*, 30 mph winds, and spitting snow.  Ack! I said the "S" word!  Ultimately, it was a cold but good hike, only getting one overly brisk snowsquall right at lunch.

Saturday evening the Husband and I went down to Clyde Iron for Oktoberfest as hosted by Lake Superior Brewing Company.  It was to celebrate the release of their Oktoberfest beer.  A pretty good beer, but I like their Klosh better.  It was a very pleasant event with some darn good food. Brats soaked in their three main beers, three types of sauerkraut (I had the apple-cranberry kraut), a warm dough pretzel with jalepeno cheese and some awesome German potato salad.  A local band called the Fractals was the entertainment and they were pretty good.  We had only planned on staying an hour or so, but ended up staying three!   Aren't we just the party animals...

Only one recipe to review this week. 

Tomato and Mozzarella Risotto (Ckng Lght, Oct 2012)
This one was touted as kid friendly by the magazine in that it was made by a kid and tested by a kid.  I just thought it looked good.  Risotto is pretty simple, and only time consuming in the dump and stir.  It's important to make sure you do have all your ingredients mise en place: a French phrase defined by the Culinary Institute of America as "everything in place".  If you do this, assembly will go very quickly.  

This tasted a bit like any Italian pasta dish. I thought the Husband would find this dish on the bland side but he said he liked it as it was.  I did note that my rice could have used another 1/2 cup of liquid - rice was a bit more al dente than I care for.  Overall, it was creamy, tomato-y and makes 4 servings.  We had some roasted kale on the side. 
photo from
  • 3 1/4 cups organic vegetable broth  (I could have used at least another 1/2 cup of liquid)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion 
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
  • 1 1/4 cups uncooked Arborio rice
  • 3/4 cup canned crushed tomatoes   (I used fire roasted per a suggestion in the magazine)
  • 2 ounces chopped fresh mozzarella cheese (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups torn fresh baby spinach   (I used Swiss Chard and Tuscan kale)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
  • 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1. Bring vegetable broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan (do not boil). Keep warm over low heat.

2. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic to pan; sauté 2 minutes or until onion is tender, stirring frequently. Add rice to pan; cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add 1/2 cup broth to rice mixture; cook for 5 minutes or until the liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly. Reserve 1/3 cup broth. Add remaining broth, 1/4 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth is absorbed before adding the next (about 22 minutes total). Stir in tomatoes; cook for 1 minute. Add cheese, pepper, and salt to rice mixture, stirring constantly until cheese melts. Remove from heat; stir in reserved 1/3 cup broth, spinach, and basil. Place 1 cup risotto in each of 4 shallow bowls. Drizzle 1 teaspoon oil over each serving.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Knitting Bones (Needlecraft #11) and Thai Die (Needlecraft #12) by Monica Ferris

Two reviews today!  When I need something light, entertaining, and easy, I head for my stash of cozies. Which include the Tea Shop Mysteries, The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, and the Needlecraft Mystery series.  These are light enough to read in a day or two.

From The stitchers of the Embroiderers Guild are thrilled to have raised over $20,000 for charity-but they're less pleased when the representative who accepts the check disappears with it. After breaking her leg in a fall from a horse, Betsy's confined to her apartment and loopy on pain killers-she can't possibly investigate. But Godwin, her store manager, insists that he can do the legwork. Little do they know that a man across town has a similar injury-and he too is wondering what happened to that check. Betsy and Godwin have got to figure it out first, or it'll be a bad break for everyone.

In this "episode" we find our heroine confined to her upstairs apartment recuperating from severe broken leg and torn tendons. Her assistant shopkeeper Godwin Dulac picks up the role of sleuth and go-between as they look into the disappearance and eventual murder of the President of a local charity.

I thought the premise of keeping the heroine - Besty Devonshire - confined for the investigation was a unique plot device. The reader knows who the murder is, knows his motivation, and the reader gets to watch as Betsy and Godwin unravel the mystery. As with many (most?) cozies, the police are portrayed as somewhat inept in their abilities to solve a crime, even as simple as this one. To give the author credit, in this particular story, the cops are not quite as stupid and disbelieving as they have been in the past.  Someday I hope to find a cozy where the law enforcement is given more credibility.

From As full-time owner of the Crewel World needlework shop and part-time sleuth, Betsy Devonshire has become skilled at weaving suspicious threads. But when one of her regulars unwittingly becomes involved in a deadly delivery of exotic antiquities, Betsy fears something is seriously warped.

The blurb on the book actually spoilt the plot on this one, but it's not as if anyone who is familiar with the series - or with reading cozies - isn't going to figure it out right off the bat.  This one was a bit more convoluted, with people running helter and skelter like a pod of skitterish red herrings that they were. 

What I liked in this episode (following right on the heels of reading #11) was the author removed Godwin (aka "Goddy) completely from the plot by sending him off to Florida creating a nice mix-up of different characters.  And, another kudos to the author for not portraying the police to be inept. 

I recommended this series if you like cross stitch, knitting or similar needlecrafts.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Recipe Review from 9/24/2012

Anyone know where my September went?  If you find it, I'd like it back....

The good new is I solved my Blogger issues. Whew!  Ultimately, I ended up switching internet browsers on both my work computer and my laptop.  Dropped Internet Explorer and went with Firefox.  Much to my great interest, my work computer is now running 10x better.  I'm not kidding.  I can't even begin to describe the issues I was having, but at least half of them were resolved when I switched to Firefox.  Laptop is running better too.

Also got to meet K3's families new puppy Zoey!  A beautiful blue eyed, blue toned Great Dane.   If her puppy temperament is any indication of her adult temperament, she is going to be an awesome dog. 

And went to our final 2012 Twins game on an absolutely gorgeous Sunday.  Hopefully our team will do better next year!

For Lunches:
Fasolatha  (Vegetarian Slow Cooker by Judith Finlayson)
aka: Greek Soup.  You can easily substitute canned beans if you don't want to putz with dried.  Instead of celery I used some Swiss Chard from the garden and included the leaves in the dish.  No reason to waste and it adds some good green veggies.

I also do not do the whole pre-cook thing as written below.  I chop, dump, and then cook.  That's the whole reason behind a slowcooker.  Less prep!  That and it's soup.   We had this with crusty bread, the last of the summer's cherry tomatoes, and cheese.  Made 8 servings. 

Can be GF and vegan if you watch the broth ingredients.

1 cup dried white beans (Great Northern, Cannelli, Navy) soaked and drained
2 cans white beans, rinsed and drained
1 tbsp EVOO
2 1 onion finely chopped
2 carrots, diced
4 celery stalks, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 tbsp dried oregano
salt to taste
1/2 tsp fresh ground peppercorn
1 (14oz) can diced tomatoes with juice
5 cups veggie broth
1-2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley (reg parsley works just fine too)

1.  In a skillet, heat oil over medium high heat.  Add onions, carrots and celery and cook, stirring, until softened, about 7 minutes.  Add garlic, orgeano, salt and ground pepper.  Cook, stirring, for 1 minute.  Add tomatoes with juice, beans and 2 cups of the broth.  Bring to a boil and boil for 2 mintues.  Stir well.  Transfer to slowcooker.

2. Stir in remaining 3 cups of broth[My notes:  pre-cook your beans if using dried.  Given the tomatoes AND salt in the broth they will NOT soften.   Combine pre-cooked beans and rest of ingredients though broth.] Cover and cook on LOW for 8 hours or HIGH for 4 hours, until beans are very tender.  Stir in vinegar.  Garnish with parsely and a drizzle of EVOO.

Braised Pork with Greens, Grits and Tomato Gravy  (Ckng Light Sept 2012)

Ckng Lght notes: The greens can simmer while the pork cooks (they can be done ahead and reheated). Start the grits and gravy around the same time; you don't want the grits to sit or they'll get too firm. You'll use the liquid from a can of tomatoes for the gravy here, then reserve the tomatoes for Spinach and Onion Pizza

  • 1 (20-ounce) boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt), trimmed (about 1 pound trimmed)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil, divided  
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 2 cups water, divided
  • 2 cups no-salt-added chicken stock, divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lower-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 cups vertically sliced onion (about 1/2 large)
  • 8 cups chopped trimmed collard greens kale
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 (28.5-ounce) can no-salt-added whole tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 ounce chopped cremini mushrooms
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup uncooked quick-cooking grits

  • 1. Preheat oven to 325°.

    2. Heat a medium ovenproof saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons oil; swirl to coat. Sprinkle pork with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Add pork to pan; cook for 8 minutes, browning on all sides. Discard oil from pan. Add 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup stock, and soy sauce. Cover and bake at 325° for 2 hours or until very tender. Remove pork from pan; reserve liquid. Place pork on a cutting board; cover with foil. Let stand 10 minutes; cut into 4 slices.

    3. While pork cooks, heat a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons oil; swirl to coat. Add sliced onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook 2 minutes or until golden, stirring occasionally. Add 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup stock, greens, and sugar. Bring to a boil. Cover; reduce heat, and simmer 25 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.

    4. Remove 1 cup tomato liquid from can; reserve remaining liquid and tomatoes for another use. Combine 1 cup tomato liquid and flour in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Place a zip-top plastic bag inside a 2-cup glass measure. Pour pork cooking liquid into bag; let stand for 5 minutes (fat will rise to the top). Seal bag; snip off 1 bottom corner of bag. Drain liquid into tomato mixture, stopping before fat layer reaches the opening; discard fat. Return the pan to medium-high heat. Add remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add chopped onion and mushrooms; sauté for 2 minutes. Add tomato mixture to saucepan; bring to a boil. Cook until reduced to 1 cup (about 10 minutes).

    5. While gravy cooks, bring remaining 1 cup water, 1 cup stock, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and garlic to a boil in a medium saucepan. Gradually add grits, stirring constantly with a whisk. Reduce heat; simmer 5 minutes or until liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently. Serve grits with gravy, pork, and greens.

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