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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Redshirts by John Scalzi

RedshirtsRedshirts by John Scalzi

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

From Goodreads:  Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory.

Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.

Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expendedon avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

Bookgroup selection for January 2013.

I liked Old Man's War and Ghost Brigades; was so-so on Last Colony, and bounced off of Zoe's Tale.  Thus I wasn't sure what to expect of Redshirts.

I expected too much, it seems.

I prefer my books to entertain, not annoy.  Even understanding the premise of the book: the not so subtle jabs at Star Trek, the reference to Stranger than Fiction (one of my favorite movies), and the overall whole situation - that an alternate reality can affect your reality if the the two timelines intersect - I was ultimately disappointed.

It read like teenage Fan-fiction; from someone who wrote Old Man's War, I expected a slightly higher caliber of writing.

The use of three characters who's last names start with "D" and two characters who's last name starts with "H".   Nope.  Doesn't work.  I spent more time trying to keep who was who straight that if there was any character development, I missed it.

The "Three Codas" ending was reminiscent of the conclusion of the Lord of the Rings movie, where the endings just. kept. coming.  I will grant a concession to the use of "First Person POV", "Second Person POV", "Third Person POV" and a different character for each was interesting enough - almost more interesting than the main story itself, but it wasn't enough to overcome my overall disappointment.

Recommended if you are a Scalzi fan. Recommended with reservations if you are not. 

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Recipe Review from 1/21/13

A week that started off bitterly cold, as in the high was 0*F (-18*C) and stayed cold.   Which made it a good week for warm, oven baked dishes and hearty soups and chili's and a batch of cookies.

No progress on the Man-barn.  Windchills were too harsh for outside work.  

Chicken and Wild Rice Casserole  (Ckng Light Jan/Feb 2013)   GF w/modifications.
This has a long ingredient list, but when prepared mise en place assembly actually goes very quickly.  You can also cook the bacon as the onions saute, though I did enlist the help of the Husband which was nice as he could stand and stir while I did dishes.

This tasted really good, the flavors of the mushrooms definitely coming through for a thicker variation on Chicken Wild Rice Soup.  My main complaint is 4 cups of chicken and 3 cups of rice is more than a 11x7 pan can comfortably handle.  I would recommend decreasing the chicken to 2 or 3 cups and keeping the rice at three.

The recipe also didn't incorporate the bacon and it seemed a shame to let it go to waste.  So instead of a bread crumb topping, I did a crumbled bacon topping.  Husband like that a lot.   This can be made GF if substitute arrowroot or cornstarch for the flour thickener, and drop the breadcrumb topping. 

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion 
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (or arrowroot, or cornstarch)
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted chicken stock
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
  • 4 ounces 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
  • 2 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1 (8-ounce) container sliced button mushrooms 
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1 cup chopped leek
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery 
  • 1/2 cup chopped ­carrot 
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry
  • 4 cups 2 cups chopped cooked chicken breast 
  • 3 cups cooked brown and wild rice blend
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley  (skipped)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper 
  • 1 1/4 cups fresh breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter 
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion; cook 6 minutes. Add garlic and flour; cook 2 minutes. ­Gradually add stock, stirring constantly; bring to a boil. Remove from heat; stir in 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and cream cheese.
  3. Cook bacon in a skillet over medium heat. Remove bacon. Add mushrooms to drippings in pan; cook 5 minutes. Add 2 teaspoons canola oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add chopped leek, celery, and ­carrot; cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in sherry; bring to a boil. Cook 3 minutes or until liquid evaporates. Add leek mixture, chicken, brown and wild rice blend, parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper to sauce; toss to combine. Scrape mixture into an 11 x 7-inch baking dish. Toss breadcrumbs with melted butter; sprinkle bacon over casserole. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes.

Bison Chili with Chickpeas and Squash (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 2013)
At the time I'm cooking this, it is -20*F (-29*C) outside at 10am in the morning.  Yes.  You read that correctly.  It is bleeping cold!  The husband helped with assembly, so this came together moderately quickly.  It does simmer for over an hour so some advanced planning is necessary - hence, making this on a day off, in the morning. 

This turned out super thick, not liquid-y like the picture shows.  If you like a thick chili, this is a good one.  If I make this again, I would stick with 1lb of ground bison, and up the beans or squash. 

photo from
  • 2 dried ancho chiles
  • 2 cups unsalted beef stock (such as Swanson)
  • 1 (8-ounce) package fresh cremini mushrooms
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 1/2 pounds 90% lean ground bison or ground sirloin (I used 2 -1lb pkg bison)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided
  • 2 cups chopped onion 
  • 1 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
  • 1 (12-ounce) bottle dark Mexican beer 
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled acorn squash  (I used butternut)
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can unsalted chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream     skipped
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley    skipped
  1. Combine chiles and stock in a microwave-safe bowl; microwave at HIGH 3 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes. Remove stems. Combine chile mixture and mushrooms in a blender; process until smooth.
  2. Heat a Dutch oven over high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add bison, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper; cook 6 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble. Remove bison from pan. Reduce heat to medium-high. 
  3. Add onion and bell pepper to pan; sauté 5 minutes. Stir in garlic; sauté 1 minute. Stir in tomato paste; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add chili powder, oregano, coriander, and cumin; sauté 30 seconds. Return bison to pan. Stir in beer; cook 3 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half. Stir in mushroom mixture and tomatoes; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat, and simmer 25 minutes. Stir in squash and chickpeas; simmer 45 minutes. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Top with sour cream and parsley.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies  (From Posed Perfection blog adapted from The Charm of Home) 
Did I mention it was cold out?  Good baking weather.  My friend Tess found this recipe and gave it the thumbs up.  It's been a long time since I made cookies with oil, and even then it was only 1 tbsp, I have to admit I was a bit dubious about 1/3 cup.  Oh, my...I shouldn't have been.  These were really good.  This did make 2 doz cookies...and they don't last very long!   

photo from my kitchen
1/3 cup softened butter
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup quick oats
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, oil and sugars. Add in the egg and vanilla, combining thoroughly. In separate bowl, mix together the flour, quick oats, baking soda and salt. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips. 

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a baking mat. (I actually rolled some of mine into balls and preferred the look when baked). Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the cookies are tan in color. Remove from oven and cool completely on parchment paper or wire rack. Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein (book and movie)

The Movie
It should come as no surprise that I had advanced tickets for the opening day of the new Hobbit movie.  It will come as a surprise that, I, was not there.  My Folks and my friend Tess went, but not me.  Alas, I was on the other side of the state attending a funeral.

So it took me a while to get to the theater.  The Husband and finally I went on a snowy Saturday to the 3D version, since he had never seen a movie in 3D.

Cinamagraphically (is that even a word?  it is now...), amazing.  Rolling green hills, stunning vistas, towering mountains, lush green forests, some absolutely beautiful scenery shots.

Story-wise?  I was sadly underwhelmed.  Which lead me to pick up the book again.

The Book:
More time must have passed than I realized since I had last read this. I re-read the Lord of the Rings Trilogy after the movies.  And I've read the Simarillion in the last 10 years, as well as the Children of Hurin.  The Hobbit felt almost simple in comparison, which probably explains why there is this odd compulsion amongst SF&F convention attendees to brag about what age they read the Hobbit.  Like it is some sort of Badge of Honor to say, in a very pompous and officious voice, "I read the Hobbit when I was 5!"

But I digress.  The book is an epic fantasy adventure.  Our band of 13 dwarves and 1 Hobbit travel the width of the land to re-claim the treasure and mine of Thorin, son of Thror son of Thrain from the Dragon Smaug.  They pass through the mines of the Goblins, through the home of the Elves, are borne through the skies on the backs of the Great Eagles, become lost in the great forest of the Bear-shifter Beorne, are captured by the woodland Elves and escape to the home of the Men under the shores of the Misty Mountain, and, on the cusp of winter, come once again to Thorin's home of old.

Epic. Fantasy. Adventure.   

The Movie:
Epic. Fantasy. Action Flick.

I fully understand that anytime someone takes it upon themselves to make a movie out of a book, it will be subjected to artistic license and interpretation.

My issues with the movie:
1) Turned and adventure book into an Action Flick.
2) Just how many times can Gandalf shout "Run!"?
3) A lot of back story was added, which to me broke up the flow of the film. 

The movie did stay true to several main components and the order in which they happened:
The Fellowship coming together
The Trolls and finding of magical weapons
Visit to Rivendell
The Goblins and the King Under the Mountain
Gollum! Gollum! and our riddle challenge
Flight from the Gollum mines and the Wargs
The Golden Eagles

But, the movie added:
A personal vendetta between Thorin and the White Orc
Thorin's reluctance to visit Rivendell
The Brown Wizard - now, I will be honest, I thought he was super cool.
and, I'm guessing here, that we are going to see more of the Necromancer than is actually in the book, which is nothing.
I'm probably missing a couple items, but for this post, you get my drift. 

So while I just wasn't overly impressed, I am curious as to how the next two episodes will be played out.  I'm NOT looking forward to the bit with the giant spiders.  I get squeamish with ones quarter sized, and to have something 12' tall in HD or 3D? Oh dear, oh dear.  Hopefully my friend Tess will tell me when I can open my eyes again...

Monday, January 21, 2013

Recipe Reveiw from 1/14/2013

A slow week on Barn construction. Temperatures ranged from a high of 9* to 27* and back to 5*.  The contractor finished framing the upstairs, put chipboard on the outside and started wrapping it.  It's now enclosed and I suspect the man-door, garage door, and windows will be the next emphasis. Windows are here and ready to go.

Temps are 25*F (4*C) with 20 mph winds.

Man-door and stairs to loft.

Loft looking East.  Window will go in upper center square.

West side of loft.  Window will go in upper right corner.

We also fit in a concert on Friday night: Low was playing at St. Scholastica and it was a night that worked for us.  I had not heard of them before and the Husband had, so a 'new to me' group.  Hmm, how to describe?  Dark, edgy, hints of frustration, sublime in the simplicity and wonderful harmonics which were a bit drowned out by the guitar...not a band you want to listen to if your feeling depressed, or, maybe a good band to listen to if your feeling depressed.  I guess it depends on what kind of depressed you are feeling. See, hard to describe. Definitely not your run-of-the-mill pop/rock style band.  Indie, alternative. 

This was the flyer info: 
Bravo! Performances:  Low is an American indie rock group formed in Duluth in 1993 and now tours worldwide. Its striking vocal harmonies represent perhaps the group's most distinctive element; critic Denise Sullivan writes that their shared vocals are "as chilling as anything Gram and Emmylou ever conspired on -- though that's not to say it's country-tinged, just straight from the heart."

And, a couple new recipes:

Pressed Cuban-Style Sandwiches   (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 2013)
I love a good Cuban style sandwich.  I think it's the pickle...  For this recipe I used leftover slow cooked chicken from the previous week and shredded.  The ham was 1/2 lb deli-style ham as I didn't want to buy a lot for just a couple sandwiches. I baked for ease of prep since I had the oven on anyway.   Quick, easy, served with some tatertots along side (I LOVE tater tots!).    

  • 8 ounces Cuban bread  (I used a baguette - seriously, where the heck am I going to find "Cuban" bread in Northern MN?) 
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1 pound chicken cutlets
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
  • 1 ounce shredded Havarti cheese (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 ounce lower-sodium sliced ham
  • 2 tablespoons chopped spicy kosher dill pickle
  • Cooking spray
  1. Cut bread in half horizontally.
  2. Heat canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Sauté 3 minutes on each side or until done. Let stand 10 minutes. Slice chicken; toss with garlic.
  3. Spread spicy brown mustard over bottom half of bread; top with Havarti cheese, ham, and chicken. Sprinkle chicken with chopped pickle; cover with top half of bread. Return pan to medium heat; coat with cooking spray. Add sandwich to pan; top with another heavy skillet to weigh down. Cook 2 minutes on each side or until toasted. Cut sandwich crosswise into 4 equal portions.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

All the Tea In China by Sarah Rose

For All the Tea in China: Espionage, Empire and the Secret Formula for the World's Favourite DrinkFor All the Tea in China: Espionage, Empire and the Secret Formula for the World's Favourite Drink by Sarah Rose

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From  Robert Fortune was a Scottish gardener, botanist, plant hunter - and industrial spy. In 1848, the East India Company engaged him to make a clandestine trip into the interior of China - territory forbidden to foreigners - to steal the closely guarded secrets of tea. For centuries, China had been the world's sole tea manufacturer. Britain purchased this fuel for its Empire by trading opium to the Chinese - a poisonous relationship Britain fought two destructive wars to sustain. The East India Company had profited lavishly as the middleman, but now it was sinking, having lost its monopoly to trade tea. Its salvation, it thought, was to establish its own plantations in the Himalayas of British India. There were just two problems: India had no tea plants worth growing, and the company wouldn't have known what to do with them if it had. Hence Robert Fortune's daring trip. The Chinese interior was off-limits and virtually unknown to the West, but that's where the finest tea was grown - the richest oolongs, soochongs and pekoes. And the Emperor aimed to keep it that way.

I read this as an Audiobook. 

We meet Robert Fortune, a botanist with the Royal Horticultural Society in Victorian England, who was tasked with buying, stealing, and smuggling tea plants and seeds out of China to India, where they could be cultivated and processed outside of Chinese influence and politics.  In the course of procuring the plants and seeds, he also exported from China a tremendous number of common garden and greenhouse plants that we find in our gardens and flower arrangements today: Clematis, Rhododendrons, Chrysanthemums, roses, and many, many more.

We learn a few tidbits on the manufacture of tea in the early days, such as how poisonous dyes were used to color the tea as the British wanted their tea to look "green" and that the first brewed cup is traditionally thrown out because tea is dirty and was a way to appease the "demons".

We learn just how intertwined and integral  the opium, silk and tea trade was to the British - and ultimately - world economy.  And the author touches on the early uprisings in India.

This was a fascinating book.  A potentially dry subject made interesting through the accounts of Robert Fortune.  Through his eyes, we get a glimpse of a Chinese society untouched by the west.  Unfortunately, we see it through the disparaging and often arrogant view of a British spy, but we also see it from the view point of a botanist who dearly loves plants and the environment in which they grow. 

Just the right length for a history book in my opinion.  My only complaint is I did not care for the author as narrator for the audiobook.  Otherwise, recommended.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Recipe Review from 1/7/2013

Sliding back into a nice routine again after the holiday bustle.  The Man-barn continues to come into shape  - shingles were put on (right before the rain came thankfully!) and they started framing the loft.  Husband had to make one tweak to where a window on the backside would go.  If he had kept it centered in the loft area, then we wouldn't have been able to open/close it because of the stairwell. So it will now be off-center on the landing.
Progress as of 1/13/13.   It's about 8* F (-13*C) for my Warm Weather readers.

Side door to the left, stairs leading up to the loft

The loft looking out over our yard.

Our nice base of snow deteriorated with above freezing temperatures and rain.  It bleeping rained in January. So now outside activity-wise we're back to being in limbo land - can't ski because the snow base is gone or extremely icy, and can't bike because the amount of salt they had to throw down.  Back to walking on the lake.

Just a couple new recipes from this last week.  Leftovers were well utilized.

Tortilla Chip Casserole (Ckng Lght, Jan/Feb 2013) GF if you find an alternative thickener for the flour
I don't know if it's just the recipes I'm making or an overall trend, but I've noticed that many recipes are no longer made in a 9x13 size pan, but a smaller 7x11 pan, which I greatly appreciate.  Some recipes just don't lend themselves to halving.

I made this one more complicated than it needed to be, because I slowcooked my chicken and had to debone and shred right in the middle of prep.  Not that it's hard - the meat literally falls off the bones, but it added a bit more complexity to assembly.  Otherwise the flavor and consistency of this dish was very good and satisfying for dinner.  Skip the canned green chilies if serving to little tastebuds.  Not spicy perse, but maybe too much flavor for them.  Made good leftovers as well.

Photo from
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil 
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour  (cornstarch or arrowroot as GF alt)
  • 1 cup 2% reduced-fat milk 
  • 1/2 cup unsalted chicken stock (I used water)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
  • 4 ounces 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
  • 1 cup organic canned black beans, rinsed and drained (I used pinto beans)
  • 3 cups chopped cooked chicken breast (good use for rotisserie chicken; or slow cook your own if GF)
  • 4 ounces baked tortilla chips, crushed (I used Old Dutch brand and didn't crush)
  • 1 roasted red bell pepper, chopped
  • 8 ounces lower-sodium green chile enchilada sauce (such as Frontera)  (I used red enchilada sauce)
  • 2.5 ounces shredded cheddar-Monterey Jack cheese blend (about 2/3 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green onions
  1. Preheat oven to 350°. 
  2. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion; cook 6 minutes. Add garlic and flour; cook 2 minutes. ­Gradually add milk and stock, stirring constantly; bring to a boil. Remove from heat; stir in cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, and cream cheese.
  3. Spread 1/2 cup milk mixture over bottom of a broiler-safe 11 x 7-inch baking dish. Layer beans, 1 1/2 cups chicken, and 2 ounces chips. Top with 1/2 cup milk mixture. Layer 1 1/2 cups chicken, bell pepper, and 2 ounces chips; top with 1 cup milk mixture and enchilada sauce. Sprinkle with shredded cheese. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with green onions.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Mad River by John Sandford (Flowers #6)

Mad River (Virgil Flowers, #6)Mad River by John Sandford

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From  Bonnie and Clyde, they thought. And what’s-his-name, the sidekick. Three teenagers with dead-end lives, and chips on their shoulders, and guns.

The first person they killed was a highway patrolman. The second was a woman during a robbery. Then, hell, why not keep on going? As their crime spree cuts a swath through rural Minnesota, some of it captured on the killers’ cell phones and sent to a local television station, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigator Virgil Flowers joins the growing army of cops trying to run them down. But even he doesn’t realize what’s about to happen next.

Audiobook.  I enjoyed this despite my gripes. I thought the authors wry sense of humor came back in this edition, which had me and the Husband chuckling more than once.  I also thought Sandford completely captured the essence of small town Minnesota.  While I didn't grow up in rural MN, my Husband did and subsequent visits over the last 20 years to "small town" had me completely agreeing with Sandford's portrayal, right down to the turkey dinner with potatoes, gravy, stuffing and cranberry's as a dinner at the local diner. 

As I noted, I had a few gripes - The time frame has Virgil visiting Letty, Davenport's ward from book #14 in the Davenport series, in the hospital after she had been shot in the arm.  I listened to the passage twice - in the Davenport book she is 10 or 12.  In the Flower book she is in high school.

I can understand the development of a side character into his/her full fledge series, but Virgil is not mentioned in #14 at all, nor is he mentioned as part of Davenports BCA team when he does take over as head coordinator.  A bit nitpicky? Perhaps.  But it's the details that can pull a reader out of the story(s).

The Jimmy/Becky/Tom characters - Jimmy shoots his Pa, who stumbles back and falls in the breezeway between kitchen and living room.  Jimmy then demands they move the body into the living room.  But in following scenes, the body is found where it fell. 

The over all story was a bit long.  We have Virgil, the Bear County Sheriff, mutual aid police departments, the National Guard all out hunting for our antagonists.  After a while it became a tich tedious, the antagonists were not that interesting in their Bonnie and Clyde roles.  Virgil's character was a bit to "Davenport-eske" in bedding a high school crush.  The Sheriff was over the top as a rural, uncouth hick, and overall, the plot was just bogged down in the middle.

Still, loved the humor in this one, and it was the humor that carried me through the book.

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Monday, January 7, 2013

Recipe Review from 12/31/12

Happy New Year!

A new project to begin the new year:  The Man Barn!

For my Warm Weather Readers: it's about 15*F (-9.5*C) at time of photo

This post also starts the new recipe count for 2013!  2012 heralded 100 new recipes.  I don't have a goal, per se, just a desire to see how many new recipes I can comfortably make in a year.  Why?  I think it's because I like the variety, it keeps meals interesting, helps with meal planning from week to week which in turn keeps the grocery bill down, and it's improved my overall cooking skills.

So, to start 2013, I give you:

Sausage and Rice Stuffed Squash     (Ckng Lght Dec 2012)   GF/Vegetarian with substitute
Only one alteration to this recipe - I used the bottom half or so of a large butternut squash because that's what I had in my fridge.  You can also omit the sausage in this or substitute tempeh or seitan crumbles to make it vegetarian.  GF if you watch the sausage ingredients.  This turned out really good!  I loved the sweetness of butternut squash with the tang of the (hot) Italian sausage.  The brown rice added a nutty backdrop to all the flavors. This made three dinners for us. 

An aside - I used my favorite Cooks Illustrated Fool Proof Baked Rice recipe, starting the rice well before putting the squash into the oven.  To save time, make the rice the day before if you can.
Photo from
  • 4 small acorn or sweet dumpling squashes (about 10 ounces each)  (I used the bottom 1/2 of a large butternut squash)
  • 2 (4-ounce) links sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/3 cup chopped celery
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 ounce Swiss cheese, shredded (about 1/4 cup)  (I grated up some leftover cheese I had in the fridge)
  1. Preheat oven to 425°.
  2. Place whole [halved and seeded ] squash in a roasting pan. Bake at 425° for 30 minutes or until just tender. Let stand for 15 minutes. Halve squashes. Scoop out seeds; discard.
  3. Preheat broiler to high.
  4. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add Italian sausage to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble. Remove sausage from pan; drain on paper towels. Wipe drippings from pan with a paper towel.
  5. Return pan to medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add onion; sauté 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add celery; sauté 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in sausage, rice, and next 5 ingredients (through Parmesan). Divide rice mixture evenly among squash halves. Sprinkle evenly with Swiss cheese. Arrange squash halves on a baking sheet; broil 4 minutes or until golden and cheese is melted.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Fool Moon by Jim Butcher (Dresden #2)

Fool Moon (The Dresden Files, #2)Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From  Business has been slow. Okay, business has been dead. And not even of the undead variety. You would think Chicago would have a little more action for the only professional wizard in the phone book. But lately, Harry Dresden hasn't been able to dredge up any kind of work—magical or mundane.
But just when it looks like he can't afford his next meal, a murder comes along that requires his particular brand of supernatural expertise.  A brutally mutilated corpse. Strange-looking paw prints. A full moon. Take three guesses—and the first two don't count...

Does the author have a quirk about stuffing Harry into sweatpants?  Book 1, Harry spent running around in sweatpants and tennis shoes (or nekkid) and in Book 2, he was back in sweatpants.  Interesting.

Attire aside, this was another action packed read that started to become borderline unbelievable even for a fantasy. 

Point of contention number one: our hero is shot in the shoulder.  The shoulder is a very complex joint.  Harry simply wouldn't be doing the running he was doing with that kind of injury. 

Point of contention number two: this was beginning to read like a Who's Who in the werewolf community.  We have loup-garou (a cursed lineage), the traditional werewolf (think Twilight), hexenwolfen (needs a belt to change), and one supernatural werewolf who didn't really fit in anywhere: a wolf that turned into a human, not a human turning into a wolf. 

Point of contention number three:  too much action perhaps?  A bit too much running around in panic?  Um, yes.

Point of contention number four:  Must all women be long legged and sexy?  Must all werewolf women crawl up their alpha licking and demanding blood and sex?  Must the Hero's woman be the perfectly understanding sex-symbol, girding her hero's loins for battle?  And just how many women need to be running around showing titties?  Really? 

Point of contention number five:  All this talk about the White Council keeping a close eye on where the hell are they during all the wolfiness?   With this much supernatural stuff happening someone from the White Council is bound to notice?  Where the hell did Harry's so-called Mentor go?  In book one he was breathing down Harry's neck.  Book two, surprisingly absent.  Dude could use a little back-up even if you don't like the guy. 

Which brings me to point of contention number six:  why is it that is Harry the only wizard capable of handling all this stuff?  Supposedly there is a bar full of wizards, do they just sit on their collective heinies and stare into their beers?  Again, where is the White Council?  Having a meeting? 

Okay, issues aside, I still read this one in a couple of days and I enjoyed it for it's entertainment value, even if my ability to suspend disbelief was being challenged.  First two books in a series...sometimes characters and setting need a bit more flushing out. 

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