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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Remodel Update

Pre-Demolition and Day 1 of Deconstruction

After the chaos of moving out this past weekend, misplacing two computer cords (both for my computers), losing the camera, forgetting the Husbands dress shoes, dogs totally confused because their routine has been disrupted, and the exhaustion that accompanies all, things are settling into a new routine.

Good news is I found the camera and can post pics!


Kitchen looking into "dining room"

Looking at foyer from kitchen (basement door on the right)

Kitchen (basement door on the left), kitchen table used to sit in the corner

Living room

Living room forefront, "dining room" in back left

Foyer looking at kitchen


Looking at kitchen from "dining room"

The Husband ran out to the house after work on Monday to retrieve a few forgotten items and to let the dogs run around.  I have country dogs, they are not used to being so restrained in our temporary location.  The Contractor had a busy day!  

Living room carpet gone!  YAY!  Old birch flooring - it's in really really rough shape.

The "dining room" with fridge and stove.  Old 1950's 'linoleum' was under the carpeting.

Kitchen - half wall has started to disappear.  This will be where the kitchen table will go.

Kitchen - counter tops are starting to disappear!

Due to the drive, we will most likely NOT be out here on a daily basis to start with.  However, come the beginning of May, the Husband will be since we have baby chickens on order and a chicken coop to be completed.

Lots of stuff happening this spring!  Stay tuned!   

Monday, March 30, 2015

Recipe Review from 3/23/15

The Big Move happened this weekend.  Demolition starts this week.  I have "before" photos, sans furniture and stuff, but I'm not sure where the camera migrated to in the final chaos of moving out.  I'll post pictures as soon as I find where the camera went to...

In the meantime, we have to eat.  Here was last weeks Meal Plan:
Sun - Pasta with Asparagus and Artichokes
Mon (yoga/bkgrp)  leftovers
Tues (field day/dinner with Sister)  Crock Pot polish and cabbage
Wed (AM yoga/Virginia/Contractor out PM)  leftovers
Thurs (yoga)
Fri (Errands/PM Yoga)

Lunches - sandwiches, chips, luna bars, fruit and yogurt

Pasta with Asparagus [and Artichoke Hearts]   (Ckng Lght, March 2015)   vegetarian
I modified this a bit - I used 1 - 14oz can Artichoke Hearts instead of Hearts of Palm.  I like artichokes better.  Same quantity, rinsed and drained.  I didn't coarsely chop.   I also recommend cutting back on the garlic.  Five cloves left me tasting garlic well after dinner was done.  I like garlic, just not hours later.

Otherwise, this was a very tasty dish, easy to pull together.  Perfect for a weeknight meal.  Leftovers were also tasty, not as creamy as night-of dish, but acceptable. 

photo from
8 ounces uncooked multigrain penne pasta (I used cavattapi)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 3/4 cups fat-free milk, divided
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 (14-ounce) can hearts of palm, rinsed, drained, and coarsely chopped ** see note above
2 cups (1-inch) diagonally cut asparagus
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/4 cup)
2 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed 

1. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain.

2. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add onion and garlic; sauté 4 minutes. Combine 1/4 cup milk and flour; stir with a whisk. Add flour mixture, 1 1/2 cups milk, salt, pepper, and hearts of palm to pan; bring to a simmer. Add asparagus; cook 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add Parmesan; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in pasta and mozzarella.

Kielbasa Stew (Pinterest via  gluten free
This was just "okay".   I think 7-9 hours on low is way too long for a predominantly vegetable dish - the potatoes and added parsnips were overcooked, the cabbage had an off taste, and in general, everything was just a tich overdone.  Not the most pleasant flavors or textures.  I also thought the dish was missing a flavor; perhaps some chopped onion?  celery?  something was missing in the background.  This made three meals. 

So, recommended with reservations. 

4 cups coarsely chopped cabbage
photo from Pinterest
3 cups peeled, cubed potato 
2 cups peeled, cubed parsnips (using up some veggies)
1 1/2 cups sliced carrots (I used whole baby carrots)
1 pound cooked kielbasa, sliced (I used venison polish, left whole)
1/2 teaspoon dried basil, crushed
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 - 14 ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth 
In a 4- to 5-quart slow cooker combine cabbage, potato, and carrots. Top with kielbasa. Sprinkle basil, thyme, and pepper over kielbasa. Pour chicken broth over all.
Cover; cook on low-heat setting for 7 to 9 hours or on high-heat setting for 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 hours. Makes 4 or 5 servings.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Steelheart by Bradon Sanderson (Reckoners #1)

Steelheart (Reckoners, #1)Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills.

Nobody fights the Epics...nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart - the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David's father. For years, like the Reckoners, David's been studying, and planning - and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He's seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

A new to me author and series.  I've been seeing good reviews about this book/author and decided to make it a book group selection.  This is being promoted as YA.  On one hand, it didn't feel like YA.  On the other hand, when compared to something like the Hunger Games, it was definitely young adult. 

So much to enjoy in this book! 

  • It had an almost comic book feel to it (which I liked) with the description of the Epics, their various powers, and the setting of Newcago.   
  • I appreciated that the "coming of age" aspect which is so heavily predominant in YA (and other fantasy) happened in the defining moments in the prologue.  When we next meet up with our protagonist, 10 years have passed and we have a street hardened young man; there is really nothing special about him (no secret powers, not a "chosen one", not a long-lost heir to a kingdom that we are aware of).   He's just a smart guy. 
  • I liked the humor - David is constantly trying to work on his metaphors, sometimes with disastrous results.
  • The "technology" was unique and at the right level for the world building.
  •  A well rounded cast of characters where there was a small love interest appropriate for the setting.  

My criticism's with the book are actually few:  I thought it was a bit too action packed (purely personal preference here), the Reckoner's leap from one crisis to the next and planning all happens off-page.  I would have liked to have seen a bit more "behind the scene's" character and plot building.  I thought the ending was rushed.  Three days to set up and operation the size and complexity of which was executed?  I found that unlikely.  And I would have liked to have seen David interacting with the other team members on a one on one basis outside of the action scenes - again, a bit more character building.

But overall, my complaints are minor.  I enjoyed the book enough that I would consider reading the next in the series.

View all my reviews

Monday, March 23, 2015

Recipe Reveiw from 3/16/15

Cleaning up and cleaning out the downstairs continues.  It's like moving, but worse, because now I'm trying to find nooks and crannies and floor space to sstash 18 years of accumulated stuff yet keep out what we need to get by with.  

A couple small setbacks, which really aren't setbacks per se:  new cabinet estimate blew the budget out of the water (I haven't even gotten the estimate for the counter tops yet) so I'm back to either completely refurbishing the cabinets, or refurbishing and putting on new doors.  Contractor is coming out this week to measure for new doors for that estimate.

Otherwise, flooring is picked out, counter tops are picked out (just waiting on a price), back splash is picked out (settled on that this weekend).  Need to run to Menards and look at range hoods, and probably a sink and new faucet as well.

The Meal Plan from last week:
Sunday (L) Leftover quinoa  (S) One pot pasta
Mon (Yoga)  leftover pasta
Tues Slow cooked Chicken in a mole sauce
Wed (AM yoga/sub spin)  leftovers
Thurs (Grand Rapids/yoga) leftovers
Fri- Fish or pizza
Sat - Leftovers

One Pot Pasta with Spinach and Tomatoes  (CkngLght, Mar 2015)  gluten free option**, vegetarian
Made as directed with no alterations or substitutions.  Someone should note that on the calendar!  Quick to assemble and tasty to eat.  This could be made with GF pasta but adjust your liquids and cooking times as necessary so you don't end up with a gummy mess.   I do think some kalmata olives would have been a nice touch, or, as the recipe notes below, perhaps some mild Italian sausage.  Perfect for a mid-week meal.  This made enough for two of us plus leftover dinner for one.

photo from

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 (14.5-ounce) can unsalted petite diced tomatoes, undrained
1 1/2 cups unsalted chicken or vegetable stock (such as Swanson)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
8 ounces whole-grain spaghetti or linguine** (such as Barilla)
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 ounce fresh spinach
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/4 cup)
1. Heat a Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat.

2. Add onion and garlic to pan; sauté 3 minutes or until onion starts to brown.

3. Add tomatoes, stock, oregano, and pasta, in that order. Bring to a boil.

4. Stir to submerge noodles in liquid.

5. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook 7 minutes or until pasta is almost done.

6. Uncover; stir in salt.

7. Add spinach in batches, stirring until spinach wilts. Remove from heat; let stand 5 minutes.

8. Sprinkle with cheese.

Magazine recommendations: 
Riff: Use fresh grape tomatoes instead, and add fresh herbs.
Riff: Swap out spaghetti for any short pasta shape, such as elbow macaroni, rotini, or shells.
Riff: Try adding chopped skinless, boneless chicken thighs, ground beef, or ground turkey for a heartier dish.

Slow Cooker Chicken Mole (Ckng Light, April 2015)  gluten free
This was outstanding!  So simple to pull together, tasted great, very versatile - I served it over rice with a side of veggies, I make it into burritos for lunches and supper.  Serve plain, with brown rice, cheese and spinach.  This made four meals for two of us. 

I was concerned it would be too spicy with two chipolte chilies, but the seasoning was about perfect - not to spicy, not to smokey.

**One noteworthy adjustment - I used one 3.25lb "Family" pack of boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead of the 4lbs bone-in thighs and legs.  I didn't want to futz with bones.  The thighs I did use shredded up right in the slow cooker with just a wooden stir-spoon.  Perfect!

4 skinless, bone in chicken leg-thigh quarters** (about 4 lbs)
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup smoked almonds
1/4 cup raisins
2 tbsp unweetened cocoa
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 tbsp chipolte chilies in adobo sauce
1 tbsp adobo sauce only
1 tsp ground cinnamon
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 small sweet onion, chopped

1) sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper.  Place in a 5-6 qt slow cooker.

2) Place 1/4 cup water and remaining ingredients in a food processor; process until smooth.  Spread mixture over chicken.  Cover and cook on LOW for 8 hours or until chicken is tender.  

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Shadow of the Scorpion by Neal Asher (Polity #3, Cormac #1)

Shadow of the Scorpion: A Novel of the Polity (Polity, #3)Shadow of the Scorpion: A Novel of the Polity by Neal Asher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: Raised to adulthood during the end of the war between the human Polity and a vicious alien race, the Prador, Ian Cormac is haunted by childhood memories of a sinister scorpion-shaped war drone and the burden of losses he doesn’t remember. Cormac signs up with Earth Central Security and is sent out to help restore and maintain order on worlds devastated by the war. There he discovers that though the Prador remain as murderous as ever, they are not anywhere near as treacherous or dangerous as some of his fellow humans, some closer to him than he would like. Amidst the ruins left by wartime genocides, Cormac will discover in himself a cold capacity for violence and learn some horrible truths about his own past while trying to stay alive on his course of vengeance.

The best thing about airplane trips is nearly uninterrupted reading, which, for a book like this, is a sheer delight.

This book is listed on Goodreads as Polity #3, but I think it could also be listed as Cormac #1, because we get to see Agent Cormac's formative years.  A blending of events, the winding down of the Prador War and Cormac's background information all nicely packaged into one strong book.

I'm usually not a fan of back and forth timelines, where the characters bounce between the past and the present, but I thought Asher did a good job of integrating the timelines and events through the use of younger Cormac's deleted memory cards.  That was a deft bit of writing to bring everything together cohesively. 

My main complaint with the plot perhaps resided in the conclusion.  Without giving away any spoilers, the book followed younger Cormac as he grows into adulthood, as well as the somewhat older Cormac as he trains as a grunt and, later, a Sparkind.  As events come to fruition, the nemesis hunted down, and the big reveal at the end, it all rather felt abbreviated, almost too short - rushed perhaps, after the multi-generational build-up.  I hit the end and wondered where the rest of the story was.

This is the fifth Asher book I've read, and I haven't been disappointed yet.  Recommended.

View all my reviews

Monday, March 16, 2015

Recipe Reveiw from 3/9/15

April and May will be the months of Blog Worthy Events.  I am currently packing up the downstairs in anticipation of a kitchen remodel.  We are contracting to have the kitchen gutted then put back together in a slightly different configuration, new flooring installed in the downstairs, and perhaps (this is still under negotiation) tongue and groove installed in the entryway. Not sure about that bit because the stairs are involved and it might become an exploding project.  Which I don't want.

I will try and remember to take some photos before demolition starts.  I'm a bit frazzled trying to pack up 17 years of accumulated stuff, wipe the dust off of neglected things and vacuum up those corner cobwebs.

The Meal Plan:
Sun - Chicken Chili Mac n Cheese
Mon (yoga)  leftovers
Tues - leftovers
Wed (AM yoga) -Lemon Chicken
Thurs (yoga late) - leftovers
Fri - Mexican Quinoa Enchiladas

Lunches - butternut squash soup, crackers, luna bars, yogurt, granola, fruit

Chicken Chili Mac n Cheese (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 2015) gluten free options**
This was surprisingly quick to pull together and hit the spot for mid-winter comfort food.  Mild enough for small tastebuds, and can be perked up for adult tastes with a dash of red pepper.  Creamy, oh so delightfully creamy! I made one substitution - I used cavatappi instead of elbow macaroni.  I wanted a larger curly noodle for a more 'adult' dish (not that there's anything wrong with elbow!).  I would make this dish again. Highly recommended!

8 ounces elbow macaroni** (I used cavatappi)
photo from
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14.5-ounce) can unsalted fire-roasted diced tomatoes
3 tablespoons canned diced green chiles, drained
1 1/2 cups 1% low-fat milk
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour** 
6 ounces shredded reduced-fat Mexican-blend cheese (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper 

Cook macaroni according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain. Sprinkle chicken with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add olive oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add chicken to pan; sauté 3 minutes. Stir in chili powder, cumin, and minced garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add diced tomatoes and diced green chiles. Bring to a boil, and cook for 2 minutes. Combine milk and flour in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Gradually add milk mixture to pan, and cook 3 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring frequently. Stir in cheese. Stir in macaroni, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Cook 1 minute or until thoroughly heated.

Easy Weeknight Lemon Chicken Dinner  (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 15)  gluten free option**
Easy?  Yes!  Tasty?  YES!  This came together in about 35 minutes and was like a Sunday dinner mid-week without all the fuss.  My concern was it would be too similar to the Charred Lemon Chicken Picatta I made about a month ago.  The only similarity was the use of lemons, and the lemon in this dish was more of a hint than the star. I did pound the chicken breasts to facilitate even cooking - given the plumpness of these cuts of meat, I've found that a little pounding really evens out the cooking.  I also decided to roast my green beans in the oven with the chicken, then add to the pot toward the end. 

 Some rustic bread should be a must to sop up the yummy gravy.  Highly recommended! 

12 ounces baby red potatoes, halved
photo from
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, pounded to 3/4-inch thickness
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
2 thyme sprigs
4 ounces cremini mushrooms, quartered
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1/4 cup whole milk
5 teaspoons all-purpose flour**
1 3/4 cups unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
8 very thin lemon slices
1 (8-ounce) package trimmed haricots verts (French green beans)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 

1. Preheat oven to 450°.
2. Place potatoes in a medium saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a boil, and simmer 12 minutes or until tender. Drain.
3. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon oil to pan. Sprinkle chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add chicken and thyme sprigs to pan; cook 5 minutes or until chicken is browned. Turn chicken over. Place pan in oven; bake at 450° for 10 minutes or until chicken is done. Remove chicken from pan.
4. Return pan to medium-high heat. Add remaining 2 teaspoons oil. Add potatoes, cut sides down; mushrooms; and 1 tablespoon thyme; cook 3 minutes or until browned, stirring once. Combine milk and flour in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add remaining salt, remaining pepper, flour mixture, stock, lemon, and beans to pan; simmer 1 minute or until slightly thickened. Add chicken; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 3 minutes or until beans are crisp-tender. Sprinkle with parsley.

Mexican Quinoa Enchiladas  (Pinterest/Damn Delicious Blog)
This was good, came together very quickly, could be better with a couple of tweaks.  I would recommend increasing the quinoa by another 1/4 to 1/2 cup.  Given the amount of enchilada sauce, corn, black beans, the quinoa was a bit overwhelmed and I thought, even after baking, the dish was a bit on the runny side rather than the fluffy I prefer.  I would also just use the full can of beans - personally I find it most annoying to try and use up half a can of anything.  I was also thinking, some diced and sauted chicken would be really good in this if you need just a bit of a protein or flavor hit. 

Made enough for three meals for two of us.  I recommend some cornbread alongside. 

photo from
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 (10-ounce) can mild enchilada sauce
  • 1 (4.5-ounce) can chopped green chiles, drained
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels, frozen, canned or roasted
  • 1/2 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed (I used the whole can)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided
  • 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 1 avocado, halved, seeded, peeled and diced
  • 1 Roma tomato, diced

In a large saucepan of 2 cups water, cook quinoa according to package instructions; set aside.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly oil an 8x8 or 2 quart baking dish or coat with nonstick spray.
In a large bowl, combine quinoa, enchilada sauce, green chiles, corn, black beans, cilantro, cumin and chili powder; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Stir in 1/2 cup cheddar cheese and 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese.
Spread quinoa mixture into the prepared baking dish. Top with remaining cheeses. Place into oven and bake until bubbly and cheeses have melted, about 15 minutes.
Serve immediately, garnished with avocado and tomato, if desired.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Destroyer by CJ Cherryh (Foreigner Series #7)

Destroyer (Foreigner, #7)Destroyer by C.J. Cherryh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  It has been two years since the starship Phoenix left Alpha Station on a rescue mission where over four thousand human spacers were under attack by a hostile alien race. Now, exhausted from their journey, the crew of the Phoenix yearns for home. But when the ship makes the jump into atevi space, they learn the worst: that supplies to the station have been cut off; that civil war has broken out on the atevi mainland; that the powerful Western Association has been overthrown; and that Tabini-aiji, Bren Cameron's primary supporter and Ilisidi's grandson and ally, is missing and may be dead.

With no one left to lead the Western Association, Ilisidi and  Bren know that the survival of their allies lies in their hands. And with the atevi world at war, the only safe landing strip lies on the human colony at Mospheira. Although there are many dangers inherent in bringing a powerful atevi leader such as Ilisidi onto human lands, Bren realizes they have no other choice. But even if they safely survive their landing, will Bren and Ilisidi together prove strong enough to muster the remaining shards of the Western Association and regain control of their planet?

I love this series.   The world and character building are outstanding, there is so much subtlety within those typed pages, and it's a thinking book as much as it is an action book.  I find this combination absolutely perfect and absorbing. 

These are not stand alone books and I highly recommend you start at the beginning with Foreigner.  Destroyer is book number one in the third sub-series of this sequence. 

As with most of Cherryh's books, this starts out somewhat sedately, then before you know it, you are being sucked along with the characters and while it's not Fast and Furious, there is quite a bit of continual action.  The atevi/human ship has arrived back in-system from a two year voyage to find the ruler of the Atevi missing in action and presumed dead.  Political upheaval is threatening everything Bren and Tabini have been working toward - which is modernization of the Atevi up to and including space travel.  This forward progress has not been without it's resistance, and those political factions took advantage of the pahdhi's, Dowagers and the heirs absence to move against the ruling party.  Now Bren and the Dowager must act with unseemly and unfortunate haste to prevent everything Tabini has work to achieve from completely collapsing, because there are seriously, bigger things in the universe to worry about and a divided Atevi means a fallen Atevi. 

My main complaint with this book comes perhaps with Bren bemoaning that the current political strife is his fault, that he should have seen it coming, that it was his (and Tabini's) actions that led to this civil war.  He pushed too hard, too fast against Atevi tradition.  He released too much technology too soon.  He advised unwisely.  He did this wrong, he did that wrong. I wanted to reach into the pages, grab him by his wilted lace, and shake some sense into him.  A minor frustration overall.

Ultimately, a great read.  Highly recommend the whole series.

View all my reviews

Monday, March 9, 2015

Recipe Review from 3/2/15

Meal reviews are going to be a bit mixed up until Cooking Light posts the March recipes.  I have four recipes waiting to be posted from the March issue - all of them noteworthy!   I did just post last weeks review (san's full recipes) so pop back and take a look. 

The Meal Plan:
Sun (L) leftover gumbo  (S) Slow cooked pork with polenta
Mon (Yoga)  leftover pork
Tues - leftover pork with Gnocchi
Wed (AM Yoga/Ben vet) tuna spagetti
Thurs (Yoga) leftover pork
Fri - pasty
Sat - in town for lunch; poached cod for supper

Lunches - Slow Cooked Tuscan White Bean Soup, crackers, luna bars, yogurt, fruit

Italian Braised Pork with Polenta (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 2015) gluten free
This is very quick to pull together and tastes great.  Though, I just realized we completely forgot to add the vinegar and the Worchester sauce!  Whoops!  No matter, it still tasted great.  The meat was so incredibly tender it just shredded with a touch of the tongs.  My polenta was not instant, so I prepared according to package directions.  Was out of milk, so I just used water and added a tbsp of butter for flavor along with the parmesan.  The Husband and I both agreed serving this dish over polenta was a nice change. 

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (1 1/2-pound) boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt)  (we used 2 lbs of boneless country pork ribs, in 1 lb hunks)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided
photo from
2 cups vertically sliced onion
1 cup sliced yellow bell pepper
10 garlic cloves, minced
2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 cups water  
1 cup 2% reduced-fat milk
3/4 cup instant polenta
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese 

1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Sprinkle pork with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add pork to pan; cook 10 minutes, turning to brown all sides. Transfer pork to a slow cooker. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Transfer mixture to slow cooker. Add remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, tomatoes, rosemary, and thyme. Cover and cook on LOW for 7 1/2 hours. Add vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes; turn off heat. Shred pork with 2 forks.

2. Combine 2 cups water and milk in a saucepan over medium heat; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low; add polenta, stirring with a whisk. Cook 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat; stir in cheese and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Serve pork over polenta in shallow bowls.

Slow Cooked Tuscan White Bean Soup (Ckng Lght Mar, 2015)  gluten free
A couple of alterations to this recipe:  I actually made little meatballs and lightly sauted them before adding to the soup.  I used some mild Italian sausage (I think that's what it was, I didn't label my ziploc bag very well), mixed with some pre-cooked brown rice and seasonings.  Formed into meatballs and a quick saute before adding to the rest of the soup.

I've also gotten into the habit of pre-cooking beans before adding to the slow cooker.  I start the dish as written, but omit the beans.  Those I cover in 2" of bottled water (a must if you have hard water), bring to a boil on the stove, cover, remove from heat, and let sit for 2+ hours.  Drain and add to slow cooker.  Works like a charm!  I don't end up with crunchy beans.

6 cups unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
photo from
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup diced celery
5 garlic cloves, chopped
4 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
12 ounces dried Great Northern beans
3 cups kale, stemmed and chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted tomato paste
3/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pound hot Italian sausage links, casings removed
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, shaved (about 1/4 cup) 
1. Place first 8 ingredients in a 6-quart electric slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 hours. Discard thyme and bay leaf.

2. Stir kale, tomato paste, and salt into bean mixture. Shape sausage into 32 meatballs; arrange on top of bean mixture. Cover and cook on HIGH 30 minutes or until meatballs are thoroughly cooked. Stir in juice. Divide soup among 8 bowls; top with cheese.

Tuna Spaghetti - Husband's discovery
We've been trying to increase the Omega3's in our diet, and one of the best ways to do that is through fish.   The husband found this a while back: add tuna to spaghetti sauce instead of ground meat.  I fully admit, I was a bit dubious.  He chose canned tuna (water packed) and I had him saute the tuna to boil off some of the extra fishy-liquid.  Then add to sauce, simmer, and serve.  Second time round I added some calmata olives for a little extra tang.

Since we had this twice, I would call this a success.  I do think using vacuum packed tuna instead of canned would be better.  You would avoid the canned liquid and could add directly to the sauce as it's simmering.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Promise Me by Harlan Coben (Myron Bolitar #8)

Promise Me (Myron Bolitar, #8)Promise Me by Harlan Coben

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:   The school year is almost over. In these last pressure cooker months of high school, some kids will make the all too common and all too dangerous mistake of drinking and driving. But Myron is determined to help keep his friends’ children safe, and so he makes two neighborhood girls promise him that if they are ever in a bind but are afraid to call their parents, they will call him. Several nights later, the call comes at two a.m. The next day, a girl is missing, and Myron is the last person who saw her. Desperate to fulfill a well-intentioned promise turned horribly wrong, Myron races to find her before she’s gone forever.

A rather convoluted story that ultimately left me rather dissatisfied.

Promise Me has a plot full of red herrings, dead ends, lies, omissions, the customary 'beat up Myron' scene, and is layered thick with the question 'who knows best'?   Personally, I thought the 'who knows best' question was too thick, like the chocolate frosting on a store-bought cupcake, where it's more frosting than cupcake and leaves that funny greasy taste in your mouth.  Yeah, like that.

For starters, there is a six year leap in the timeline between Darkest Fear and Promise Me.  I'm supposing the characters are to have matured in this time leap, to have grown up.  But yet, the whole thing seems to revolve around the past - the drama takes place in Myron's hometown of Livingston, the missing girl's mother is a close friend from high school, Myron's past is continuously brought up, Wyn and Big Cindy haven't changed a bit, and yet again, Myron so busy running around looking for a girl he neglects his business.  What kind of mature person does that? 

Then we have our runaways.  Two 18 year old girls, same school, both pregnant, both end up in downtown Manhattan withdrawing money from the same ATM.  That is the link and really, the only link.  And from this Myron teases apart the threads and figures out "who done it".   The big reveal, the final Ah HA!  left me rolling my eyes like aforementioned teens and saying, whatev-ah....

Our cast of characters is so lengthy it would be too confusing to try and explain them all here, which I think was also a problem with the book.  Everyone had secrets, and in digging for the explanation behind the girls disappearance, Myron managed to stomp on every single sore spot - the beaten wife, the mob boss, the teacher's affair, the drug dealing, the pregnancies, the marital affair, the college admission cover ups; everyone had something to hide and Myron had everyone spilling their beans.  Were all of these relevant?  Did they contribute to the resolution?  Yes and no...mostly it was a lot of annoying smoke.

Bottom line, not my favorite Bolitar book.  Recommended, with slight reservations, if you've read the previous seven.

View all my reviews

Monday, March 2, 2015

Recipe Review from 2/23/15

A bit of a belated posting.  Cooking Light id being a bit pokey about getting the March recipe index on-line (I suspect it has to do with the print version being released first), and I really wasn't in the mood to type out three recipes.

The Meal Plan from week of 2/23/15:
Sun - leftovers from previous week
Mon (Yoga/Bkgrp/Legion mtg) - out
Tues - Chicken and Shrimp Gumbo
Wed  (AM Yoga)  Chicken, Broccoli and Rice
Thurs (Yoga)  leftovers
Fri -(Yoga)  Pizza?
Sat - leftovers

Lunches - Butnut Squash Soup, kaiser roll, luna bar, yogurt...the usual. 

Chicken and Shrimp Gumbo  (Ckng Lght, March 2015)   gluten free option**
Directions for this are overly complicated, and could be greatly simplified without sacrificing any flavor.  And this is a very good dish!  I did add 8oz of sliced kielbasa (andoullie would also be tasty), and subbed 1 tsp cayenne pepper for the 2 tsp ground red pepper.  This makes things a bit...spicy.  Another good substitution would be paprika for the red pepper.  I do have a suspicion that the spiciness might also be a factor of the poblano pepper, which isn't usually noted for zing, but sometimes can be.  I also just served the cooked rice alongside, rather than adding to the entire dish.  This makes a robust 8 servings - more with the rice along side.  Recommended!

6 tablespoons canola oil, divided
3/4 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs
photo from
3/4 cup all-purpose flour**
3 cups sliced fresh or frozen okra
2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups chopped seeded poblano chile
1 cup chopped celery
10 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup dry white wine
4 cups unsalted chicken stock
2 cups water
2 teaspoons ground red pepper
1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 (14.5-ounce) can unsalted petite diced tomatoes, drained
3/4 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 (8.8-ounce) packages precooked brown rice (such as Uncle Ben's)
1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions 

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 2 minutes on each side. Remove from pan; let stand 10 minutes. Slice across the grain.

2. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add remaining 5 tablespoons oil to pan. Stir in flour; cook 25 minutes, stirring frequently with a whisk until the color of melted semisweet chocolate. Stir in okra and next 4 ingredients. Increase heat to medium-high; cook 3 minutes. Stir in wine; cook 2 minutes. Add stock and next 4 ingredients; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 15 minutes. Add chicken and shrimp; cook 3 minutes. Stir in vinegar, black pepper, and rice; cook 1 minute. Top with green onions.

Chicken, Rice, and Broccoli Casserole  (Ckng Lght, March 2015)  gluten free option**
This is a fairly quick dish to pull together - I prepped the chicken and rice the night before when making the gumbo.  I made as written, but would love to explore some of the other substitutions the magazine recommended, like quinoa for the rice.  This was a nice balance of rice, chicken and broccoli that wasn't over inundated with sauce or cheese.  Recommended.

2 (3 1/2-ounce) bags boil-in-bag brown rice
1 tablespoon olive oil
photo from
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
8 ounces presliced button mushrooms
8 ounces skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (12-ounce) bag microwave-in-bag fresh broccoli florets
1 1/2 cups 1% low-fat milk
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour**
3 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 3/4 cup) 

1. Preheat broiler to high. Cook rice according to package directions; drain.

2. While rice cooks, heat a large 12-inch ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion, mushrooms, and chicken; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Sauté 6 minutes or until chicken and onion are done.

3. Cook broccoli in microwave according to package directions for 3 minutes. Open package to release steam.

4. Combine milk and flour, stirring with a whisk or fork until smooth.

5. Stir milk mixture into chicken mixture in skillet.

6. Cook 2 minutes or until bubbly and thick, stirring frequently.

7. Stir in remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, rice, and broccoli. Sprinkle with cheese.

8. Broil 1 minute or until cheese melts and just begins to brown.

Magazine noted: 
Riff: Try ground beef in place of the chicken.
Riff: Not a fan of broccoli? Try cauliflower, spinach, green peas, carrots, or green beans instead.
Riff: In place of rice, use 3 cups cooked quinoa (1 cup uncooked)

Butternut Squash Soup  (Ckng Lght, March 2015)   gluten free, vegetarian option**
This turned out so creamy and flavorful that I might make this again in the near future.  The buttermilk adds a very subtle bit of "tang" to the sweetness of the squash which I liked better than the traditional half n half or even milk.  I also decided to roast the squash instead of completely simmering for a bit of added flavor boost - the 2014 garden year did not produce the best squash we've had.  Which brings me to my third point - this recipe made a great freezer reduction meal by using 5 cups of squash.  Now I tend to go by weight, but I figure one quart bag holds about two cups.  Might be a bit more than the recipe calls for, but we do like our squash soup to be on the thicker side.  Recommended. 

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion
1/4 teaspoon sugar
5 cups (1/2-inch) cubed butternut squash
1 1/4 cups water
3/4 cup unsalted chicken stock (or vegetable**)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup low-fat buttermilk
6 teaspoons toasted pumpkinseeds 

Heat butter and olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and sugar to pan; cook 5 minutes or until soft, stirring frequently. Add butternut squash, water, and chicken stock. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover, and simmer 20 minutes or until squash is tender. Remove from heat, and puree with an immersion blender until smooth. Stir in salt, pepper, and buttermilk. Divide among 4 serving bowls; top each with 1 1/2 teaspoons toasted pumpkinseeds.

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