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Friday, November 29, 2013

Saga Vol 1 and 2


I'm reviewing two graphic novels at once here.  Volume 1 I read this past summer as part of the Hugo Nominee packet (it won in its category! Yay!). Volume 2 finally showed up at the library this past week. YAY! 

Jacket Blurb Volume 1 (Saga issues #1-6) -
When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe.

From New York Times bestselling writer Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina) and critically acclaimed artist Fiona Staples (Mystery Society, North 40), Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in this sexy, subversive drama for adults.

 

Jacket Blurb Volume 2 (Saga issues #7-11)
The smash-hit ongoing epic continues! Thanks to her star-crossed parents Marko and Alana, newborn baby Hazel has already survived lethal assassins, rampaging armies, and alien monstrosities, but in the cold vastness of outer space, the little girl encounters something truly frightening: her grandparents!


LOVING these!  The concept is refreshing, the artwork a combination of bold/subtle/grotesque/imaginative/colorful, the humor and wit delightful.  I love how the artist can convey so much in just a look from one of the characters.  The story is being told from the point of the baby, who is speaking from a future self.  Several readings are a must just to capture everything going on.  Definitely adult themes in these, which had the Husband wondering just what the heck I was reading.  I offered to let him read Vol 1 but the bit he saw maxed out his Weird-o-Meter.   

If you like the strange and humorous, this might be for you. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

If the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is Thank You, it would suffice.   
Meister Eckart

Norman Rockwell's Freedom from Want







Wednesday, November 27, 2013

White Night by Jim Butcher (Dresden #9)

White Night (The Dresden Files, #9)White Night by Jim Butcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Jacket Blurb:  A sensational addition to the "Dresden Files" adventures-from a "USA Today" bestselling author. Professional wizard Harry Dresden is investigating a series of deaths in Chicago. Someone is killing practitioners of magic, those incapable of becoming full-fledged wizards. Shockingly, all the evidence points to Harry's half-brother, Thomas, as the murderer. Determined to clear his sibling's name, Harry uncovers a conspiracy within the White Council of Wizards that threatens not only him, but his nearest and dearest, too...

This installment had me sitting in my car, holding on to the steering wheel, not moving: in my work parking spot, in the parking lot of the local grocery store, and in my garage.   Happiness reading this one was extra time in the car driving to/from errands.  Yes.  I thought it was that good.

Butcher seems to have hit his stride.  The plots are becoming more solid and defined.  The characters are being fleshed out and we are starting to see some personality layers not before revealed.  And we still get some kick ass fighting.

That being said, the book still has some quirks that bug the heck out of me - Molly's overt sexuality as Harry's 17 year old apprentice, combined with Bob the skull's comments, comes across as a male wet dream.  Yo, Butcher! Women are reading your books too!  Next, the whole "gotta protect the womin folk" chivalry bit has got to go.  It's demeaning and overdone.   I also realized that at some climatic battle point, Harry starts to wax philosophical about something, or goes into a long soliloquy about how a particular piece of magic works, or enters into a flashback.  Every. Single. Momentous. Climatic. Battle Scene.  Gah!

And yet, I'm going to read the next one.  As my friend repeatedly tells me...turn off brain. Enjoy. 



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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Ship Breaker (Ship Breaker, #1)Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Jacket Blurb:  In America's Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota--and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it's worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life...

I read The Windup Girl several years ago and was entranced with the world and characters Bacigalupi created.  Ship Breaker was just as interesting and I had a hard time putting the book down.

Set in the Gulf of Mexico, somewhere along the the coast of Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama, a small group of people struggle to survive by disassembling old oil tankers and ocean going ships for scrap and, if they are lucky, oil.  They live in fear of hurricanes, specifically "City Killers",  a new category of storm that destroys everything in its path. 

Life is a struggle for the folks on the Beach.  Laboring on the ships is hard work and your size and ability dictate what you can and cannot do.  Survival depends up on meeting quotas, and in Nailer's case, also avoiding his abusive father.  A storm changes everything when it washes a "Swanks" clipper ship onto the shoals of a submerged city.  Nailer and his friend Pima rescue "Lucky Girl" and the subsequent journey to reunite her with her father shows Nailer that there is more to family than blood.

Written as a YA book, I couldn't help but reflect that our young protagonist grew up long before the story even started, so less a coming of age story than a journey of self discovery.  I would have like more back ground on the half-men, the genetically modified laborers; I think "Lucky Girl" could have had more depth to her character - she felt very superficial to me; and more information on the power struggle in Lucky Girls life to justify reuniting her with her father.  

But, overall, minor complaints.  This really was a well written story and I highly recommended it.



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Monday, November 18, 2013

Recipe Review from 11/11/13

A balmy 12* (-11*C) started the week and by Friday we were back up in the 40*'s (5*C).  I love the crisp mornings...loved the warmer temps too!  I filled the birdfeeder for the first time this fall and the chickadee-dee-dee's were lined up waiting for the buffet.  Love watching my little black-capped feathered friends.

The big news of the week is the Husband bagged a spike deer on Sunday.  We haven't had venison in our freezer since 2006, when I used the last bit up.  Three years of deployments, a couple years of not seriously hunting, and a couple years of sucky weather contributed to our lack of deer, so we are looking forward to some of our favorite venison dishes this coming winter.

Meanwhile, some good dishes this past week: 

Spanish Chicken with Saffron Cream Sauce (Ckng Lght, Nov 2013)  gluten free option**
I did this as a two-pot dish rather than as directed and wrote my changes below.  Follow the link if you want to see the recipe as written.  Mostly I just simplified the number of dishes being used. 

This was a really good meal!  It's like a creamy paella.  The saffron came through more the following days, but the night of, the dish was creamier being fresh out of the oven.  I loved the creaminess, the chicken was incredibly tender, and the flavors were just perfect - neither spicy nor bland.  I do think that brown rice could easily be substituted for the white to up the nutrients a bit.  The Husband doesn't like green olives so I skipped those.  Recommended. 
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces 
    photo from CookingLight.com
  • 1 cup chopped white onion
  • 2 ounces cured Spanish chorizo sausage, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 cups hot cooked long-grain white rice
  • 1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
  • 16 pimiento-stuffed green olives, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups 2% reduced-fat milk
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour  (**or alternative thickener)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, lightly crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup sour cream  (I used Chobani plain yogurt) 
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°.
  2. Heat a LARGE oven safe - nonstick skillet over medium-high heat (If don't have an oven safe skillet, proceed as directed and put in a 11x7 baking dish at end). Add 1 teaspoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add half of chicken (all of it if it will fit); cook 4 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove chicken from pan; place in a large bowl. Repeat procedure with 1 teaspoon oil and remaining chicken. Add to bowl. Place remaining 1 teaspoon oil, onion, and chorizo in pan; cook 10 minutes or until onion is tender and golden, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and bell pepper; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add chorizo mixture, peas, and olives to chicken and set aside. 
  3. Combine milk and next 5 ingredients (through black pepper) stir well with a whisk. Add to large saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil; cook 1 minute or until thick and bubbly. Remove pan from heat; stir in sour cream. Add chicken mixture and cooked rice to sour cream mixture, stirring to combine. (IF don't have oven safe skillet - spoon the chicken mixture into an 11 x 7-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray.) Cover pan with aluminum foil coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375° for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 10 minutes or until chicken is done.


Quick Quinoa and Pork Meatballs  (Ckng Lght Oct 2013)  gluten free
I made these to accompany spaghetti squash with sauce.  I had measured everything out, made the meatballs, put in the oven and saw my little ramikin of spices still sitting on the counter.  Argh!  Everything came out of the oven, recombined, re-shaped and put back in.  I realized upon typing this out that I still managed to forget the cayenne pepper, darn it all!  Oh well.  These are quick, I like the use of quinoa as a binder, and they were flavorful.  I had more pork than called for (1.2 lbs) so I had something close to 30 meatballs.  Plenty for supper and leftovers. 
photo from CookingLight.com
  • 1/2 cup washed quinoa
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1/2 cup diced shallot
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 large eggs 
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  1. Preheat the oven to 450°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Put the quinoa and 1 cup water into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Once you have strong bubble action, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the water is absorbed, 12 to 15 minutes. Check occasionally and stir to make sure no quinoa is burning at the bottom of the pan. Take the saucepan off the heat, transfer the quinoa to a medium mixing bowl, and allow it to cool for 10 minutes.
  3. While the quinoa is cooling, add all of the remaining ingredients to the bowl. Using your hands or a spoon, mix until all the ingredients are evenly distributed and well combined.
  4. Shape the meat mixture into balls that are a little smaller than a golf ball. Place them in even rows on the lined baking sheet. Place the sheet in the oven and cook the meatballs until they're slightly browned and crispy on top, 12 to 15 minutes. If you have a meat thermometer, the safe internal temperature for pork is 165°.
  
Moroccan Lentil Soup (A Year of Slow Cooking Blog)  gluten free, vegetarian
Suppers and lunches toward the end of the week and into the weekend.  This is a wonderfully 'bean-y' dish, tho, since I did use my own beans in place of the canned pinto beans, I probably had more than 15oz.  I liked the subtle flavors in this one, that just kinda hint at 'exotic' but don't come right out and shout it at your tastebuds.  I cooked overnight, let cool while prepping lunches and breakfast, then into the fridge it went.  I think this helped enhance the flavors.  I served with crackers, sausage and cheese.   Recommended.  




--1 cup dried lentils
--1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
--1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
--1 onion, chopped
--2 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
--1/2 cup chopped celery
--1/2 cup chopped carrots
--28 oz can of diced tomatoes (and juice)
--4 cups vegetable broth
--1 1/2 tsp garam masala
--1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
--1/2 tsp cumin
--1/4 tsp nutmeg
--1/4 tsp cinnamon
--1 inch ginger, peeled and grated

Author notes: Use at least a 5 quart crockpot for this. It makes a lot.  My notes - I agree! 

Chop up all of your vegetables and add them to the crockpot. If you are rushed in the morning, consider chopping the vegetables at night---it took me longer than I wanted it to. Drain and rinse off the beans, add to the pot. Add the dried lentils. Grate your ginger, and add it along with the dried spices. Stir in the vegetable broth and tomatoes.

Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours. Soup tastes best the longer you cook it, and it is even better the next day.

Before serving, use an immersible blender and pulse to blend some of the vegetables and beans together. This isn't necessary, but it really improves the texture of the soup and melds the flavors nicely.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Silken Prey by John Sandford

Silken Prey (Lucas Davenport, #23)Silken Prey by John Sandford

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: Very early one morning, a Minnesota political fixer answers his doorbell. The next thing he knows, he’s waking up on the floor of a moving car, lying on a plastic sheet, his body wet with blood. When the car stops, a voice says, "Hey, I think he’s breathing,” and another voice says, "Yeah? Give me the bat.” And that’s the last thing he knows.  

Davenport is investigating another case when the trail leads to the man’s disappearance, then—very troublingly—to the Minneapolis police department, then—most troublingly of all—to a woman who could give Machiavelli lessons. She has very definite ideas about the way the world should work, and the money, ruthlessness, and sheer will to make it happen.  No matter who gets in the way.



This selection didn't seem to have the grittiness driving the crimes as in previous books, and maybe because of that, the plot seemed to move rather slowly.  It was rather like watching a Nascar race: you know the wreck is coming, you're anticipating the wreck - it's just a matter of when - but it's. taking. forever.

Ultimately, Silken Prey just didn't do anything for me.  Rather than finding myself sitting in the car listening to "just one more tract", I had a hard time even turning the book on.  I didn't care for the political plot in part because it felt like something out of the paper rather than fiction, the sub-plot felt a bit tacked on (and was actually more interesting than the main plot), the regular characters were trotted out for their on page appearance but didn't really contribute to the overall story, and several key points just seemed implausible.

I did thoroughly enjoy the witty dialog, the snarky comments, and the trips around the Twin Cities.  I love finding out what snazzy outfit Davenport is wearing and which car he's driving.   I love the other characters comments about his clothes.  I do like watching the guys ogle the gals, and the gals ogle right back - a nice balance of ogling.  But I don't like reading about rich people not getting their comeuppance.  There's enough of that in the papers already and it's not even fiction! 


Recommended with reservations.  It is a Davenport book after all! 



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Monday, November 11, 2013

Recipe Review from 11/4/13

Started the week with daylight savings...after 7 days, still not used to it!  8pm rolls around and I'm contemplating if it's too early to go to bed.  Saturday had me in town all day - I subbed a morning yoga class, then went to a hot yoga class, then met a friend and we took our hounds for a long run around a local golf course.  For my fair weather readers, our golf courses are pretty much closed now and the locals take advantage of that as a place to run pups.  In addition, it was deer opener this weekend and I like to take the dogs in to town to exercise.  I could have done without the 30mph winds coming off the Lake, but at least it wasn't raining like a couple years ago. 

Several really good recipes rounded out the week: 

Chicken and Pierogi Dumplings  (Ckng Lght Sept 2013)
This....was good.  Very good.  Easy to make, hearty enough for lunch on a blustery Fall day, and just tasty.  Creamy, flavorful, with the Pierogi's adding an improved riff on flour dumplings.  The only thing I did different was I attempted to "fry" the dumplings before adding to the stew just to up the flavor and speed final cooking.  Otherwise made as written.  Mine came out creamier than the picture below, which the Husband really liked.    Recommended!
  • 3/4 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces 
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
    Photo from CookingLight.com
  • Cooking spray 
  • 3/4 cup diced onion 
  • 1/2 cup diced carrot
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 cups unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson) 
  • 1 cup 2% reduced-fat milk 
  • 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
  • 20 frozen potato and cheddar mini pierogies (such as Mrs. T's) (I could only find the large ones in a box of 12; I used one box)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with pepper and salt. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add chicken to pan; cook 4 minutes, browning on all sides. Remove chicken from pan; keep warm.
  2. Return pan to medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot, celery, and thyme to pan. Cook 6 minutes or until vegetables are tender and lightly browned, stirring frequently. Combine stock, milk, and flour in a bowl, stirring with a whisk until well blended. Gradually add stock mixture to pan, stirring constantly; bring to a boil. Cook 2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in chicken and pierogies, and cook 4 minutes or until chicken is done and pierogies are warm. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Pulled Chicken Sandwiches  (Ckng Lght June 2006/Oct 2013)    Gluten Free if omit buns. 
Awesome!  Okay, so I changed up the order of prep by starting with the sauce and setting it aside until the chicken was ready.  Then I pan cooked rather than grilled (it's dark outside, in October, at 6pm at night!)  I LOVED how these cooked up in the pan, the sugar caramelizing slightly while the meat juices bring out the flavor of the seasonings.   I had more chicken than called for, so these weren't as saucy as I like, but no complaints!  I served with baked sweet potato fries below.   Recommended. 

Chicken:
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
    Photo from CookingLight.com
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chile pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • Cooking spray  
Sauce:
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion 
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar 
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • Remaining ingredients:
  • 8 (1 1/2-ounce) hamburger buns, toasted 
  • 16 hamburger dill chips
  1. Preheat grill to medium-high heat.
  2. To prepare chicken, combine first 6 ingredients; rub evenly over chicken. Place chicken on a grill rack coated with cooking spray; cover and grill 15 minutes or until a thermometer registers 180°, turning occasionally. Let stand for 5 minutes. Shred with 2 forks.
  3. To prepare sauce, while chicken grills, heat canola oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion; cook for 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in 1 tablespoon sugar and next 5 ingredients (through ground red pepper); cook 30 seconds. Stir in ketchup and vinegar; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally. Stir in chicken; cook 2 minutes.
  4. Place 1/3 cup chicken mixture on bottom half of each bun; top each with 2 pickle chips and top of bun.

Recipe Note: The chicken and sauce can be made up to two days ahead and stored in the refrigerator. 


Baked Sweet Potato Fries  (October co-op flyer, modified)    Vegetarian, Gluten Free
These have are currently in my High Five Favorites.  I have made them three times in the last week.  I'd make them more but I think the Husband would plead for sweet potato merci!   Easy, filling, nutritious, serve them plain or topped with seasonings of choice.  I went for flavored olive oil with a touch of salt and pepper.  I like a bit of real mayo on the side for my "fries".  Honestly, I could eat these as a meal unto themselves.  Recommended! 

1 large sweet potato  (for two people)
olive oil (I used Cilantro and Roasted Onion)
salt
pepper

Preheat oven to 400*.  Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray or olive oil.

Cut sweet potato into thick wedges or "fingers".  About 1/2" thick or so.   Toss with olive oil and seasonings in a bowl.  Arrange in single layer on prepared cookie sheet.

Bake 20 minutes.  Turn.  Bake 20 more minutes or until done. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Black Echo by Michael Connelly

The Black Echo (Harry Bosch, #1)The Black Echo by Michael Connelly

My rating: 3 of 5 stars







Jacket Blurb:  For maverick Lapd homicide detective Harry Bosch, the body in the drainpipe at Mulholland Dam is more than another anonymous statistic. This one is personal...because the murdered man was a fellow Vietnam "tunnel rat" who had fought side by side with him in a hellish underground war. Now Bosch is about to relive the horror of Nam. From a dangerous maze of blind alleys to a daring criminal heist beneath the city, his survival instincts will once again be tested to their limit. Pitted against enemies inside his own department and forced to make the agonizing choice between justice and vengeance, Bosch goes on the hunt for a killer whose true face will shock him.


First book in a "new to me" series that holds potential for keeping me interested.  This is also the third murder/mystery series that I've come across with Dick Hill as narrator.  I will forever associate his voice as that of Wallander's....

I found this murder mystery engaging, the female character portrayal typical, and got a kick out of the setting: hard to remember that yes, there was a time when people had to drive around looking for a pay phone to make a call and could smoke in the workplace.

My biggest issue with the book is how FBI agent Elenor Wish is portrayed.  She starts out as being a tough and flinty FBI agent who completely dislikes Harry Bosch.  Next page she's throwing herself into his arms and her bed.  I really couldn't find a reason why a supposedly smart woman would have such an about face for someone she immediately dislikes.  It would be nice if a detective/mystery book skipped the superficial sex for once.  Wish then spends the rest of the book trailing after Bosch, questioning what he's doing and defending the FBI, while he spends the plot taking her out to dinner, having sex, and belittling the work the FBI has done.

What I liked about this book was the sub-plot.  The inter-departmental game of cat and mouse to have Harry ousted once and for all from the force.  It added the right amount of tension to the plot, making the story just a tidbit more alluring than it might otherwise have been.  The ending was also not quite what I expected, but since I don't want to have to put a "spoiler" alert on this, I will only say I was pleased with some of the twists and turns the book took.

I was not pleased with the medical aspect of someone getting shot in the arm, then wandering all around Hollywood with a self-bandage.  Um, no. The shoulder is a very complicated joint and getting shot in the shoulder would be very debilitating.  You won't be driving around and doing paperwork.  Just sayin'. 

Overall, recommended.



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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Recipe Review from 10/28/13

Fall has officially settled on us here in Duluth, where the weather can't seem to make up it's mind if it's going to rain or snow.  Instead, we get a both, with temperatures hanging right about 32*(0*C). This weekend however, the sun made an appearance and the temps were perfect for some late season yard work.  We tackled winterizing the mowers and snow blower, garage got cleaned out and prepped for sloppy melting snow, bird feeder received a coat of paint and polyurethane and was put up, and the garden dismantled.  Whew!

Best of all, we had a perfect evening for a bonfire accompanied with some hot cider and popcorn. 

But my biggest news of the week has nothing to do with me: my friend Kerry successfully completed a four-week, 200 hour, yoga Teacher Training Intensive in Rishikesh, India!  Congratulations Kerry!

Kerry on the Ganges in Rishikesh, India

One-Pot Sausage, Kale and Bean Pasta  (Cooks Country, Nov 2013)  Vegetarian option, GF option
We grow our own beans, and just due to timing this particular Sunday, I didn't get them prepped in time and ended up adding them later.  Not sure if it was because of that, but I thought the dish was better sans beans.  I used a hot Italian sausage ("hot" for most Minnesotan's) and omitted the red pepper flakes.  Kale was the last harvest of the season.  I really liked the flavors and textures in this one - it's a one pot dish which really seemed to bring everything out and is perfect for a Fall day or company.  Recommended.

photo from CooksCountry.com
2 tbsp EVOO
1 lb hot Italian sausage, casings removed
and sausage broken into 1/2 pieces
1 onion, chopped fine
1 (15oz) can cannellini beans, rinsed
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/8-1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
8 oz orecchiette pasta  (I used shells)
12 oz kale, stemmed and chopped
1 oz Pecorino Romano Cheese, grated (~ 1/2 cup)
 (I used Parmesan)

1) Heat 1 tbsp oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking.  Add sausage and cook until lightly browned all over, 5-7 minutes.  Add onion and beans and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is lightly browned, about 5 minutes.  Stir in garlic, fennel seeds, oregano, and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
2) Stir in broth and water and bring to a boil.   Stir in pasta and half of the kale.  Cover and reduce heat to medium, and simmer for 4 minutes.  Without stirring, place remaining kale on top of pasta.  Cover and continue to cook until kale is just tender, about 4 minutes longer.
3) Stir to incorporate kale into pasta.  Simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally until most of the liquid is absorbed and pasta is al dente, 3-6 minutes.  Off heat, stir in Pecorinio and remaining oil.  Season with salt and pepper and extra Pecorino. 


Slow Cooker Ratatoullie  (Cooks County, Sept 2013)    vegetarian; GF option
As I've noted in the past, I tend to be a chop and plop person when it comes to my slow cooker.  The idea that I need to pre-cook before slow cooking seems counter productive.  This recipe calls to broil the veggies briefly to enhance flavor and evaporate some liquid.  That, I can handle.  And I have to say broiling worked far, far better than any pre-sauteing I've done with other recipes.  This method has merit.

However, with my dish, this ended up being more vegetable saute than soup/stew like.  The reason for this was I was using re-hydrated dried summer squash so I didn't have as much liquid to play around with at the start.  Not that I'm complaining - I served this very yummy vegetable mix over rice.   I would make this again in a heartbeat. Serves 8-10 easily.

photo from CooksCountry.com
2 lbs eggplant, cut into 1/2" pieces
3 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2" pieces
2 red pepper, cut into 1/2" pieces
2 onion, chopped (I used one)
1/2 cup EVOO  (I used 1/4 cup)
1 tbsp sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp herbs de Provance
28 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1/4 cup AP flour  (I skipped per my comments above)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 grated Parmesan Cheese
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

Preheat broiler.  Cover jelly roll pan (or two) with aluminum foil and lightly coat with cooking spray.

Combine vegetables in a large bowl.  Toss with 6 tbsp olive oil, garlic, herbs de Provance, and sugar.  Spread in a single layer on prepared jelly roll pan(s).  Broil 10 minutes or until lightly browned.  Rotate pans as necessary.

Place vegetables in slow cooker.  Cook on low for 4 hours.   Stir in  Parmesan, basil and a bit of EVOO.  Serve. 



Chicken Salad Melts (Cooking Light, Sept 2013)
This is one of the "Duh" recipes, that if I had thought about it a bit more, one just doesn't need a recipe for.  But, in my defense, sometimes the brain cells need a little nudge.  This is perfect for a quick mid-week meal, or add some soup and make it the ideal weekend lunch. 

  • 2 cups shredded skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast 
  • 1/4 cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup canola mayonnaise (such as Hellmann's) 
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill  
  • 1/8 cup grated carrot
  • 1/4 cup diced celery
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 6 whole-wheat English muffins, split and toasted
  • 3 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 3/4 cup)
  • 3/4 cup thinly sliced apple 
  • 6 Bibb lettuce leaves
  1. Preheat broiler to high.
  2. Combine first 7 ingredients in a medium bowl; stir well. Place 1/3 cup chicken mixture on bottom half of each muffin. Top evenly with cheese. Broil 1 minute or until cheese melts. Top sandwiches evenly with apple, lettuce, and top halves of muffins.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Movie: Ender's Game

Ender's Game opened in theaters Friday and I made sure I was going to make the early afternoon showing.  I've read the book several times - actually I've read most of the series by Orson Scott Card (I think I'm missing the last two books).  So yeah, it was a given I would be at opening day.


Movie blurbA brilliant young strategist rises to the top of his class in Battle School while training to defend Earth against hostile aliens intent on exterminating the entire human race in this sci-fi epic based on the celebrated novel. In the not-too-distant future, our planet has come under attack from a malevolent race of aliens known as the Formics. Incredibly, fearless International Fleet Commander Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley) sent them fleeing back into the stars, becoming a living legend in the process. But decorated Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) knows that the Formics will soon return even stronger than they were before, and he's determined to find a new hero who can meet them head on. Enter Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a modest young man with vast untapped potential. Upon being recruited into Battle School, Ender partakes in a grueling series of simulations, effortlessly mastering every challenge presented to him. Celebrated by his peers and respected by his superiors, Ender is quickly promoted to Command School, where the one and only Mazer Rackham provides him with the knowledge and tools needed to save mankind from certain extinction. As the final battle approaches, Ender prepares to embrace his destiny as one of the greatest heroes in the history of planet Earth. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi


Overall, this was well executed. The visuals were awesome - from the shuttle that takes the trainees to the space station, the gravity-free "War Room", the hand controlled monitors, the shots of deep space and even the Formic planets were very well conceptualized.  The one time the audience gets to see the Formic's up close, we find out just how beautiful a "bug" can look.  The director nailed it.  

Now to nitpick and this is where I think having read the books was an advantage:  the plot was a bit choppy, coming off almost as rushed chapters rather than a smooth segway about Ender Wiggin's progression through his training.  The explanation of the Major Gwen Anderson's roll in Wiggin's constant psych evaluation came later than it should have in a movie setting.  The instant affection between Petra and Wiggin felt out of place rather than the natural bonding of two trainees to cope with a difficult platoon leader.   Mazer Rackham came across as stiff and wooden, as if Ben Kingsley wasn't quite sure what he was supposed to do.  What doesn't come across very well is Ender's physical and emotional decline leading up to the big reveal at the end.  The subsequent mental breakdown fell short of the impact it should/could have had. 

While not without it's faults, it's a movie that I (and my Dad) thoroughly enjoyed.  Book and movie recommended.