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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Storm Front by Jim Butcher (Dresden Files #1)

 Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1)Storm Front by Jim Butcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


From Goodreads.com:  The novels of the Dresden Files have become synonymous with action-packed urban fantasy and non-stop fun. Storm Front is Jim Butcher's first novel and introduces his most famous and popular character-Harry Dresden, wizard for hire.

For his first case, Harry is called in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with the blackest of magic. At first, the less-than-solvent Harry's eyes light up with dollar signs. But where there's black magic, there's a black mage. Now, that black mage knows Harry's name. And things are about to get very...interesting.


This is November's bookgroup selection.

I really enjoyed this book.  An urban fantasy - fantasy elements set in the modern world - that I found to be a delightful blend and a fast read.  Not a book with a lot of depth, which is okay by me.  The protagonist hops from one bad mess to the next- which seems to be standard in the few urban fantasy's I've read (Patrica Brigg's Mercede's Thompson series and Harry Connolly's Twenty Palaces Series) - and then manages to barely win at the end. 

What I liked was the plot elements: our protagonist is not liked by other Wizards, and in fact, the governing Wizards Council would much rather seem him dead.  Harry doesn't hide that he is a Wizard, another point the governing council doesn't like.  Harry's 'aura' screws up electrical and mechanical things so phones, cars, lights, appliances, computers, etc, tend not to work around him.  And he's fighting dark nasty things that live in dark nasty places, so this isn't some fluff fantasy.  Well, it is, but not glowing fairies and unicorns kinda fantasy.  Toss in a little mystery trope and I was happily engrossed.

I'll be reading the next one.



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Monday, November 26, 2012

Puerto Vallarta, Jaliesco, Mexico!


No recipe review this week, I was out of the country for Thanksgiving indulging in a little R&R.

We flew out on a Saturday and came back on a Saturday.  Long travel days, what with shuttles to/from the Cities, airport waits, 4 1/2 hour flights (on time AND early! Woot!), security and customs, but I got a lot of reading done and finished a few more knitting projects.

Puerto Vallarta was 75* and humid this trip.  The kind of humid where you sweat just walking to breakfast, so lots of sitting and lounging poolside. 

But I should back up a bit.  As I said, we flew out on Saturday morning, bright and early at 6am.  Which meant that yes, we had to be at the airport by 4am.  What time did we get up?  3:15am.  Ugh.  Our flight south was on-time and early, so it was 11am by the time we cleared Mexican customs and checked into the resort.  Since we were waaayyy early, our room wasn't ready yet, but I found a chair poolside that was kinda in the shade, so we just hung out and sweated until we could get into our room.  Then some Zzzz's...

On these long vacations, we make a point of resting on Sundays.  Claimed a spot in the shade and just, well, sat there. Like one of the many iguana's roaming the premise.

Our poolside view.  This is the "upper pool" about 730am.

Same with Monday...

Now, we were warned when checking in that it was very busy at the resort (Velas Vallarta), perhaps a bit moreso than usual.  The reason was Mexican Revolution Day, which commemorates the start of the Mexican Revolution in 1910, a Civil War which pitted Mexican's against Mexican's.  A national holiday that runs the weekend and culminates in parades and festivities on Tuesday.  So the resort was packed.

But! We heard there was going to be a parade on Tuesday - how cool is that!  We made our way to downtown Puerto Vallarta, scored a spot on the third floor of the Cheeky Monkey, and sipped margaritas while watching a Mexican parade.

Firefighters doing a rescue demo right in the street!

Navy showing their colors

Kiddo's celebrating Revolution Day

Adults celebrating Revolution Day


Wednesday was back to imitating an iguana.

A picture of the Sierra Madre Mtns from a bridge over a very deep gorge on the way up to San Sebastian .

 Thursday we signed up for a tour of San Sebastian, a very old silver mining town that was founded in the 1605, saw several revolutions, and remains somewhat unchanged even today but minus the mining.  This tour was about 7-8 hours, we climbed about 5000 feet in elevation along some rather harrowing roads, stopped at a small coffee plantation, a tequila distillery (pretty standard on these tours), had lunch with homemade tortillas and got a tour of a personal collection of historical artifacts from a decedent of one of the original families of San Sebastian.

The church in San Sebastian.  Still a functioning sanctuary.

One of the buildings on the plaza.  About 95% of the buildings date are original.

Friday was back to imitating an iguana.

Saturday we had to be at the airport before 9am for an 11am flight so it was a more leisurely morning.  The flight was early landing in the Cities, we were amongst the first to get through customs, and there was room on an early shuttle back to Duluth.  What caught everyone by surprise was the greasy snow that suddenly hit about 40 miles out.  A bit of a white knuckler for the driver coming over "Thompson Hill" into Duluth proper.  By 11pm at night, we were back home, unpacked and in bed. 

A great trip and I'm glad to be back - ice, cold, snow, still glad to be back.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Hidden Prey by John Sandford (Davenport #15)

Hidden Prey (Lucas Davenport, #15)Hidden Prey by John Sandford

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From Goodreads.com: Six months ago, Lucas Davenport tackled his first case as a statewide troubleshooter, and he thought that one was plenty strange enough. But that was before the Russian got killed. On the shore of Lake Superior, a man named Vladimir Oleshev is found shot dead, three holes in his head and heart, and though nobody knows why he was killed, everybody - the local cops, the FBI, and the Russians themselves - has a theory. And when it turns out he had very high government connections, that's when it hits the fan." A Russian cop flies in from Moscow, Davenport flies in from Minneapolis, law enforcement and press types swarm the crime scene - and, in the middle of it all, there is another murder. Is there a relationship between the two? What is the Russian cop hiding from Davenport? Is she - yes, it's a woman - a cop at all? Why was the man shot with ... fifty-year-old bullets? Before he can find the answers, Davenport will have to follow a trail back to another place, another time, and battle the shadows he discovers there - shadows that turn out to be both very real and very deadly.


Delightful!  A book set in my corner of the world!  Not that the Twin Cities isn't my corner of the world, but Duluth and Virginia are a little bit closer to home, shall we say.  To all indications, Sandford seems to have done his research; while names of exact places may have been altered, but everything of significance is located as described.  Roads, terminals, airports, mines, etc., all right where they belonged.


As much as I was pleased with the location a of the book, I found the plot a bit on the dubious side.  Yes, Hibbing, MN, and the Iron Range was a hotbed of Socialist activity in "the days", but to say that a circle of covert spies still exists into the 1990's was a bit...questionable.  Add on to that the indoctrination of a young 17 year old into the Party Ways as a spy when the Mother Land hadn't been in touch for 20 years?  I really found that dubious.  I just found it unbelievable that a young teenager would find the Socialist Fight realistic - think about this...by and far any young person finds their parents and Grandparents to be old, and 'out of it' and 'not cool'.  The book did address this as mental abuse toward the end of the book, but I'm still dubious.


My other complaint remains with the standard plot outline, and I may have griped about this previously:

Murder!

Develop list of suspects

Put a tail on main suspect

Suspect figures out there is a tail

Suspect ditches tail

Suspect kills a few more people in an attempt to misdirect investigation

Everyone is pissed off

Davenport is struck by inspiration

Big chase

Game over


Yeah, well, here in book 15, same-o same-o.  Disappointing.  Thankfully the main cast of characters is strong enough to keep me coming back for more.





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Monday, November 19, 2012

Recipe Review from 11/12/12

Another mellow week that started with a holiday Monday.  Niiice!  I finished knitting and assembling an afghan that I started when the Husband was on his first deployment.  Yeah...turned that into a five year project.  Was a super simple pattern and easy to whipstich together, so it was good to finish.  Had enough leftover yarn to make a forth panel.

Husband attempted to go deer hunting out back, but deer weren't moving around.  No hunters moving around either.  Add on some uber crappy weather (25*, pouring rain, snow, 30mph winds) and we call 2012 a wash. 


Crock Pot Chicken and Wild Rice Soup  (adapted from Taste of Home)
I have my standard favorite Wild Rice Soup recipe, but I'm always looking for something different, maybe a bit easier, a bit tastier though usually most recipes are good.  This is the first one I've come across that uses a slow cooker.  Woot!  My friend Tess found this recipe and I didn't save the link. 

This does cook up beautifully in the slowcooker, it makes a lot (great for a crowd), and my only complaint was the thickener.  1/2 cup flour was too much and turned my soup into casserole consistency.  I would recommend 1/4 cup flour or use an alternate thickener such as arrowroot or cornstarch.  You want it creamy, not...gelatinous.  

With Thanksgiving quickly approaching and leftovers imminentthis would be a great way to use up leftover turkey and have lunch for the week or supper for guests over the weekend. 

8-10 cups turkey or chicken stock, divided  (I used 8 cups)

8 oz. uncooked wild rice  (8oz is not 1 cup - weigh if possible) 

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 celery ribs, diced

2 carrots, diced

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons chicken soup base (I like Better Than Bouillon)  (Skipped, enough flavor as is)

4 tablespoons butter

1/2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
    (I found 1/2 cup to be way to much - turned my 'soup' into 'casserole')
2 cups half-and-half or cream  (I used milk)

2 cups diced cooked turkey  (I used chicken)

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped (or one tablespoon dried parsley flakes)

salt and pepper to taste


Add eight cups of stock and the uncooked wild rice to a crock pot set to high. In a large skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil and saute onion, celery and carrots until onion is transparent, about 10 minutes. Season with the black pepper, and add the sauteed veggies to the crock pot. Stir in the chicken soup base. Cook on high for 3-4 hours (or on low for 6-8 hours) until the wild rice and veggies are sufficiently tender.


In the same skillet over medium heat, melt 1/2 stick of butter. Whisk in the flour, and cook for a minute or two. Gradually add the half-and-half or cream, whisking constantly. You may wish to thin this mixture out with an additional cup of stock at this point. Once thickened and completely smooth, add the white sauce to the crock pot and stir to combine. Add the turkey and the parsley (and perhaps another cup of stock if you prefer a thinner soup), and cook on high for another 15-20 minutes until heated through. Taste to correct seasonings before serving.


Makes enough for two for five days of lunches. 


Easy Maple Quinoa Hotcakes (from Ckng Lght BBBaking with Quinoa by Sarah Clarence)
I made these for Pancake Sunday for a change from the usual.  I liked the flavor; the Husband thought the texture was 'different' on account of the quinoa grains.  This packs a protien punch between the quinoa and the eggs.  Nice! 

My only thought is, these would be easier if the quinoa were made ahead of time or you had some leftovers in the fridge. Having to cook the quinoa, then wait for it to cool enough to use really pushes breakfast out in the morning.  If you have the time to wait, no problem. 

Ingredients
1/3 cup uncooked quinoa
1 cup water
3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup lowfat milk (I needed 1/3 cup)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
fresh fruit as desired

Directions

Rinse quinoa under running water until water runs clear

In a medium pan, bring the water to a boil and add quinoa. Bring back to a boil and cover. Cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes or until water is absorbed. Drain into a colander and set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, whisk together cooled quinoa, flour, baking powder, and salt.

In another bowl, whisk together the egg and egg white until fluffy, then add butter, milk, and syrup until smooth.

Slowly add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and mix well. Fold in fruit.

Cook on a griddle until bubbles appear on top, about 2 minutes, Flip and cook until golden.

Made plenty for two of us with 4 leftover cakes.  Will save and re-heat later.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway

To Have and Have NotTo Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From Goodreads:  Harshly realistic, yet with one of the most subtle and moving relationships in the Hemingway oeuvre, To Have and Have Not is literary high adventure at its finest.To Have and Have Not is the dramatic story of Harry Morgan, an honest man who is forced into running contraband between Cuba and Key West as a means of keeping his crumbling family financially afloat. His adventures lead him into the world of the wealthy and dissipated yachtsmen who throng the region, and involve him in a strange and unlikely love affair.


I usually enjoy Hemingway and I'm slowly working my way through his selections.  My favorites to date are The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls.

This book was reminiscent of Old Man and the Sea, in that our initial main character, Harry, makes a series of bad decisions that keep compounding his problems.  He's struggling to stay afloat in desperate times, but just can't seem to make things come together.  His situation goes from bad to worse.  The reader gets glimpses into Harry's soul and sees he is a decent guy under that sun-crusted exterior.  He loves the sea, his wife and girls, he works hard, and he tries to do good.

Halfway through the book Hemingway somewhat abruptly introduces new characters, the usual rich and wanna be rich, and as he trolls through their somewhat sordid lives we find that even when you have it all, sometimes you have nothing and that life is as substantial as the sand between your fingers.

I still found this worth reading - the dialog alone brought everything alive: I could totally envision standing there in the bar, with the fan thwupping softly overhead, the smell of salt blowing in the windows, the men tan and weathered as they spoke in their short choppy sentences, leaning against a dark brown wood bar stained with years of sweating bottles.


"Take it easy," said Harry. "Don't get plugged."

"I'm not plugged," replied Albert, "Bring me with."

"Take it easy."

"Why won't you take me?"

"Take it easy."


A fascinating glimpse into the world of the Florida Keys and Cuba in the 1920s/1930's.



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Monday, November 12, 2012

Recipe Review from 11/5/12

An uneventful week where I was still recovering from a head cold that left me tired and unmotivated.  Weather bounced between georgeous (for us this time of year that's 45* and sunny) and blustery with rain.

Managed to make a couple of easy and uncomplicated dishes.  Husband had a work function one night so I treated myself to one of my favorite take-out soups: Raman noodles in a Miso broth with pork dumplings.  Got some extra dumplings too.  Yum! 


Curried Squash Soup  (Vegetarian Slow Cooker by Judith Finlayson)
Have you pulled out your slowcooker yet?  Why ever not?  Lunches for the week don't get any easier than this.  Don't be put off by the "curried" in the title, the seasonings are flavorful but not spicy.  If you don't like heat, omit the chili pepper.  When cooked, this becomes a bit of a creamy soup with chunks of squash - the red lentils rather disappear into the background which is okay. Add some crackers and apple slices along side and you have a lovely warm lunch for these blustery fall days.

Again, I did the plop and cook.  Author recommends sauteing everything first, but I find that to be a waste of time and dishes.

Vegan if using vegetable broth.  GF but watch ingredients in broth.

1 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped  (I used one)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp ginger, finely minced or grated
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper or to taste
1 cup red lentils, rinced
1 can diced tomatoes with juice  (I used fire-roasted)
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups diced winter squash  (I used 2 lbs)
2 tsp curry powder, dissolved in 2 tbsp lemon juice
1 can (14 oz) coconut milk, divided  (I used light coconut milk)
1 red chili pepper or 2 Thai chili peppers  (I used 1 jalepeno)

My modifcations:
1) Put onions through squash and chili pepper into a 4-5 quart slow cooker.  Cook on low 6 hours or high 3-4 hours or until squash is done.

2) In a small bowl, combine curry powder solution and about 1/4 cup coconut milk. Stir until curry powder dissolves.  Add to soup.  Add remaining coconut milk and stir well.  Cover and cook on high for 15 minutes or until heated through.  Serve or cool and refrigerate for the week to come!


Cavatappi with Brussel Sprouts (Ckng Lght Nov 2012)                      
A quick dish that's good for a weeknight dinner.  I made one significant change because my bread went moldy (which I was going to sub for the panko).  So I used some bacon instead.  Fried the bacon first, set aside, then sauteed the onions and brussel sprouts in the bacon grease.  Proceeded with rest of recipe as directed.  The hit of bacon against the rest of the dish was good - toned down the brightness of the lemon a bit.  I would make this again - made enough for two of us for two meals.

Vegetarian if made as originally written
photo from CookingLight.com
  • 8 ounces uncooked cavatappi pasta
  • 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)  (skipped, used bacon instead)
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 12 ounces Brussels sprouts, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1 cup thinly sliced onion
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2/3 cup organic vegetable broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 ounces pecorino Romano cheese, shaved (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted  (not wild about nuts on my pasta, and an unnecessary expense imo)

1. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain and transfer to a large bowl; keep warm.

2. Melt butter in a small skillet over medium heat; swirl to coat. Add panko to pan; cook 3 minutes or until browned, stirring frequently

3. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add Brussels sprouts to pan; cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add onion and garlic; cook 3 minutes or until onion is tender and the Brussels sprouts are lightly browned. Add broth and next 5 ingredients (through pepper). Cover and cook 2 minutes or until Brussels sprouts are crisp-tender. Add Brussels sprouts mixture to pasta; toss well. Sprinkle with cheese, pine nuts, and panko. Serve immediately

Wine Match: A yeasty sparkling wine like the Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace Brut ($20) is a refreshing foil for the earthiness of the onions and sprouts and the nutty, salty cheese in this pasta dish. --Gretchen Roberts




















Pigs in a Poke (Ckng Lght Oct 2012)
As my friend Tess says, this is a good weeknight "Brinner" -  Breakfast as Dinner.  A very versatile recipe as well, use whatever sausage you have on hand, or none at all and sub some veggies.  Cheese can also be whatever you have on hand, though I did use Gouda for something different than cheddar.

A couple of notes - recipe called for 1 oz sausage.  Really? 1 oz? Almost not worth buying.  I upped to three oz and should have served the leftover along side the husbands plate.  I cut back the milk to 2 cups and added 1 cup of water.  Could even go 1 1/2 cups milk, and 1 1/2 cups water.  I only made two eggs since I was just serving two of us.  Leftovers are easily re-heated with a bit of water or milk and new eggs can be made then. 

Good vegetarian dish if omit the meat.  Gluten free if you watch the sausage ingredients.  

photo from CookingLight.com
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons butter
  •  3-6 ounce andouille sausage, diced
  •  2 cups 2% reduced-fat milk
  • 1 cup water 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1 cup uncooked stone-ground grits
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
  • 1.5 ounces Gouda cheese, shredded (about 1/3 cup)
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley  (skip)
1. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add sausage; sauté 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in 3 cups milk and 1/4 teaspoon salt; bring to a boil. Add grits; reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Remove from heat; stir in 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cheese.

2. Bring 8 cups water and vinegar to a simmer in a large saucepan. Crack each egg into a small bowl. Gently slide eggs into water; cook 3 minutes or until whites are just set. Remove eggs from water with a slotted spoon.

3. Divide grits evenly among 4 bowls. Top each serving with 1 poached egg; sprinkle eggs evenly with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and parsley.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Star Wars and Disney

Just one more reason why this merger is just...wrong.  Wrong wrong wrong. 


Mr. Spock, set phasers to "stun".  There is a princess that needs rescuing from Planet Disney.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Naked Prey by John Sandford (Davenport #14)

Naked Prey (Lucas Davenport, #14)Naked Prey by John Sandford

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


From Goodreads:  When twelve-year-old muskrat trapper Letty West stumbles on the naked bodies of Jane Warr and Deon Cash, deep in the snowy woods of northern Minnesota, it's more than another bizarre episode in her already unusual life, as Lucas Davenport discovers in this new outing in Sandford's popular series featuring the midwestern lawman who moonlights as a computer game designer. Lucas has a new wife, a new baby, and a new job as a political troubleshooter for his old boss Rose Marie Roux, but the blunt-spoken Davenport's instructions to hush the racially charged implications of what looks suspiciously like a lynching won't deter him from whomever left Warr and Cash twisting in the wind. The well-peopled plot, involving a hot car ring, an ex-nun who smuggles cancer drugs over the Canadian border, and the usual internecine wranglings between the FBI, the local cops, and Davenport, races to a satisfying denouement, but this time it's a little girl with a difficult past and an uncertain future who lingers in the reader's mind. Fortunately, Sandford comes up with an ending that makes it all but certain that his fans will meet her again.


This selection was reminiscent of #12, where the murderer inferred the worst from something he saw, and started killing people in an attempt to cover his tracts and to point the investigating authorities in another direction.  I know there are other books in the Davenport series that utilize the same plot devise, I'm just not recalling them at the moment.  My complaint would be, don't use this particular method so much. 

Naked Prey felt more convoluted than previous books.  Kidnapping, murder, prescription drug running, car thefts, it was almost...unbelievable.  And I think Sandford attempted to convey that in his book through Davenport and Capslock, who kept asking if it was realistic to have two major crimes happen in one small remote prairie town. However, it didn't quite jive for me.

Oddly enough, as gruesome as the murders are portrayed (hanging, bashing heads in, shooting and burning), the thing that squicked me out the most was the description of our murderer digging a bullet out of his chest.  Had me cringing the entire drive home and I'm not a squeamish person.

I also found the character of Letty annoying, but I'm not a kid person, so the whole 'nesting' thing just didn't grab me. 

Ultimately, I enjoyed this even if I was snorting in disbelief and didn't like the kid.  It was a quick read even on audiobook.



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Monday, November 5, 2012

Recipe Review from 10/29/12

A mostly uneventful week with my office's 5th Annual Chili Cook-off (I organize so I don't directly participate) and a headcold that took me out by Friday.  Which meant I missed a day off awesome chili leftovers.  Sad indeed. 


Basic Lentil Soup  (The Vegetarian Family Ckbk by Neva Atlas)
This was for lunches for the week.  Remember what I said a couple of weeks ago?  No?  Then repeat after me:  Your Crockpot Is Your Friend.  This was meant for stovetop, I put it in the slowcooker.  I've typed the recipe as published however.  This was decent, but not stellar.  Was missing something in the background.  If you prefer bland, then it would be just fine as written.

2 tbsp olive oil  (skip if slowcooking)
1 medium-large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced  (skipped - lazy me)
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 1/4 cups dried lentils
2 vegetable bouillion cubes  (skip if using vegetable stock)
2 tsp salt free all-purpose seasoning mix (skipped - lazy me)
2 bay leaves

My method:  combine all ingredients plus 6 cups water or water and vegetable stock in a slowcooker.  Cook on low 8 hour or high 4 hours or until lentils and vegetables are soft.  Add more liquid to taste.  I added one can of crushed tomatoes per suggestion below.

1. Heat oil in a small soup pot.  Add the onion and garlic and saute over medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the celery and carrots and saute 3 to 4 minutes longer.

2. Add 6 cups water and the remaining ingredients, except the salt and pepper.  Bring to a simmer, then cover and simmer until the lentils and vegetables are tender, 30-40 mintues.

3. Season with salt and pepper.  If time allows, let soup stand one hour to let flavors develop.   Re-heat and serve.

Suggested variation - Lentil Tomato Soup:  add one 15oz can diced or crushed tomatoes once the lentils are done and simmer gently for another 10 minutes.



Proscuttio, Chicken and Havarti Sandwich  (modified from Ckng Lght, Nov 2012)
This is another sandwich that I ended up modifying greatly.  I'm more interested in concept sandwiches and ideas than I am to duplicate it exactly.  This was really good and would nicely complement a side of tomato soup.  Which I did later in the week to use up the leftovers.  Very quick assembly if you skip the shallots and lemon juice business.
Photo from CookingLight.com
  • 2 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves  (leftover rotisserie chicken)
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 ounces prosciutto, cut into 4 thin slices
  • 8 (3/4-ounce) slices sourdough bread
  • 4 teaspoons butter, softened and divided
  • 2 ounces Gruyère cheese, shredded (about 1/2 cup)  (used havarti because all I could find for Gruyere was smoked and processed cheese product)
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 cups arugula leaves  (Subbed spinach)
  • 3 tablespoons thinly sliced shallots  (Skipped to save time and dishes)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 large red-skinned pear, sliced

My version - place leftover chicken and proscuttio on a pan lined with aluminum foil.  Broil lightly until just warmed.  Broil or toast the bread, spread with mayo/dijonn mix.  Add chicken and proscuttio to one side, add spinach and cheese to the other slice, keeping cheese on top. Broil just until cheese melts.  Eat. 

 1. Split each chicken breast in half lengthwise to form 2 cutlets. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Coat the pan with cooking spray. Sprinkle chicken evenly with pepper. Add chicken to pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until done. Remove chicken from pan. Wrap 1 prosciutto slice around each chicken cutlet

2. Return pan to medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Spread one side of each bread slice evenly with 1/2 teaspoon butter. Place 4 bread slices, buttered side down, in pan. Top each bread slice in pan with 2 tablespoons cheese; toast bread for 2 minutes or until underside is toasted and cheese melts. Remove the bread from pan. Recoat pan with cooking spray. Place the remaining 4 bread slices, buttered side down, in pan; toast 2 minutes or until toasted. Remove from pan.

3. Top each cheese-topped bread slice with 1 chicken cutlet. Spread 1 1/2 teaspoons mustard over untoasted side of each remaining bread slice. Combine arugula, shallots, and juice in a bowl; toss. Divide mixture evenly among sandwiches; top each sandwich with 1 bread slice, mustard side down. Serve with pear slices.

Beer Match: Try an amber ale like New Belgium Fat Tire ($1.50/bottle). The toasty malt and hoppy bitterness in these ales will complement the recipe's sweet pears and nutty cheese. --Gretchen Roberts


Roasted Butternut Baked Penne  (How Sweet it Is food blog)

New food blog find thanks to friend Tess.  We're looking for ways to use some giant butternut squashes and she found two recipes here.  This is one of them.  This. Was outstanding.  Directions seem a bit complicated, but really, you can be multi-tasking on this one.  By the time I popped this into the oven, I just needed to wash a couple of dishes, set the table and that was a wrap!  Kitchen cleaned AND dinner ready!

I omitted the bacon as the husband cooked it up for breakfast.  The dish really doesn't need it, but would definitely go well.  I upped the milk as suggested for a bit creamier dish.  My only complaint is now I need to find something to use up the rest of the marscarpone cheese - had I paid attention to the amt, I would have subbed some goat cheese I had open in the fridge.  This dish could easily be doubled and is fit for company. 
   
serves about 4
1 pound butternut squash, peeled and chopped
Photo from How Sweet It Is blog
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small shallot, chopped
1 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese
2/3 cup milk
1/2 pound whole wheat penne
1/4 cup freshly grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
sage leaves
crumbed bacon, if desired

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Peel and chop squash, then lay on a baking sheet. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Roast for 20 minutes, flip once, then roast for 20 minutes more. Remove from oven and add squash to a bowl, then mash with a potato masher or fork.

2. Prepare water for pasta and cook according to directions.

3.While pasta is cooking, heat a medium saucepan over medium heat and add butter and shallots. Whisk continuously until the butter browns and small brown bits appear in the pan. Immediately whisk in flour and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add milk, mascarpone and mashed squash, then mix until until combined. I chose to keep my “sauce” in a thicker state (see the second picture), but if you’d like it thinned out a bit more, add additional milk. At this point, taste and see if you’d like any additional salt or spices – this will most likely depend on how seasoned your squash was. I added another small pinch of salt.

4. Add pasta to an 8 or 9-inch baking dish. Pour sauce over top, then use a spoon to fold the sauce into the penne, coating it completely. Top with shredded cheeses and fresh sage leaves. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until cheese is golden and bubbly. Garnish with crumbled bacon if desired.

Blog Author's Note: this is a very “thick” pasta, and it is not swimming in sauce. If you would prefer it to be “saucy,” I’d advise adding more milk to the sauce while cooking. It is great reheated, and adding 1-2 tablespoons of milk when reheating helps it come together nicely.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Containment by Christan Cantrell

ContainmentContainment by Christian Cantrell

My rating: 2 of 5 stars







From Goodreads: As the Earth's ability to support human life begins to diminish at an alarming rate, the Global Space Agency is formed with a single mandate: protect humanity from extinction by colonizing the solar system as quickly as possible. Venus, being almost the same mass as Earth, is chosen over Mars as humanity’s first permanent steppingstone into the universe.

Arik Ockley is part of the first generation to be born and raised off-Earth. After a puzzling accident, Arik wakes up to find that his wife is almost three months pregnant. Since the colony’s environmental systems cannot safely support any increases in population, Arik immediately resumes his work on AP, or artificial photosynthesis, in order to save the life of his unborn child. Arik’s new and frantic research uncovers startling truths about the planet, and about the distorted reality the founders of the colony have constructed for Arik’s entire generation. Everything Arik has ever known is called into question, and he must figure out the right path for himself, his wife, and his unborn daughter


I struggled with this one - was this supposed to be a technical dissertation of how a colony might happen?  Or was this a story about a colony that experiences what it is to be cut off from everything? 

The premise of the story was interesting enough, but the scientific and historical info dumps were very distracting.  The historical background was pontificating on our current global warming crisis and the results thereof, and the scientific info dumps on why things worked they way they worked made it seem like I - the reader - wouldn't understand unless it was explained in excruciating detail.

Additionally, the excessive scientific and historical exposition made the human aspect of the story choppy and disjointed.  What could have been a very interesting tale about struggling to live as an isolated colony,  as a First Generation colonist, and the lies everyone was living with, was diminished because you had to slog through the scientific "how V1 worked" and "why they were there".

So, ultimately, a potentially interesting story that was bogged down by too much information.



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