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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

The Best of All Possible WorldsThe Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  A proud and reserved alien society finds its homeland destroyed in an unprovoked act of aggression, and the survivors have no choice but to reach out to the indigenous humanoids of their adopted world, to whom they are distantly related. They wish to preserve their cherished way of life but come to discover that in order to preserve their culture, they may have to change it forever.

Now a man and a woman from these two clashing societies must work together to save this vanishing race—and end up uncovering ancient mysteries with far-reaching ramifications. As their mission hangs in the balance, this unlikely team—one cool and cerebral, the other fiery and impulsive—just may find in each other their own destinies . . . and a force that transcends all.

November's scifi book group selection.

I'm not entirely sure what I want to say about this book.  I found it engaging.  It incorporated some interesting social commentary.  The empathy and telepathy of different humans was interesting.  The time travel was a nice touch.  But at the end of the day, this was first and foremost, a romance, set in a science fiction world.

I feel a bit betrayed. I should know better than to trust jacket blurbs.

But!  It was a very well written romance, incorporating societal differences, galactic upheaval, dogged determination, and two people who were equals even though they came from different places.   This was not a case of damsel in distress.  Our heroine had to navigate her job responsibilities and the ramifications of her decisions, her duties as a liaison and linguistics officer for the government, and what her growing feelings were toward her employer and friend. 

The above was deftly written by the author, the world building and plot gently tugged the reader along - I wanted to find out what happened next, what settlement the team was going to visit, the group dynamics of the team itself.

But at the end of the day, it was a romance.  Set in a scifi world. 

Overall, recommended.  Because it is well written.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Recipe Review from 11/17/2014

I am SO thankful I don't live in Buffalo, NY!  So thankful, in fact, I'm not even going to complain about our 3* temps, which I will describe merely as "crisp".   I can more readily cope with "crisp" than I can with 9 feet of snow. 

Unfortunately, no pictures this week.  Brain-farted capturing, well, everything.  Par for the course, if my head weren't attached I'd probably forget it too. 

The Meal Plan:
Sun (AM Yoga)  (L) soup    (S) Fish Packets
Mon (Yoga)  Leftover fish
Tues - Leftover fish
Wed - (AM Yoga)  Slow cooked baked ziti Out
Thurs (Yoga) Pizza  Grilled Cheese and Soup
Fri - slow cooked baked ziti
Sat - Out with friend in Wisc.

Lunches - Roasted Red Pepper and Chickpea Soup, nut cups, yogurt, granola, luna bars

Cumin-Laced Chickpea Soup with Roasted Red Peppers (Vegetarian Slow Cooker)  vegetarian, gluten free
I really liked this soup.  This is a brothy dish full of nutty chickpeas, sweet carrots, and smoky red peppers.  Incredibly easy to assemble - a quick saute for the veggies, then everything but the peppers goes into the slow cooker.  Peppers are roasted and peeled before adding toward the end of cooking. 

This was great with crackers for lunch, and grilled cheese for supper.  A lovely rustic bread, some cheese of choice, and sliced apples or pears along side would make for a lovely Sunday lunch.

2 (14oz) cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 carrots, cut into bite sized pieces  (I used three carrots)
1 lg onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp cumin
salt and pepper to taste
1 qt (4 cups) vegetable broth
2 roasted red peppers **see #2 below
1 to 2 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
optional  1-2 tbsp parsley

1) Preheat medium sized skillet over medium-high heat.  Saute onions and carrots until onions are softened.  Place chickpeas, carrots and onions, cumin and broth into slow cooker.   Cook on low 6 hours, high on 4.

2) Pre-heat broiler.  Place cored and flattened red peppers on baking sheet covered in aluminum foil.  Broil until skin is mostly blackened.  Remove.  Place in ZipLoc bag for 15 minutes.  Remove skins and cut into bite sized pieces.  Place in slow cooker, stir in lemon juice and allow to heat.  Serve. 

 Slow Cooked Ziti with Sausage and Peppers (modified Slow Cooker Revolution, by ATK)  gluten free option
With chili temps hanging over the region, I was in the mood for some hearty suppers of a pasta variety.  I had originally intended to make this on a weekend, but plans ended up getting shuffled due to the fish packets.  Normally this wouldn't be a problem - but with a pasta dish in the slow cooker I now had a timing issue.  Pasta dishes only need three to four hours in the slow cooker, which doesn't work very well on a weekday.  The Husband came to the rescue and was able to hang around the house to take it off the heat.   We threw this together in under 30 minutes before I had to dash out the door.

This turned out pretty good.  My only complaint being it was a bit on the bland side and could have used a dash of red pepper flakes to up the spice content.  And perhaps to use a different brand of "spicy" Italian sausage next time because I think the only spice in the sausage was pepper.   This starts out saucy, but by the time it comes out of the cooker it is nicely thickened as the noodles have absorbed a goodly portion of the liquid.  A great balance of noodles, peppers and sausage.  This served two of us for three meals. 

canola or olive oil for sauteing
1 lb Italian sausage, casings removed (I bought bulk sausage w/o casings)
2 onions, minced
1 green bell pepper, cored and cut into 1/2" pieces
1 red bell pepper, cored and cut into 1/2" pieces
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp fresh oregano, or 1 tsp dried
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
1/2 half and half
8 oz ziti (I used penne)
salt and pepper to taste
1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce  (I forgot this...oops!)
hot water as needed
1 cup (4oz) shredded mozzarella cheese

Line slow cooker with aluminum foil collar and coat with vegetable spray (this is to help even cooking and prevent sticking).  Brown sausage, breaking up large pieces, about 5 minutes.  Add onions, bell peppers, garlic, and oregano and cook until onion is slightly softened.

Stir in tomatoes and heavy cream, scraping up any browned bits and simmer slightly.  Stir in ziti, salt and pepper.

Place in slow cooker, spread tomato sauce over the top.  Cover and cook until pasta is tender, about three hours on high.  [DO NOT OVERCOOK.  Your noodles will be a gummy, unappetizing mess.] 

Remove foil collar. Gently sitr pasta, adding hot water as needed to loosen sauce consistency.  Sprinkle with mozzarella, cover and let stand until melted.  Serve. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Marque and Reprisal by Elizabeth Moon (Vatta's War #2)

Marque and Reprisal (Vatta's War, #2)Marque and Reprisal by Elizabeth Moon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  Kylara Vatta, risk-taking, rule-breaking, can-do heroine of Trading in Danger, is back in business–the kind that’s anything but usual–in the new military science fiction adventure by ace action storyteller Elizabeth Moon.

The exciting military career she hoped for never got off the ground–but Ky Vatta ended up seeing plenty of combat when she took the helm of one of the commercial transport vessels in her family’s fleet . . . and steered it into a full-blown war. Now the lessons she learned in that trial by fire are about to pay off: because this time, the war has come to her. To be exact, someone unknown has launched a full-throttle offensive against Vatta Transport Ltd., Ky’s father’s interstellar shipping empire. In short order, most of Ky’s family is killed, and subsequent attacks sever vital lines of communication, leaving Ky fighting, in every sense, to survive.

Determined to identify the ruthless mystery enemy and avenge her family’s name, Ky needs not only firepower but information. And she gets both in spades–from the band of stranded mercenaries she hooks up with, from her black-sheep cousin, Stella, who’s been leading a secret life, and from Stella’s roguish ex-lover, Rafe. Together they struggle to penetrate the tangled web of political intrigue that’s wreaking havoc within InterStellar Communications, whose effective operation their own livelihoods–and perhaps lives–depend on.

But the infighting proves to be infectious, and it isn’t long before Ky’s hired military muscle are turning their suspicions on the enigmatic Rafe, whose wealth of knowledge about ISC’s clashing factions and startling new technologies has begun to make him smell like a rat . . . or a mole. With swift, violent destruction a very real possibility, the last thing Ky needs is a crew divided against itself–and she’s prepared to take whatever measures are necessary to ensure that Vatta stays in business, as well as in one piece.

What she’s not prepared for is the shocking truth behind the terror– and a confrontation with murderous treachery from a source as unexpected as it is unrelenting.

Second book in the Vatta series.  First book was Trading in Danger.

I found the second book to be as engaging as the first, if not a little slow to start as we watch the crisis unfold and Kylara stocking up with weapons and supplies.  I did notice a trend that anyone in an authority position automatically assume the worst and try to add to Kylara's problems.  Once or twice, I could see, but every time?

There is something about Moon's  dialog that still seems "off" to me.  Again the impression of an almost formal give and take between characters, not the easy flow of two people or a group of people talking.

My main complaint with this book came toward the end (without revealing anything plot-wise) with the whole Sexual Attraction Discussion between her, the Mercenaries, and the ISC man.  I think it was meant to be humorous, but it came across as patronizing and out of place.  It was awkward, didn't fit with the rest of the book and, dare I say it...downright stupid?

Paraphrasing here:

Mercenary Man:  "You're a young female Captain.  You must be attracted to this handsome older man."

Kaylara, "No, I'm not.  He's much too old for me and not my type."

ISC Man, "I don't find her attractive either."

Mercenary Man, "I don't believe you Captain.  He's a rougish man, you are a nubile female, you have to be attracted to him and it's impaired your judgement."

Kaylara, "No. My judgement is just fine.  I don't like his good looks and have no urge to bed him or any other male on my crew."

And so it went for several pages, several pages too many. 

Overall, a worthwhile read, a bit predictable but good for vacation or light reading.  Recommended.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Recipe Review from 11/10/2014

It frikkin' snowed.  Then it got cold!  NOT a happy camper about this.  On the positive side, it was only about 3-4" and not the 8-10" they were predicting.  But, even that small amount was enough to screw up the roads, reminding people that yes, you do have to slow down and keep your distance in the winter.

Bird feeder was put out before the storm hit, and by Tuesday morning I had chickadees, blue jays, and one finch coming. Contemplating if I wish to get a new thistle feeder this year, or just keep my feeding station simple with the seed cake and stand feeder. 

Morning on the homestead

The Meal Plan:
Sun (L) chicken wings  (S) Cassoulete
Mon (yoga)  leftover cassoulete
Tues (OFF!) (L)  leftover rotisserie chicken  (S) leftovers
Wed (AM/PM yoga)  pizza
Thurs (yoga) leftovers
Fri - probably leftovers
Sat (AM yoga sub) out for lunch

Lunches - Cumin and Coconut Squash Soup, crackers, nut cup, apples, yogurt and granola, luna bar

Slow Cooked Cassoulete (modified  Slow Cooker Revolution by America Test Kitchen)
You need a LARGE crockpot for this dish.  A 4-5qt slow cooker isn't going to cut it.  No way. No how.  This barely fit my dutch oven!  So, as you can infer, this didn't get made as directed.  I ended up sauteing the chicken and pork in batches in some rendered bacon fat to lightly brown.  Onions were seared in the chicken/pork drippings, and the pan de-glazed with the broth.   Beans were pre-cooked and ready to go.  Everything was then assembled into the Dutch oven, and baked for four hours at 300*. 

Despite the mid-assembly switch, this turned out our really good.  Creamy, a hint of smokiness from the kielbasa and bacon fat, meaty and hearty.  Perfect with a rustic loaf of sourdough.  This made 8 dinners for two of us.  Yes, it feeds a crowd. 

1.75 lbs de-boned and skinned chicken thighs
1.75 lbs country pork ribs, boned
8 oz kielbasa
2 onions, chopped
1 tsp thyme
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb dried navy beans, pre-soaked
14 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
3 1/2 cups chicken broth

Coconut Spiked Squash Soup with Cumin and Ginger (Vegetarian Slow Cooker) vegetarian, gluten free
This dish calls for either pumpkin or butternut squash and I used some of our butternut squash from this fall.  A quick saute to bring out the aromatics, then nearly everything goes into the slow cooker.
The coconut milk, spice and lime juice are added after blending.  

This was perfect for a chili week.  Creamy, smooth, with nuances of the far East and warmer climates.  No one flavor predominates; its a perfect balance of flavors.  This made enough for a full weeks lunches for me.  

2 onions, chopped,
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp ginger, grated or minced
1 tsp minced gingerroot
1 tbsp cumin
1/2 tsp cracked peppercorns (I like coarsely ground)
1/2 tsp salt (I omitted)
6 cups cubed pumpkin or butternut squash
5 cups vegetable stock, divided
1 cup coconut milk
1/8-1/4 cayenne pepper
2 tbsp lime juice

1) Saute onion, celery, and garlic in a large skillet until onions are soft.  Add garlic, ginger, cumin, salt and peppercorns and cook until fragrant.  Add 1 cup broth, stir to combine,.

2)  Combine broth mixture, squash and remainder of vegetable broth in slow cooker. 

2)  Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 4.  Using and immersion blender, blend until smooth.

3) Add in coconut milk, cayenne pepper, and lime juice, stirring well to combine and heat for 15 minutes to combine flavors.   

Fluffy Cornmeal Pancakes (from Eat Cake for Dinner from Cooks Country) 
I was watching Cooks Country on TV this past weekend and caught the end of a review on cornmeal pancakes.  I made the Husband look up the recipe on their website - because the current season is "supposed" to be available, but I'm never sure if PBS is showing the most current season.  Nope.  Not available.  But!  He did find someone who had posted the recipe!  YAAAYYY!!!

These are AWESOME!  Like gimme! gimme! gimme! awesome!  Lite, fluffy, full of corn bready goodness.  Easily my new favorite pancake.  And don't be throwing those leftovers away!  These reheat better than regular pancakes.


photo from
1 1/4 c. cornmeal
1 3/4 c. buttermilk, divided
2 Tbl. unsalted butter, cut into cubes
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 Tbl. sugar
1 3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs

In a large glass bowl, whisk together the cornmeal and 1 1/4 cups of buttermilk.  Add the cubed butter. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and microwave for 60-90 seconds until edges are just set, stirring halfway through.  Let sit for 5 minutes with the plastic wrap on.  This will help prevent the pancakes from being gritty.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.  In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/2 cup of buttermilk and two eggs.  Remove plastic wrap from cornmeal mixture and whisk in the egg/buttermilk mixture.  Then, pour in the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.  Allow pancake batter to sit for 10 minutes.

Set griddle at 350 degrees and grease.  Use 1/4 cup of batter per pancake and pour onto griddle.  Cook for 2 minutes, flip and cook another 2 minutes or until lightly browned and cooked through.  Set on a wire rack over a baking sheet and keep warm in a 200 degree oven while you finish cooking the remaining pancakes.  Serve with butter and syrup.  Makes around 14 pancakes.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Angels Flight by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #6)

Angels Flight (Harry Bosch, #6)Angels Flight by Michael Connelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  An activist attorney is killed in a cute little L.A. trolley called Angels Flight, far from Harry Bosch's Hollywood turf. But the case is so explosive--and the dead man's enemies inside the L.A.P.D. are so numerous--that it falls to Harry to solve it. Now the streets are superheating. Harry's year-old Vegas marriage is unraveling. And the hunt for a killer is leading Harry to another high-profile L.A. murder case, one where every cop had a motive. The question is, did any have the guts?

"Read" as an audiobook.  The narrator changed between the first five and this book. Interestingly, it didn't bother me as much as I thought it would.

Our rather independent and surly detective, Harry Bosch, and his team are rousted late one night to cover the murder of a high profile local attorney that happened on Los Angeles's famous Angles Flight.  Retracing the despised attorneys steps, Harry and his team discover there is an internal leak in the LA police department.  Further digging they find the attorney's most recent and high profile case exonerated a black man falsely accused of murder which led the three detectives into a web of political cover ups and lies.

I enjoyed this book more so than the last two - a lot more.  In fact, I really liked it.   Harry wasn't behaving quite so much like an ass.  He worked with his team rather than stubbornly flying solo, and when his thoughts and beliefs were challenged he was willing to admit he was wrong.  Bosch still retained his bulldogged attitude, but it was tempered and more realistic.  The murder backdrop was fascinating, the writing solid and I thought the whole who-done-it nicely convoluted.

I also found the topic of this book in line with what might actually happen - and has happened - in LA.  It was an interesting way to explore racial tensions in a real yet fictional manner.  Rather ironic given the circumstances currently happening in Ferguson, MO.

I'm back to recommending this series if the quality of the writing and character portrayal continues like it did in this book.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Recipe Review from 11/2/2014

First snow of the season lightly kissed the ground this past weekend, making everything seem to glow in the full moon. Unfortunately, we're also being told to expect 8-10" on Monday night...  ((sigh))

The nice thing about cooler temps is we can bake bread again!  Previously, if you recall, was homemade English muffins.  This past week was Irish "freckle" bread - a white bread made with potato and craisins.  Yum!

Meal plan was a bit wonky  - the chicken masala didn't make as much as I would have hoped, even when served over rice, so some quick end of the week meals were necessary.  I picked up an unexpected yoga class on Wed, so that was take-out pizza night; thawed some whitefish I had bought previously and the Husband cooked that with some Swiss Chard and Kale; then Friday I grabbed a rotisserie chicken and a box of scalloped potatoes while grocery shopping. 

The Meal Plan:
Sun (L) leftover Vegetable Stew  (S) Buttered Chicken (Chicken Masala)
Mon (Yoga) chicken masala
Tues - chicken masala
Wed (AM Yoga) - take-out pizza
Thurs (yoga) - whitefish and greens
Fri- rotisserie chicken

Lunches - Carrot Soup, apples, luna bars, nut cups, yogurt and granola

Irish Freckle Bread  (Complete Book of Bread by Bernard Clayton)
The Husband found this recipe and made it Sunday morning.  The "freckles" come from the craisins (recipe called for raisins or currants) throughout the bread.  The recipe used a potato and the water the potato was boiled in.  For what reason, the recipe wasn't clear, but it sure made a very tasty bread!  It had a lovely texture, slightly sweet but not sweet-sweet, and a beautiful crust.

Makes two loaves.
photo from scifiwithpaprika.blogspot

1 potato, peeled and quartered
1 1/2 cups water
5 cups bread flour or all-purpose
2 packages dry yeast
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
2 eggs, room temp
1/2 cup butter (1 stick) melted and cooled
1 cup dark raisins, currants (or craisins!)

1) Cook the potato until done (20-30 mintues) and set aside to cool 1 cup potato water (till 120-130*)

2) Pour 1 1/2 cups flower in the mixing bowl, add the potato, yeast, sugar and salt.  Pour in the cup of potato water and mix until smooth.

3) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set dough aside to rise and become puffy, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

4) Stir down batter and add the eggs, butter, and raisins (currants or craisins).  Stir to mix thoroughly.  Add more flour, 1/2 cup at a time to make a soft, elastic ball of dough.  Don't add to much flour - the dough should be quite soft.  If it is sticky, add sprinkles of flour. Knead until dough becomes smooth, about 10 minutes. 

5) Allow to rise 1 to 1 1/2 hours.  Shape.  Clayton recommends dividing the dough into four pieces, let rest 5 minutes and then placing in the pans.  They will rise together and look like two half loaves.  

6) Let rise 45 minutes or until dough reaches edge of pans.  Bake in a preheated 375* oven for 30 - 35 minutes.  Remove from pans and let cool on a wire rack. 

Carrot Soup (Vegetarian Slow Cooker)  vegetarian, gluten free
This is a very simple soup to throw together.  Chop, a quick saute to release flavors, then everything goes into the pot.  I thought the addition of the brown rice was a good one - it adds a bit of nutty background and backbone to a pure vegetable dish.  Per a recommendation from America's Test Kitchen and my own experience slow cooking with brown rice, use instant rice.  This has been pre-cooked and will actually soften in the slow cooker, unlike regular brown rice.  Nothing worse than opening up the slow cooker after 6 hours to find uncooked rice.

2 leeks, white part with just a bit of green, diced
1 lb carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks of celery, diced (my addition)
2 tsp dried tyme
1 large bay leaf 
4-6 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup (instant) brown rice
optional - 1/2 cup chopped parsley
optional - croutons 

1) Saute leeks, carrots, celery, until leeks are soft.  Add thyme.
2) Combine everything in the slow cooker, and cook 6 hrs on low or 4 or high.
3) Remove bay leaf.  Using an immersion blender (or working in batches with a blender) puree until smooth.

Easy Crockpot Butter Chicken  (from Blog)
This was simply awesome.  Best homemade "Indian" food I have ever made.  And easy!  EASY!  The ingredient list looks intimidating, but it's really not.  I used chicken thighs with good results. I am totally making this again. 

I would make two changes - you can easily double the meat.  Plenty of sauce.   I would also half the garam masala and increase the sweet curry by one more teaspoon. 

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 5 hours
Total Time: 5 hours
Serving Size: 4 

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into bite size chunks
1/2 onion, finely minced
2 tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic, minced or grated
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
2 teaspoons curry powder
1-2   (3) teaspoons curry paste
2 tablespoons 1 tablespoon  garam masala
1/2-1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
1 (14 ounce) can coconut milk, regular or lite (I used regular).  
1/2 cup greek yogurt (I used 0%)
1/4 cup half and half or heavy cream
cooked white [or brown] rice, for serving
Optional  - Naan.

  1. In a large glass measuring cup or bowl mix together the coconut milk, greek yogurt and cream. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, ginger and all the spices. Mix well.
  2. Spray the inside of your crockpot bowl with cooking spray or grease with olive oil. To the bowl sprinkle the onion over the bottom. Add the chicken and then pour the coconut milk mixture over the chicken so the chicken is completely covered. Add the butter and place the lid on the crockpot. Cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 6 to 8 hours. I like to stir mine once or twice during cooking, but it is not necessary. When ready to serve taste and season with salt and pepper if desired. Serve over rice with a big piece of fresh naan. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Bride Wore Black Leather by Simon R. Green (Nightside #12)

The Bride Wore Black Leather (Nightside, #12)The Bride Wore Black Leather by Simon R. Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  John Taylor is marrying the love of his life, Suzie Shooter, the Nightside’s most fearsome bounty hunter. But before he can walk down the aisle he has one more case to solve as a private eye — a case that has him on the run from friends and enemies both, with his bride-to-be looking to collect the bounty on his head...

I really enjoyed this book.  If you haven't read the series yet, I highly recommend starting at the beginning.

Our man John Taylor is on the cusp of his wedding.  He asks his secretary Cathy to find one more private investigator job for him to do, something that can be finished in one night.  What is supposed to be a straightforward "find this" job, leads to the King of Skin's murder, a mysterious message "...let the sun shine in.", and a horrible misunderstanding that has Taylor running for his life.

I loved this one for the variety and how seamlessly the separate stories seemed to flow together, with John's pending wedding to Suzie flowing underneath all.  The usual Gods and Major Players make an appearance, Taylor teams up with Julian Advent (the two characters really do balance each other well), and we get the usual trip through Nightside and some cool new place.  This time it was Green Henge, Nightsides version of Stone Henge.  Nice twist, here.   

All my favorite characters made an appearance - Julian Advent, Eddie the Punk God of the Straight Razor, Dead Boy, the whole Oblivion Clan including Hadleigh.  I'd like to see more of Hadleigh in future books, actually.

Highly Recommended.

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Monday, November 3, 2014

Recipe Review from 10/27/2014

A week that started warm - as in I was sitting out on the porch enjoying the sun in barefeet warm - then temps plummeted to 24* (-4*) with rain and snow showers, and by Sunday we were back up to a sunny but cool 60* (15*).  But, that's Fall in Northern Minnesota.

The garden is basically battened down for the winter.  I got all of the beds but two - the corn/bean beds - tidied up and the various tomato supports/hoops/row markers put away.  I also cleaned out all but one of my flower beds, put away my Buddha's, and took down the rabbit fences.  Hosta and daylilies were cleaned up, annual flowers pulled out, and another bag of coffee grounds dumped.  This is a new thing, I've been picking up bags of used coffee grounds from Starbucks when I can and they are available, and dumping them on the garden beds.  Free compost!  

It was a busy workweek and that's reflected in The Meal Plan:
Sat (yoga, yoga workshop, lunch with friend) (S) pasty
Sun (L)  pizza  (S)  Salmon with tomatoes   Make Italian Soup!
Mon (Yoga/Bkgrp/Legion mtg)  out
Tues (yoga/chili cookoff at work)  leftover soup
Wed (AM yoga) leftover soup
Thurs (yoga)  leftover soup
Fri - out
Sat - leftover soup 

Slow Cooked Italian Vegetable Stew (modified from Slow Cooker Revolution by ATK)  vegetarian, gluten free
A pretty basic and easily assembled vegetable soup.  What I really liked about this dish was it's vegetable chunkiness - as in more veggies to broth ratio.   I also liked the recommendation to add the zucchini during the last 30 minutes to hour of cooking so it retains its shape and texture.  The original recipe called to saute the eggplant, but I decided to roast mine for ease of prep - I could start the onion and rest while it was in the oven.  Plus I've heard that roasting brings out greater flavor. 

This was even better as leftovers, served with some fresh made English muffins compliments of the husband!  This also mad a lot.  This easily made 6 dinners for two of us.  Good dish for company served with a crusty bread and some cheese. 

1 onion, diced
3 celery stalked, diced  (my addition)
1 red pepper, diced
1 lb potatoes, cut into 1/4" chunks (I used red and yukon gold)
1 lb eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/4" chunks. 
1 lb zucchini, cut into 1/4" chunks and set aside
1 tsp dried oregano
1 28oz can diced petite tomatoes (recipe called for whole, I like petite diced)
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp tomato paste
3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: 2 tbsp fresh basil, thinly sliced
Grated Parmesan

Toss or spray diced eggplant with olive oil of choice.  Place in an oven preheated to 400* and bake about 15 -20 minutes or until lightly roasted and browning. 

Saute onion, celery and red pepper.  Add potatoes and eggplant.  Add oregano.  Add tomatoes and tomato paste, bring to a simmer.

Place in slow cooker and cook on high 4 hours or low for 6 hours.  During last hour of cooking, stir in zucchini.  This part is key, according to ATK, adding the zucchini later in the cooking process prevents the zucchini from turning to mush. 

Serve with fresh grated Parmesan. 

 Homemade English Muffins (Honest Cooking Blog)
On Tuesday evening, the Husband surprised me by making a batch of English muffins.  I have read that these were quick and simple to prepare, and he proved that this evening.  Perhaps two hours from start to finish (I really wasn't paying attention) and a half hour of that is just letting the dough rest.

He had to deviate slightly from the recipe as we were nearly out of milk (2%) and half and half - those were combined and topped off with a tich of water for the whole milk called for.  He noted that the temp of his warmed butter and milk might have been too warm and impacted the yeast; he let the muffins rise for an extra 5-10 minutes to compensate.

These did turn out a tich more bread-like than what I associate as "English muffin", but the flavor, overall texture, and size were spot on.  He used a wide mouth canning ring to cut the dough into shape - how cool is that? 

These were good fresh, and even better over the next couple of days. 

Muffins in front ready for the oven; muffins in pan still baking!
  • 4¼ cups AP flour, more for dusting
  • 1¾ cups whole milk, warm
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1¼ tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp instant yeast
  • cornmeal for dusting
  1. Heat the milk and butter until the milk has warmed and the butter melts
  2. Combine the milk & butter mixture with the egg and sifted dry ingredients and mix until a dough forms. This can be done in a stand mixer or by hand with a considerable amount of upper body strength
  3. Once dough comes together (it will be damp and velvety), transfer to a floured surface and roll out dough to a 1? thickness.
  4. Using a English muffin ring or a large canning jar lid, cut out rounds and transfer to a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal.
  5. Dust tops of the muffins with cornmeal as well. Continue to cut out muffins, re-rolling dough when needed.
  6. Cover muffins with a kitchen towel and allow them to rise for 20 minutes. Using a cast iron pan on low heat, cook muffins about 3-5 minutes on each side until brown and crisped
  7. Transfer muffins to a 325° oven for 12-15 minutes so they can continue to dry out
  8. Open muffins with a fork and toast before serving

Baked [Salmon] with Tomatoes and Feta  (Cooking Light, Nov 2014)  gluten free
A super simple, one dish meal with time leftover to clean-up the kitchen before sitting down.  Original recipe called for cod, but I think just about any fish will do: cod, halibut, seabass, salmon, tilapia, etc.   I used salmon and adjusted cooking time accordingly.   I had lots of extra tomato mixture leftover because I was only cooking for two.  I should have halved the tomatoes, but I was using up some end of the year garden produce.

I would make this one again, it's good enough for company, and quick enough for a mid-week meal. 

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 
photo from
1 1/2 cups chopped onion 
3 cups chopped tomato 
1/4 cup dry white wine 
2 teaspoons fresh oregano, divided
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar 
3/8 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
Dash of crushed red pepper
4 (6-ounce) cod fillets (or any firm fish of choice)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 1/2 cup) 
1. Preheat oven to 400°.
2. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add onion; sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in tomato, wine, 1 teaspoon oregano, vinegar, 1/8 teaspoon salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper; bring to a simmer. Cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle fish evenly with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Nestle fish in tomato mixture. Bake at 400° for 18 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a f

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