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Monday, December 31, 2012

Recipe Review from 12/24/12

Not much to say as the week/year winds down.  One busy weekend where the extended Family converged on a Waterpark in Tomah, WI; then a quiet Christmas itself over at the Folks place.  Nothing fancy - take-n-bake pizza, cookies from my favorite local bakery, and homemade potica (poh - TEET- sa) from a friend.  It's like a large cinnamon loaf...but not really.  Thinner, less sweet, not so cinnamon-y.  Actually, I'm not even sure there's cinnamon in it at all.

Four new recipes for the week.  My friend Tess inadvertently guilted me into doing more than oatmeal or eggy sandwiches for breakfast on Christmas morning.  She had this Holiday menu that was darn impressive.  I had, well, nothing.   So I tried the Monkey Bread:

Monkey Bread (Ckng Lght, Oct 2011)
This is a "make-over" recipe, moving away from refrigerated biscuits and a stick butter (ahh...guilty as charged).  However, the three hour prep is a bit of a turn-off.  I decided to employ some of my bread making knowledge and I did step one the night before, allowing the dough to rise overnight in the fridge and proceeding with step two in the morning.

It worked...okay.  The second rise took longer because the dough was chilly which ultimately didn't save me any time.  In hindsight, I should have done through step THREE the night before and allowed the cinnamon covered rolls to rise overnight, then baked in the morning.   I skipped the glaze - it's plenty sweet already.   I would definitely do this recipe again, as far as bread making goes, it's pretty easy, and I liked the lightened version.
Photo from
  • 13.5 ounces all-purpose flour (about 3 cups)
  • 4.75 ounces whole-wheat flour (about 1 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 package quick-rise yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 1 cup very warm fat-free milk (120° to 130°)  NOTE: I warmed the milk, oj, honey and butter in one pan 
  • 1/4 cup very warm orange juice (120° to 130°) 
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted 
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons fat-free milk, divided
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted 
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon 1/3-less-fat cream cheese 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Weigh or lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flours, salt, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer with dough hook attached; mix until combined. With mixer on, slowly add 1 cup milk, juice, honey, and 2 tablespoons butter; mix dough at medium speed 7 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 1 hour or until doubled in size. (Gently press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, the dough has risen enough.)
  2. Combine granulated sugar, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a shallow dish. Combine 3 tablespoons milk and 2 tablespoons butter in a shallow dish, stirring with a whisk.
  3. Punch dough down; divide into 8 equal portions. Working with one portion at a time (cover remaining dough to prevent drying), roll into an 8-inch rope. Cut each dough rope into 8 equal pieces, shaping each piece into a 1-inch ball. Dip each ball in milk mixture, turning to coat, and roll in sugar mixture. Layer balls in a 12-cup Bundt pan coated with cooking spray. Repeat procedure with remaining 7 dough ropes. Sprinkle any remaining sugar mixture over dough. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 1 hour or until almost doubled in size.
  4. Preheat oven to 350°.
  5. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until golden. Cool 5 minutes on a wire rack. Place a plate upside down on top of bread; invert onto plate. Combine powdered sugar, remaining milk, and remaining ingredients in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Microwave at HIGH 20 seconds or until warm. Drizzle over bread.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Vanished by Joseph Finder

Vanished (Nick Heller, #1)Vanished by Joseph Finder

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From Nick Heller is tough, smart, and stubborn.  And in his line of work, it's essential.  Trained in the Special Forces, Nick is a high-powered intelligence investigator--exposing secrets that powerful people would rather keep hidden.  He's a guy you don't want to mess with.  He's also the man you call when you need a problem fixed.

Desperate, with nowhere else to run, Nick's nephew, Gabe makes that call one night.  After being attacked in Georgetown, his mother, Lauren, lies in a coma, and his step-dad, Roger, Nick's brother, has vanished without a trace.

Nick and Roger have been on the outs since the arrest, trial, and conviction of their father, the notorious "fugitive financier," Victor Heller.  Where Nick strayed from the path, Roger followed their father's footsteps into the corporate world.  Now, as Nick searches for his brother, he's on a collision course with one of the most powerful corporations in the world--and they will stop at nothing to protect their secrets

Please allow me to emphasize, I read this as an audiobook.  Much of my impressions may have been influenced by the narrator - audiobooks are like that.  A mediocre book can become stellar by a voice, and stellar book can be tedious.

This was a interesting book with a narrator who's voice bugged me, the result of which more often than not I was left sniggering and snickering at the book or banging my fists against the steering wheel in frustration.  My main contention was with the female character - Lauren.  Classic damsel in distress and just...stupid.  Stupid repetitive questions - a tendency to repeat the question being asked back as a question.  She was portrayed as being helpless, stupid, and a grade one liar to boot.   From the prologue, I despised her as a character which was only compounded by the narrators voice for her and the character grated on my nerves.

Add in Lauren's 14 year old son, Gabe, also depicted with a nasally whiny voice, and I was ready to start skipping chapters. I could find no empathy for anyone in the Heller household.

The only redeeming factor was the main character Nick Heller, our very human hero.  He was portrayed as witty, sarcastic, headstrong, subject to doubts, could be easily mislead and screw things up, but overall a fairly well rounded character.  His point of view was the only thing that kept me reading the book instead of tossing my iPod across the room.  That and I didn't want to break my iPod.

I will probably try book two in the series, as this was book one and sometimes writing and characters need a bit of time to develop.  So, Vanished is recommended with reservations.

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Monday, December 24, 2012

Recipe Review from 12/17/12

The big news, the world did not end.

The small news...the lumber started showing up for the Man-barn. The snow missed us.  It got cold.

At this posting, I'm just about ready for the Holiday Weekend.  The Family is doing a get-together at a Waterpark in Wisconsin, and we're all a bit concerned about the road conditions after the blizzard.  Gifts are wrapped, the potluck chili's are made and in the fridge, cheese and crackers bought, dogs appointment with the kennel confirmed, Christmas music uploaded to the iPod...just need to pack the clothes, swimsuit and snowsuit. 

And, with all the preparation for Waterpark Weekend going on, I made a couple more new recipes!

Breakfast Rice  (Vegetarian Slowcooker by Judith Finlayson)
This was a nice change from oatmeal.  The vanilla rice milk added plenty of sweetness so no further sugar, syrup or honey was necessary.  I liked the dried cranberries, but I'm wondering what frozen fruit might taste like.  I might have to give it a try with some cherries or raspberries I've got in the freezer.  Super easy - assemble just before bed and it's ready to go when you get up.  Reheats nicely with a bit of added liquid.    GF and Vegan

1 cup brown rice
4 cups vanilla flavored enriched rice drink
1/2 cup dried cranberries or cherries   (I used cranberries)

Combine in a slowcooker.  Cook for 3 hours on high, or 8 hours on low.  The author notes that the rice is a tich on the cruchy side (al dente) with quantities above.  Add additional 1/2 cup rice drink or water if you prefer it not al dente.

Squash and Black Bean Chili (Vegetarian Slowcooker by Judith Finlayson)
Noticed a trend?  Yeah, I Heart my Crockpot very much!  This was the vegetarian chili I made for the Weekend Waterpark potluck supper.   A nice complement of veggies, a dash of the time I'm writing this I'm hoping half the group will like it.  The other half is getting a traditional meat chili.

The butternut squash makes a sweeter chili than your usual meat-based. Add in the chili powder and you get a hot/sweet thing going on. The addition of one cinnamon stick is a nice touch - adds more backgound nuance to the butternut.

This got mixed reviews from the group - but then they are a picky bunch and I'm not sure if anything would have made all of them happy.   This does make quite a bit: easily 8 servings or enough for lunches for a week.  GF and Vegan

2 onions, chopped  (I used one...)
4 garlic cloves, chopped  (I used three)
2 green peppers, chopped (I used 1/2 yellow, 1/2 red)
4 cups butternut squash, cut into bite sized pieces
3 stalks celery, chopped   (my addition)
1 14oz can black beans, rinsed and drained.
1 28oz can diced tomatoes, with juice (do not drain!)
1 4oz can mild green chilies
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregan
1 tsp salt
1 cinnamon stick
1 chili in adobe sauce Optional  (I skipped due to group tastes)
1 tbsp tomato sauce to thicken the juices a bit.   

**Note - author calls to saute everything except squash and beans before slowcooking.

1) Combine in a slowcooker;  cook on low 8 hours, cook on high 4 hours.   I added the tomato paste toward the end as this is going to sit for a day before serving. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Silver Bourne by Patricia Briggs (Mercy Thompson #5)

Silver Borne (Mercedes Thompson, #5)Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From  When Mercy Thompson, mechanic and shape-shifter, attempts to return a powerful fae book she previously borrowed in an act of desperation, she finds the bookstore locked up and closed down.

It seems the book contains secrets -- and the fae will do just about anything to keep it out of the wrong hands. And if that doesn't take enough of Mercy's attention, her friend Samuel is struggling with his wolf side -- leaving Mercy to cover for him lest his own father declare Samuel's life forfeit.

All in all, Mercy has had better days. And if she isn't careful, she may not have many more...

Of the urban fantasy's I've been reading, this is probably my least favorite series.  That is not to imply that I don't enjoy the books when I read them, it's just that I struggle a bit more with the main character and some of the situations she ends up in.  Despite the fantasy setting and that our heroine is a coyote shifter who's being woo'd by her werewolf mate, our protagonist reminds me of Theodosia Browning in the Tea Shop Mysteries who also drives me bonkers.

Neither one of them can really keep their nose out of trouble and I get a bit tired of that trope.  Why it bugs me with female leads and not male leads, I don't rightly know nor can I explain.

In this book, Mercedes is still recovering from being assaulted in book 3 (you can read my thoughts on that here), is trying to reconcile being mated to the Alpha wolf of the local pack, and being part of a pack in general. Her roommate is teetering on the edge of suicide/going wolf, either of which means death, someone is screwing with her head and a friend's father has gone missing.  Yup, Miss Mercy seems to attract trouble like honey attracts wasps.

It becomes...tiresome.   It becomes a lot like, "Really?  You're getting attacked again by nasty fae who have a vendetta against you because of something you did to help the vampires against the the fae in book whatever?  And the vampires still have a vendetta against you because you helped the wolves in book whatever? And the wolves don't like you because you're a coyote who's boinking their leader?"

On top of that, the series is starting to read like a romance book with decorations of fantasy.

So, I liked this book for the pleasant diversion it offered on a 4 1/2 hour plane flight followed by a 3 hour shuttle ride.  I'll probably read book 6.  Eventually. Maybe.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear

Hull Zero ThreeHull Zero Three by Greg Bear

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

From  A starship hurtles through the emptiness of space. Its destination - unknown. Its purpose - a mystery.  Now, one man wakes up. Ripped from a dream of a new home - a new planet and the woman he was meant to love in his arms - he finds himself wet, naked, and freezing to death. The dark halls are full of monsters but trusting other survivors he meets might be the greater danger.
All he has are questions -- Who is he? Where are they going? What happened to the dream of a new life? What happened to Hull 03?

All will be answered, if he can survive the ship.

This was December's book group selection.  Group thought it was a dud.

Not sure what to think of this.  Not sure at all.  A rather strange story about a generation ship gone bad, a fight for survival where the characters didn't know who was friend or foe, other than the obvious trying to kill them.  A fantastical world of three hulls, of internal decay, of life perverted, of memories that were not real and a situation that was growing worse.

I had trouble visualizing much of the internal structures of the hulls as they were described. It felt like the author was trying too hard to make this grandiose stage, where simplicity would have served better. Further, the situation seemed almost fantastical to the point of being unbelievable. 

I didn't care for the name-switch mid book: where Big Yellow (or some such) suddenly becomes Kim, Teachers are now Sanjay or Sanjim, Tall Grey is Nell, and only the Tracker keeps her true-name.  There seemed to be a lot of concepts that were started and aborted, much like the characters themselves, knowing they had been previously birthed, and died, but having no idea how or how many times and are left to continuously puzzle out their function.  

The one cool concept I liked in the story was the books, where you looked for your book that would tell you what had happened up to a point, a book that would fill in missing memories. 

Other than that, this left me with more questions than answers, more perplexed than not.  Recommended with reservations.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Recipe Review from 12/10/12

A busy week last week and next week is shaping up to be the same.  It didn't help matters that I was down with vertigo for nearly two days and we ended with week with a quick trip to Fergus Falls for a funeral.  Beautiful drive across the state on the way there - high 20's, sunny...white knuckler on the way back with rain, freezing rain and snow.  Gah...makes winter driving miserable.

Was still able to fit in two new recipes this past week.  I recommend both!  

Macaroni with Cheese and Tomatoes (Cooks Country, April/May 2010)
I love a good mac and cheese.  I love tomatoes and elbow macaroni.  Having Cooks Country -  aka America's Test Kitchen - combine the two is like a conductor and an orchrestra - absolutely harmonious!   This was super easy to assemble - my friend did the make ahead and she said it worked perfectly.  Both of us also halved and I'm glad I did!  This makes a lot.  Use the full recipe if feeding a crowd.   I used Fire Roasted Tomatoes for a bit more of an 'adult' flavor.  I served with a spinach salad and a Savignon Blanc wine.  Happy me! 

Cooks Country,
To pack in bright tomato flavor in our Macaroni and Cheese with Tomatoes, we tried every type of tomato product we could think of to find the perfect balance of rich red color and bright tomato flavor. In the end, testers preferred canned petite diced tomatoes. But for even stronger tomato flavor, we discovered that undercooking the pasta and adding the tomatoes with their juices to the drained macaroni allowed the macaroni to soak up more of the tomato flavor. Returning the pasta to the heat afterward allowed the noodles to absorb some of the tomato juice. Finally, to avoid a curdled sauce, we added fat in the form of half-and-half (cut with some chicken broth) and a mix of sharp and mild cheddar cheese.

Serves 8 to 10
 Let the finished dish rest for 10 to 15 minutes before you serve it; otherwise it will be soupy. Barilla is our favorite brand of elbow macaroni.

photo from April/May 2010
  •   Salt and pepper
  •  1 lb elbow macaroni  (I used penne pasta)
  • 1 (28-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes (I used fire roasted)
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 4 cups half-and-half
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 4 cups shredded mild cheddar cheese
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1. Cook Macaroni:  Adjust oven to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large Dutch oven over high heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and macaroni and cook until just al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain pasta and return to pot. Pour diced tomatoes with their juices over pasta and stir to coat. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until most of liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Set aside. 
2. Make Sauce: Meanwhile, melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat until foaming. Stir in flour and cayenne and cook until golden, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in half-and-half and broth until smooth. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture is slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Off heat, whisk in cheeses, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper until cheeses melt. Pour sauce over macaroni and stir to combine. 
3. Bake Macaroni and Cheese: Scrape mixture into 13 by 9-inch baking dish set in rimmed baking sheet and bake until top begins to brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. 
4. Make Ahead: Macaroni and cheese can be made in advance through step 2. Scrape mixture into 13 by 9-inch baking dish, cool, lay plastic wrap directly on surface of pasta, and refrigerate for up to 2 days. When ready to bake, remove plastic wrap, cover with foil, and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until top is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Tagine of Squash and Chickpeas (Vegetarian Slowcooker by Judith Finlayson)
Another winner from this cookbook!  A tagine is simply a slowcooked dish, traditionally done in a specialized clay cooking dish found in the Middle East.  A slowcooker really isn't all that different and for us State-side a heck of a lot more convenient!  The middle eastern flavors in this dish are subtle -  not hot spicy, but definitely present.  I served this over basmati rice, but cous cous would work just as well.  This made about 10 servings.

1 onion, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
4 garlic cloves, diced/minced
1 sm cinnamon stick
2 tbsp gingerroot, minced
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes with juice (or petite, or stewed, or whole - diced)
3 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash or pumpkin
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
8 oz cremini mushrooms, quartered  I skipped because I ran out of room in my cooker!
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup currants (optional)  I skipped

Again, the author prefers to saute her veggies before combining.  I go the chop and dump route.  I combined everything up through the mushrooms (ran out of room) and cooked on high for 4 hours.  If wanting to prepare for dinner, cook on low for 6-8 hours.  Serve over cous cous or rice.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Life of Pi by Yann Martell

Life of PiLife of Pi by Yann Martel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From  Life of Pi is a masterful and utterly original novel that is at once the story of a young castaway who faces immeasurable hardships on the high seas, and a meditation on religion, faith, art and life that is as witty as it is profound. Using the threads of all of our best stories, Yann Martel has woven a glorious spiritual adventure that makes us question what it means to be alive, and to believe.

Growing up in Pondicherry, India, Piscine Molitor Patel - known as Pi - has a rich life. Bookish by nature, young Pi acquires a broad knowledge of not only the great religious texts but of all literature, and has a great curiosity about how the world works. His family runs the local zoo, and he spends many of his days among goats, hippos, swans, and bears, developing his own theories about the nature of animals and how human nature conforms to it. Pi’s family life is quite happy, even though his brother picks on him and his parents aren’t quite sure how to accept his decision to simultaneously embrace and practise three religions - Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam.

But despite the lush and nurturing variety of Pi’s world, there are broad political changes afoot in India, and when Pi is sixteen, his parents decide that the family needs to escape to a better life. Choosing to move to Canada, they close the zoo, pack their belongings, and board a Japanese cargo ship called the Tsimtsum. Travelling with them are many of their animals, bound for zoos in North America. However, they have only just begun their journey when the ship sinks, taking the dreams of the Patel family down with it. Only Pi survives, cast adrift in a lifeboat with the unlikeliest oftravelling companions: a zebra, an orang-utan, a hyena, and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

Thus begins Pi Patel’s epic, 227-day voyage across the Pacific, and the powerful story of faith and survival at the heart of Life of Pi. Worn and scared, oscillating between hope and despair, Pi is witness to the playing out of the food chain, quite aware of his new position within it. When only the tiger is left of the seafaring menagerie, Pi realizes that his survival depends on his ability to assert his own will, and sets upon a grand and ordered scheme to keep from being Richard Parker’s next meal.

Back on some lazy Sunday in November, I saw a preview for this movie during a football commercial.  I wasn't fast enough to get the sound on, but the imagery intrigued me.  I knew it was based off a book, but that was it.  Luckily for me it was available as an audiobook!

A beautifully written book about life, religion, and the meaning of religion and life as seen through the eyes of Piscine Molitor Patel, a young Indian boy.  I've studied some Hindu philosphy through the course of my yogic training, and I have to say, the way Yann Martel explained it made was the best I've heard yet.  It made sense.

But the book is more than Hindu philosophy.  It's a rich weaving of life, belief and survival.  What it means to believe, to have those beliefs questioned, and to question those beliefs.  What it is to survive under some of the harshest conditions while coping with incredible loss.  The writing pulls the reader along with wit, imagery, and not-so-subtle lessons.

The author does not shy away from the graphic discussion of the base instinct for survival, which had me wincing more than once.  The sometimes brutal description of the fight to live was almost incongruous with young Piscine's personal quest in the first part of the book to be closer to God.  A dichotomy of an internal struggle and then later in the book, an external struggle. Oddly, these two opposites worked.

A couple complaints with the book:  in the second part, where Piscine is adrift at sea.  The flow and wonder that pulled me along in the first section became bogged down and almost as becalmed as a ship stuck in the doldrums in the self same ocean.  Ruminations and observations were borderline repetitive.  Had I been reading this as a physical book, I probably would have started skipping pages. 

My other complaint was the the emphasis on Piscine's religious development and ruminations rather went by the wayside once he was adrift at sea.  He mentioned praying once and he mentioned Gideon's bible a second time.  Compared to the first section, the second section felt very bereft of spiritual ruminations - given how Piscine had thrown himself into religious studies, I would have liked to have seen more overlap.

However, overall a delightful read.  To say more would not do the book justice.  Recommended.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Recipe Review from 12/3/2012

Off and running this past week with a slew of new recipes.  I am 10 recipes away from my 2012 New Recipe Goal!  I'm not saying what my 2012 goal is in case I jinx myself tho.

Mix results - waffles that glued my waffle iron shut, a enchilada sauce that didn't want to thicken, excessive streusel on a french toast bake,  nearly overpowering rosemary in the soup.  Despite my complaints, everything still tasted good and nothing got tossed.  

Basic Yogurt Waffles (The Vegetarian Family by Neva Atlas)
A unique recipe that doesn't use eggs or oil.  By using Greek yogurt, I can incorporate some protein and the flaxseed adds my omega-3's.  This is based off her Basic Yogurt Pancake recipe and I did find that the batter thickened significantly the longer it sat.  A bit more milk at the beginning would have been good.  I also had the unusual problem of my waffles gluing my waffle iron shut by the last three.  Not cool.  Still, I would make these again, increasing liquid quantities for the thicker Greek yogurt. 

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp ground flaxseeds (optional)  (I added)
1 1/2 c yogurt
1 c low-fat milk or rice milk  (If using Greek yogurt, increase to 1 1/4 cup milk, or decrease yogurt)
2 tbsp butter

1) combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and flaxseed (if using) in a mixing bowl.  Make a well in the center and pour in the yogurt and milk.  Stir with a whisk until batter is just smooth; it should have an easy to pour consistency, but not too thin.  Add more milk as needed.  Don't over beat.

2) Cook and serve.

Butternut Squash, Bean and Cheese Enchiladas  (How Sweet It Is Blog)
You should really click on the link and check out this gals pictures.  Absolutely fantastic!

These were just a tiny bit putzier than I anticipated, but that was my fault for doing three things at once: these enchiladas, a Crumb Top Apple pie, and prepping a soup to make the next day.  Otherwise these are pretty simple.  I did

4 cups cubed (1/2-inch), uncooked butternut squash
1/2 sweet onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons freshly chopped sage + more for topping
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup beans (chickpeas, cannellinis, black, etc)   (I used 1 can rinsed/drained black beans)
1 tablespoon brown butter  (Skipped)
2 1/2 cups freshly grated fontina cheese  (I used Monteray Jack)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
1 cup milk
8 whole wheat tortillas

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly spritz a 9x13 dish with nonstick spray.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add olive oil. Add onions, garlic and sage, cooking for 2-3 minutes until slightly softened. Toss in squash, salt, pepper and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, stirring well to coat. Cover and cook for 8-10 minutes. You don't want to overcook the squash because it will be mushy, so cook until it's slightly tough but you can bite through a few pieces. Make sure to taste 2-3 pieces! Once finished, stir in beans and mix well. Remove squash and bean mixture, placing in a large bowl and drizzle with brown butter, then toss with 1/2 cup fontina. Set aside.

In the small skillet, raise the heat to medium-high and add butter. Once sizzling add in the flour and whisk for 2-3 minutes until a golden, nutty roux forms. Pour in stock and milk, whisking again until bubbly and slightly thick. Reduce heat to low and stir in 1 cup of fontina, stirring until combined. Add in remaining nutmeg and taste to season with additional salt and pepper if desired. Spoon about 1/3 cup of sauce into the bottom of the baking dish, then spoon a few spoonfuls of the squash mixture in the center of each tortilla, rolling up tightly. Place all the rolled tortillas carefully into the dish, then cover with remaining sauce. Sprinkle with the rest of the cheese and some extra chopped sage. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and melted. Serve immediately!

Streusel-Topped French Toast Casserole (Ckng Light Dec 2012)
This...was not my favorite.  Good sourdough bread is next to impossible to find up here and what passed for sourdough bread was merely a boule shaped loafed labeled as such.   The "fruit compote" was underwhleming.  Now to be fair, I did omit the golden raisins as I don't like plumped-up raisins.  I won't describe why.  Cranberries are fine - and personally, I think the whole cider bit could have been omitted and the cranberries just sprinkled between the layers.  I also thought the streusel topping could have been easily halved, and I like crumb topping, but I found myself scrapping off extra and shoving it to the side of my plate.    The bread on the bottom was nicely soaked through, while the bread on the top had dried bits.  In other baked french toast recipes, they call to flip the bread at some point.  I should have done that here. 

Still, despite my gripes, if you need a smaller make-ahead breakfast for company, this would fit the bill.  A 9" pie-size is a bit more doable than a 9x13 pan in some cases. 

Photo from
  • 1 cup unfiltered apple cider
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup fat-free milk
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • Cooking spray
  • 8 (1 1/2-ounce) slices sourdough bread, crusts removed
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces

1. Bring cider to a boil in a small saucepan. Cook until reduced to 2/3 cup (about 4 minutes). Add cranberries and raisins; let stand 10 minutes.

2. Combine milk, granulated sugar, vanilla, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and eggs, stirring with a whisk.

3. Coat a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate with cooking spray. Line bottom of dish with half of bread in a single layer. Pour half of egg mixture over bread; let stand 1 minute. Spread cranberry mixture over bread. Top with remaining bread; pour remaining egg mixture over bread. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

4. Combine remaining 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon salt, flour, oats, walnuts, and brown sugar in a small bowl; cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

5. Preheat oven to 350°.

6. Uncover bread mixture and flour mixture. Sprinkle flour mixture evenly over bread mixture. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until golden brown. Let stand 5 minutes. Cut into 8 wedges.

Canard Roti (Roast duck!) (Mastering the Art of French Cooking - Julia Child)
I loosely followed Julia's directions, because really, I can't help not futzing with a recipe.  My duck was also a solid pound heavier than her largest weight/time recommendation so we had a bit of guesswork going on here as well.

Basically, take one duck (6lbs in this case).
Rinse. Dry thoroughly. Season.   I stuffed the cavity with carrots, celery and onion.   We drizzled olive oil on the top of the skin and seasoned with salt and pepper.  Prick the skin along the lower part of the breast and thighs to allow the fat to drain out. 
Bake 15 minutes at 425*.  Reduce heat to 350* and continue till juices run mostly clear.

I pulled the duck out after 1hr 45min and let stand.  The breasts were perfectly done.  the underside...not so much.  The next time (and there will be a next time, I do love duck!) I will roast for 15min upside down at 425*,  then 15min breast side up at 425*, then reduce heat and continue baking for another hour and a half.

Julia had one flipping the duck on it's sides and roasting, but I didn't have a way to do that and I really didn't want to be futzing with a hot duck.  Perhaps a different roasting pan?  Hm, must contemplate this.

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup  (Vegetarian Slowcooker by Judith Finlayson)
Lunches for the week.  I was disappointed at how liquidy this was - I have to remember to note in the recipe to decrease veggi stock by one cup.  The apples will give off plenty of liquid to make up for it.   And 2 tsp crushed rosemary was way to much for my tastebuds.  Almost over powering rather than complimentary.  Also made note to decrease.  This fed two of us for one week for lunches. 

1 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves, chopped
2 tsp 1 tsp dried rosemary, crumbled (or 1 tbsp fresh, chopped) 
1/2 tsp black pepper
5 cups vegetable broth
2 tart apples (such as Granny Smith), peeled and chopped
1 butternut squash (about 2 1/2 lbs) peeled and cubed
1 cup Swiss Cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts, optional

**Please Note: Author prefers to saute ingredients before slow cooking.  I've modified to my preference of chop and dump.  
1) Combine onion through butternut squash in a slow cooker.  Cover and cook on high 3 hrs or low for 6 hours.

2)  Puree soup using an immersion blender.  Season to taste and serve.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

This is Not a Game by Walter Jon Williams

This Is Not a Game (Dagmar, #1)This Is Not a Game by Walter Jon Williams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From Once upon a time, there were four of them. And though each was good at a number of things, all of them were very good at games...

Dagmar is a game designer trapped in Jakarta in the middle of a revolution. The city is tearing itself apart around her and she needs to get out. 

Her boss Charlie has his own problems -- 4.3 billion of them, to be precise, hidden in an off-shore account.
Austin is the businessman -- the VC. He's the one with the plan and the one to keep the geeks in line.
BJ was there from the start, but while Charlie's star rose, BJ sank into the depths of customer service. He pads his hours at the call-center slaying on-line orcs, stealing your loot, and selling it on the internet.

But when one of them is gunned down in a parking lot, the survivors become players in a very different kind of game. Caught between the dangerous worlds of the Russian Mafia and international finance, Dagmar must draw on all her resources -- not least millions of online gamers-- to track down the killer. In this near-future thriller, Walter Jon Williams weaves a pulse-pounding tale of intrigue, murder, and games where you don't get an extra life.

I flew through this book.  It had me hooked on page one and, thanks to a four hour flight, kept me engrossed to the end.  I thought the plot was deftly woven, the use of an on-line role playing game in real-time/real-world was fascinating.  I liked the murder-mystery elements of betrayal, revenge and double revenge.  I liked the way world wide financial elements were manipulated on a more intimate level, shall we say.  I can totally see the self replicating software happening at some point in the future if it hasn't happened already on a smaller scale. 

My only complaint was this felt like a William Gibson book, not a Walter Jon Williams book (no offense to either author, I enjoy them both).  I kept thinking I had been introduced to these characters before, but like a thought niggle just out of reach, I couldn't place where.  This book felt like Pattern Recognition, Spook Country and Zero History.  But it wasn't.  And that niggling feeling bugged me for the entire book.

Despite that strange disconnect between authors, I will be reading Dagmar #2.

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Monday, December 3, 2012

Meal Planning Part II - After the Vacation

A while back I posted about Meal Planning and what works for me in a typical week.  Over Thanksgiving I was on vacation - this was a Saturday to Saturday vacation, both ends being long travel days.  If you are like me, by the time you get home the last thing you want is another restaurant meal.  Or to be faced with mediocre pizza delivery.  Though if you're like my Husband, who's eyes light up at the mere mention of pizza, delivery isn't such a bad way to go.  Or, my dreaded scenario after a week on the go, facing a day of grocery shopping when you'd rather just be mellow on the couch.

This trip I got smart.  I did some simple meal planning ahead of time so I could come home, unpack and the only thing I would have to do, would be laundry. 

Did I mention the simple bit?  That's the key - I already had enough going on pre-trip that I didn't want to get elaborate.  Post trip is busy enough catching up at work and with yoga.  No new recipes here.  Have I mentioned lately that the crockpot is your friend?  Repeat after me, the crockpot is my friend

Here's what I did ahead of time:
1) Have the Husband make is favorite crockpot chili.  Freeze for lunches.  Badabing! Badaboom!
2) Pre-buy some Frito's scoops and apples for lunches (apples are NOT going to go bad in a week in the fridge).  Set aside.  Let family know apples and chips are off limits.
  • I had some leftover Wild Rice Soup that I froze.  One dinner.  Maybe two.
  • Two leftover Jamaican Bean patties that are getting a bit freezer burned.  Tater tots to go with.  Use leftover frozen buns.  One dinner.
  • 8oz left of 16oz andoulli sausage from a previous meal - serve with tater tots.  One dinner.
  • pre-buy spagetti ingredients (not a freezer item...)

So here's how my meal plan looked once I plotted it out; keeping in mind that I knew I wouldn't get to the grocery store until Tuesday.  When meal planning, don't forget to look at the evening's activities and plan around those!

Sun  lunch - spagetti
       supper - veggie burgers and tater tots
Mon (K yoga, bkgrp) - Husband gets leftover spagetti
Tues - Wild Rice Soup
Wed - (Husband work function) I get leftover soup
Thurs - (K yoga) leftover soup/canned soup if no leftovers
Fri - Sausage and tater tots

Lunches - Chili, Frito scoops, apples, carrots, luna bars
Breakfasts - oatmeal and english muffins or eggy sandwiches

So what did I buy ahead?
  • Fritos
  • apples
  • English muffins (versitile!)
  • eggs (eggs will easily keep in the fridge over a week long vacation).
  • tater tots
  • spagetti and spagetti sauce
What did I have on hand:
  • veggie burgers
  • andoulli sausage
  • can evaporated milk (for oatmeal and morning tea)
  • yogurt
  • tomato soup
  • evaporated milk for oatmeal and tea (was supposed to be for pumpkin pie, but it works as a great milk substitute)

So my grocery shopping list is going to be pretty small.  SWEET!!
  • bananas
  • spinach
  • yogurt
  • goat milk
  • frozen fruit (ran out before I left)
  • cheese slices for grilled cheese (last minute decision.  I LOVE grilled cheese with soup.)
  • and some non-food essentials 

Again, this is what works for me.  Nothing elaborate the week after and an emphasis on using what I've got stashed.  And the crockpot is my friend.  :) 

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