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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Praxis: Dread Empire's Fall by Walter Jon Williams (Praxis #1)

The Praxis (Dread Empire's Fall, #1)The Praxis by Walter Jon Williams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars





Jacket Blurb:  All will must bend to the perfect truth of The Praxis.

For millennia, the Shaa have subjugated the universe, forcing the myriad sentient races to bow to their joyless tyranny. But the Shaa will soon be no more. The dread empire is in its rapidly fading twilight, and with its impending fall comes the promise of a new galactic order... and bloody chaos.

A young Terran naval officer marked by his lowly birth, Lt. Gareth Martinez is the first to recognize the insidious plot of the Naxid -- the powerful, warlike insectoid society that was enslaved before all others -- to replace the masters’ despotic rule with their own. Barely escaping a swarming surprise attack, Martinez and Caroline Sula, a pilot whose beautiful face conceals a deadly secret, are now the last hope for freedom for every being who ever languished in Shaa chains -- as the interstellar battle begins against a merciless foe whose only perfect truth is annihilation.



January 2016 book group selection.

This was my second reading of the Praxis, and I have to say I enjoyed this just as much the second time around. The Praxis is classic space opera - grandiose worlds, tyrannical aliens, wormholes, caste system, fantastic Cities and backwater planets and colonies, military intrigue and backstabbing, space battles. This has it ALL.

I will also note up front, this is not a stand alone book. If you want to find out what happens, you'll have to read the next two in the series. No hardship there, they are just as enjoyable as book one.

The book follows the paths of two people: Gareth Martinez, a Peer, lower ranking lieutenant, not well liked by other peers due to his back-planet, low brow accent. And Caroline Sula, disgraced Peer, has a secret, and is by her own admission, the second luckiest person in the universe.

When the last great Shaa passes, the Naxid's decide to revolt, in a universe that hasn't experienced any significant turmoil in thousands of years. Everyone is taken by surprise. Martinez and Sula find themselves thrust into situations and roles they never predicted or even imagined for themselves.

This is a fun, fast paced, classic space opera that would be great for reading while traveling, on vacation, or while commuting.  



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Monday, January 25, 2016

Recipe Review from 1/18/2016

A small rant regarding recipes calling for fresh herbs when it looks like this outside:


I've noticed an increase in the use of fresh herbs across recipes sources.  Which is fine if you live in a place they are readily available (Florida) in January, but not so much where winter blankets the land for nearly 6 months out of the year.   Buying fresh herbs at the standard grocery story is cost prohibitive for what you get.  .5oz/1oz = $3.00, more if it's organic.   For 1 tsp or tablespoon that is generally used as a finishing touch.   I recently purchased some cilantro for a dish, it was $1.00 for a bunch, I like the taste of cilantro, so I thought what the heck.  By the time I got around to using it mid-week, it was a small bag of decomposing mushy leaves.  Yeah, that worked out well. 

I hear the arguments that fresh tastes better, I can freeze what I don't need (but then it's not fresh any more), and there are all sorts of gizmos and gadgets to help keep the produce in tip top shape.  Never mind the fact it's been shipped from California or Mexico.  People, it ain't fresh the moment it's picked and shipped 2000 miles.  

Yo. Magazine editors.  Let's get realistic here. Perhaps on your salary you can afford fresh herbs every week.  But for the rest of us home cooks just trying to put a decent dinner on the table?  Not happening...

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest....


The Meal Plan:
Sun (L) Chicken and Seared Avocados (S) Tuscan Soup
Mon (Yoga) leftover chicken and avocados
Tues (Vet AM/Block) Chicken Sausage and Broccoli Rabe
Wed - leftovers
Thurs (yoga) Salmon
Fri (Block) leftovers   grilled cheese

Lunches (Husband) Sandwiches  (Me) Tuscan Soup



Tuscan Soup (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)  gluten free
The Husband ordered us a bag of fresh dried Northern Beans, and I had this recipe bookmarked as one way to use them.  It's a tiny bit putzy (it's a Cooks Illustrated recipe, it's going to be a bit putzy) and a bit simple on the ingredients.  Perhaps too simple.  I ended up adding the spinach for some color and flavor. 

My other substitution was I used ham instead of pancetta.  Mixed thoughts on this substitution - I didn't have access to a chunk of pancetta, only the little thin slices and decided mid-assembly to use ham.  It added flavor sure, but it became more like a ham and bean soup than pancetta...but there's not much difference between the two. So...there it is.

6 oz pancetta, cut into 1" cubes  (I used ham)
12 cups water, plus extra as needed
2 cups (1 lb) navy or cannelli beans
1 large onion, unpeeled and halved
       plus 1 small onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
       plus 3 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
1/4 cup EVOO, plus extra for serving
1 spring fresh rosemary  (I used dash of dried)
Balsamic vinegar, for serving
6 oz fresh baby spinach, washed  (my addition)

1) Cook pancetta (ham) in a dutch oven, add large halved onion, unpeeled garlic cloves, bay leaf and beans.  Cover, bring to a boil, and simmer(!) until beans are softened.  This took about 1 1/2 hours for my beans.

2) Remove from heat, drain liquid into a large bowl and set aside.  Discard onion, garlic, bay leaf. 

3) In same Dutch oven, saute diced onion in 1 tbsp olive oil until soft.  Add minced garlic cloves and rosemary; cook until fragrant.  Add reserved liquid and beans.  Bring to a boil and simmer for about 20 minutes.  Remove from heat, add spinach and allow to wilt.  Drizzle with olive oil before serving.



Skillet Chicken with Seared Avocados (Ckng Lght, Jan/Feb 2016)  gluten free
Don't be put off by the ingredient list below.  This dish comes together very quickly and easily.  I did substitute chicken thighs for chicken breasts (I think they taste better).  The overall flavor of this dish reminded me of fajitas.   The seared avocados were new to me, and worked very well in this dish.  Husband really liked this one - I will probably bookmark this and try a variation on the grill later this summer. Some cornbread as a side would be outstanding.   This made enough for two meals plus enough for an additional dinner for one.  Recommended!

1 tablespoon olive oil
photo from cookinglight.com
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ancho chile powder
Cooking spray
2 small ripe avocados, halved and pitted
1/4 teaspoon sugar
2 medium red onions, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick rings
4 green onions, trimmed
1 poblano pepper, sliced
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon lower-sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup reduced-fat sour cream
2 to 3 tablespoons water
8 cilantro sprigs
4 lime wedges
1 teaspoon aleppo or other coarse red pepper (optional) 

1. Preheat oven to 450°.

2. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Sprinkle chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt, black pepper, and chili powder. Add chicken to pan; cook 4 minutes. Turn chicken over; cook 1 minute. Remove chicken from pan (chicken will not be fully cooked).

3. Wipe pan clean with paper towels. Coat pan with cooking spray. Increase heat to high. Sprinkle avocados with sugar. Add avocados, cut side down, to pan; cook 2 minutes or until charred. Remove avocados from pan. Recoat pan with cooking spray. Add red onions; cook 3 minutes or until charred. Turn red onions; add green onions and poblano. Cook 3 minutes. Separate red onions into rings; toss with green onions and poblano. Stir in lime juice and soy sauce. Nestle chicken and avocados into onion mixture. Place pan in oven; bake at 450° for 7 minutes or until chicken is done.

4. Remove pan from oven. Combine sour cream and water in a small bowl until thinned to a saucy consistency. Drizzle sour cream mixture over chicken and avocados. Garnish with cilantro and lime wedges. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and aleppo pepper, if desired.



Chicken Sausage and Broccoli Rabe (Ckng Lght, Jan/Feb 2016)
This comes together very quickly, is a great way to use up some leftovers, and pretty darn tasty.  I used some leftover chicken andoullie sausage, and subbed broccolini for the broccoli rabe.   I had some asiago cheese to sprinkle over the top.  Yum!   This made enough for two of us for about two meals.  


Recipe notes:  If broccoli rabe is a bit bitter for your family or if you have trouble finding it, chopped broccoli would be a delicious substitute. Serve with extra lemon for more zip.

2 quarts water
photo from cookinglight.com
8 ounces uncooked multigrain penne pasta
1 pound broccoli rabe, trimmed and coarsely chopped  (I used 1 pkg of broccolini)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 (3-ounce) smoked chicken sausages, each diagonally cut into 8 pieces
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 ounces pecorino Romano cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup) 

1. Bring 2 quarts water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add pasta; cook 7 minutes. Add broccoli rabe; cook 2 minutes. Drain pasta mixture, reserving 2/3 cup cooking liquid; keep pasta warm.

2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add sausage to pan; cook 6 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally. Add 2/3 cup reserved pasta water, pasta mixture, pepper, and salt to pan; bring to a boil. Cook 2 minutes or until slightly reduced. Stir in juice, and sprinkle with cheese.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Episode VII)



I am a HUGE Star Wars fan.  Loved the original series (now known as Episode IV, V, VI).  I did not care for Episodes I, II, III.  In fact, I don't think I ever saw Episode III, and I wanted to walk out of II when I saw it in the theater.  Note to self, don't sit away from an aisle in a crowded theater.

Then word got out in 2015 that the new installment was going to be released in Dec.  I had plans to go to opening day...until I found out tickets were sold out.  I really don't like crowded theaters.  So I waited a month, grabbed the Husband on a chilly Saturday morning and caught a 9a show.

I can safely admit, I'm glad I waited and that I didn't pay full price to see this.  It was well made, visually fantastic (loved the desert world Jakka and the broken ships), and ultimately, disappointing.   Yes.  Disappointing.  The Force Awakens was basically Episode IV (the very first movie) all over again.  The following may contain spoilers, but really, I doubt it.  How can I spoil something you've already seen?  But, you've been duly warned...  stop here if you have any qualms about spoilers.  



Luke grows up on desert planet under the care of aunt and uncle.
Ray grows up on desert planet as a scavenger for a slaver.

Han Solo flys the Millennium Falcon through a few tight spots.
Ray flys the Millennium Falcon through a few tight spots.  

R2D2 is our only hope.
BB3 is our only hope.

Han is wanted for debts (Boba Fet).
Han is still wanted for debts (two bounty hunters board his ship this time!).

Millennium Falcon flees large thing with teeth.
Millennium Falcon flees large thing with teeth. 

Bar on Tattoie to find a way off planet (lo! we met Han Solo).
Bar on some green planet to find Luke.   Music was better in the Cantina...

Yoda squints at Luke and speaks prophecy.
Little woman creature at bar squints at Ray and speaks prophecy.

A Death Star.
A very BIG Death Star that has the same structural flaw as the first Death Star. 

Darth Vadar chops off Luke's hand, Luke recovers on spaceship.
Ren slices up Fin (FN), Fin recovers on spaceship.

Han Solo served with the Imperial Navy.
Fin served with Imperial 1st Order.

Epic battle between Darth and Luke.
Not quite so epic battle between Ren and Han Solo.

Sword fight between Obi Wan and Darth Vadar.
Sword fight between Ren and Ray.

Have to blow up Death Star.   "Just like shooting womprats back home!"
Have to blow up Death Star.   "Wahooo!!!"   No womprats tho....

How does Ren, newly awakened to The Force, suddenly seem to know what to do and how to do it when it took everyone else years to master?   A couple of deep breaths and she's got it down pat.  Maybe girls do learn faster. 

Observation - doesn't anybody change their clothes in space?  Conceivable that wash machines and water are hard to come by, but one would think that would make it all that more important to change clothes every once in a while. 

And can we get any cornier with the Nazi reference to Nuremburg?  I thought we were done with Nazi's in Indiana Jones.



I'm sure I'm missing more than a few comparison similarities, but you get the idea.  Thankfully, it's only a 2 hour movie.  I admit, I got extremely fidgety at the 1.5 hour mark.

But all of this begs the question, why is so much the same?  To what purpose will all of this serve as the next two installments come out?  Wait, we must.  

I mentioned up top that I liked the movie visually.  Yes, some damn impressive scenery in this one - Jakka was just cool.  The x-wing fighters zipping across the lake was just cool.  The tentacled monsters on Han's salvage ship awesome.   So, yes, some very good CGI effects.   And I have to admit, JJ Abrams knows when and how to end a movie.   I liked the ending a lot. 



Monday, January 18, 2016

Recipe Review from 1/11/2016

It was cold this week.  Then it warmed up "a bit" (20*).  Then it was cold again.  And windy.  Like, knock the breath out of you windy.

So I stayed inside and did my daily walk-abouts in the skywalk system for my breaks at work.   Almost three miles of skywalk that I can break into segments and stretch my legs out on inclement days.  Nice! 


The Meal Plan:
Sun (L) Pizza to console ourselves from the Vikings loss...  (S) Veggie Boulangese
Mon (yoga) leftover pasta
Tues (H&RB) leftovers
Wed - Mushroom and Chicken Marsala
Thurs (yoga)  salmon
Fri (H&RB)  leftovers
Sat - (L) out  (D) leftovers


Hollandaise Sauce  (AllRecipes.com and Martha Stewart)    gluten free, vegetarian
I caught Martha Stewart's Cooking School on PBS Create, an episode on sauces.  She started out with a Hollandaise Sauce, and I was totally hooked.  I've made it once before following Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by I have to say,  Martha simplified.

So I made some the next morning.  OMGosh!  Talk about easy and sooo tasty!   I combined two recipes - I used the ingredients from AllRecipes but the directions from Martha.

You can serve this over just about anything - Eggs Benedict or  Florentine is what comes to mind, but asparagus, broccoli, fish...your imagination is the limit.   

(All Recipes)
Eggs Florentine with maple-glazed bacon





1/2 cup butter
(optional - 1/4 tsp dijon mustard; just a small dollup, no more)

(Martha)






Whisk yolks in a large heatproof glass bowl until they begin to turn pale, about 1 minute. Whisk in 4 1/2 teaspoons warm water. Set bowl over a pan of barely simmering water; heat yolk mixture, whisking vigorously, until thickened, 2 to 3 minutes (do not overcook). Remove bowl from pan. Whisk in lemon juice. 
 
Whisking constantly, pour in melted butter, one drop at a time at first, leaving milky solids behind; whisk until thickened. Season with salt. If not serving immediately, pour hot water from pan into a separate (cool) pan; set bowl on top. Keep sauce warm, whisking occasionally, up to 30 minutes. If sauce becomes too thick, whisk in warm water, 1 teaspoon at a time, to thin.



Slow Cooker Jambalaya  (Food Network via Pinterest)
This recipe was inspired by the pkg of shrimp I had in the freezer from a different recipe that never got made.  This comes together very quickly (even more so if you don't have to run to the store for the can of tomatoes).  I did err on the side of caution with the the heat - it's easier to add some hot sauce if it's too bland, than it is to suffer from an overly hot dish.  I did add half a package of okra - probably not "authentic", but it was in the freezer and I like it with my Southern food. 

Recommended!

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 pound andouille sausage, diced
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons Cajun or Creole seasoning*
*(I used 1/2 tsp 'very hot' Cajun...could have used 1 tsp)
1 teaspoon hot sauce
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 pound frozen peeled and cooked shrimp, thawed
I added 8 oz diced frozen okra

In a slow cooker, combine chicken, sausage, tomatoes, onion, green pepper, celery, and chicken broth. Stir in oregano, Cajun seasoning, hot sauce, bay leaves, and thyme.

Cover, and cook on LOW for 7 hours or on HIGH for 3 hours. Stir in the thawed shrimp, cover and cook until the shrimp is heated through, about 5 minutes. Discard bay leaves and spoon mixture over cooked rice.



Veggie Packed Bolognese (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 2016)  gluten free option**
Several notable alterations: I skipped the dried porcini mushrooms totally.  The store didn't have them that I could find, so I said screw it.   Honestly?  Not missed.   I used 8 oz hot Italian sausage because I had it on hand in the freezer (yay! freezer reduction!).  And most notable, I subbed spaghetti squash for the butternut.  No way was I going to putz around trying to cut "noodles" out of a butnut.

This also came together fairly quickly, but only because I prepped everything earlier in the day, including baking the squash.  You could also easily skip the squash and just serve the sauce over noodles.  So when it came time to cook, it was open, dump, cook, clean dish and stir sauce.  This is NOT a weeknight recipe.  

Overall, pretty darn good!  I served it with Parmesan cheese and a side of a rustic boule and olive oil. 

2/3 cup boiling water
1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
1 tbsp canola oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
3/4 cup finely chopped carrot
3/4 cup finely chopped celery
8 oz cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
6 oz 90% lean ground sirloin  (I used hot Italian sausage)
3 tbsp unsalted tomato paste
1 tsp dried oregano
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
2 (8oz) cans unsalted tomato sauce
12 oz peeled butternut squash  (I subbed spaghetti squash)
4 oz whole wheat spaghetti

1) Pour boiling water over porcini in a small bowl; let stand 15 minutes.  Remove porcini with a slotted spoon; finely chop porcini and and reserve soaking liquid. 

2)  Heat a large skillet over medium heat (larger than 12").  Add oil to pan; swirl to coat.   Ad onion, celery, carrot and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add cremini mushrooms and garlic; cook 6 minutes or until mushroom liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally.  Add beef, cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add tomato paste, cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Stir in porcini, oregano, salt pepper and tomato sauce; pour in porcini liquid, stopping before grit a bottom of bowl reaches sauce.   Bring to a boil reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 12 minutes or until thickened, stirring occasionally to keep sauce from sticking.

3) Run squash through a spiralizer to create noodles, or cut into long noodles with a julienne peeler; set aside.   Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat, and adding butternut noodles during last two minutes of cooking time.  Drain.   Serve with sauce.


Mushroom and Chicken Marsala Bowls  (Ckng Lght, Jan/Feb 2015)  gluten free
This is just a bit putzy, what with the washing and chopping a pound of mushroom, then staging the sauteing - cook spinach, set aside; cook 'shrooms, set aside, cook chicken, and rest, and then recombine.   Still, it was tasty, if not a bit heavy on the chicken.  I totally get this is a "flip" dish, where the idea is to "flip" the meat and veggie quantities, but it really could have used 4 chicken thighs, not two.  Definitely plenty of sauce and side toppings if you did so.

I thought I had a pic of this, but I don't see it on my phone.  Oh well.  Imagine mushrooms in a light gravy with some green spinach all over quinoa.  Yum!

2 1/2 tbsp butter, divided
1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 cups unsalted chicken stock, divided
3/4 tsp kosher salt, divided
1 1/2 tbsp canola oil, divided
1 (6oz) package fresh baby spinach
1 lb mushrooms, quartered
8 oz skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces
1/4 cup shallots
1 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry Marsala wine (I used sherry)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

1) Melt 1 1/2 tsp butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add quinoa to pan; saute 3 minutes or until toasted and fragrant.  Add 1 1/4 cups stock bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 12 minutes.  Remove from heat; let stand 10 minutes, stir in 1/4 tsp salt.

2) Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 1 1/2 tsp oil to pan; swirl to coat.  Add spinach; cook 1 1/2 minutes or until beginning to wilt.  Remove spinach from pan.

3) Melt 1 1/2 tsp butter in pan.  Add 1 1/2 tsp oil; swirl to coat.  Add mushrooms; cook 8 minutes turning to brown on all sides.  Remove mushrooms from pan.

4) Add remaining 1 1/2 tsp oil to pan; swirl to coat.  Add chicken to pan; saute 4 minutes browning on all sides.   Add shallots, thyme, and garlic; saute 1 1/2 minutes.  Add wine and remaining 1/4 cup chicken stock, scraping pan to loosen brown bits.  Cook 2 minutes or until liquid is reduced by two-thirds and becomes slightly syrupy.  Remove from heat.  Add remaining 1 1/2 tbsp butter, mustard, pepper and salt, stirring constantly until butter melts.  Stir in mushroom and spinach.  Serve over quinoa. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #15)

Nine DragonsNine Dragons by Michael Connelly

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Jacket Blurb:  Harry Bosch is assigned a homicide call in South L.A. that takes him to Fortune Liquors, where the Chinese owner has been shot to death behind the counter in an apparent robbery.

Joined by members of the department's Asian Crime Unit, Bosch relentlessly investigates the killing and soon identifies a suspect, a Los Angeles member of a Hong Kong triad. But before Harry can close in, he gets the word that his young daughter Maddie, who lives in Hong Kong with her mother, is missing.

Bosch drops everything to journey across the Pacific to find his daughter. Could her disappearance and the case be connected? With the stakes of the investigation so high and so personal, Bosch is up against the clock in a new city, where nothing is at it seems.


Read as an audio book.

When I started this review, I was on Chapter 16, struggling to be engaged and was seriously debating about reading some spoilers and calling it a day.

Bosch comes across as an arrogant, conceited, and hypocritical Detective who feels he is the only one who knows how to do the job. Everyone else is stupid, slow, and in his way. Bosch demands everyone give him all the information, clues and leads they might have, but yet he refuses to share what he learns. He manages to insult Detective Chu from the Asian Crimes Unit repeatedly (note, I'm only on Chapter 16), telling the other Detective how to do his job, and why can't Chu get a translator faster, and how dare he show a photograph of a man they are trying to ID to other people in the ACU? Bosch bombast's the other Detective for butting in on "his" (Harry's) case and rags on his own partner for not being dedicated enough to the job, he's not married to "the mission". God forbid the man care about his family! Crimes come first!

Now, toward the end of the book, Harry's complaints about his partner seemed to switch from disdain that his partner wants to be at home with his family to, his partner wasn't psychologically up to going back to field work after getting shot. Without getting into spoilers, this about face/mental switch just didn't seem to work for me. Perhaps it was in part to due with Harry daughter, perhaps it was in part to the plot. Either option, it didn't jive for me.

I get the lone detective trope, I do. What I don't get is how a character can be such complete and total ass to everyone he needs to work with. Henning Mankell's Wallander character was like that and I finally had to stop reading lest I damage a wall throwing a book across the room.

Connelly also managed to turn Elenore Wish into a whining, weepy, feeble female character - a far cry from the FBI agent-turned hard nosed poker player. Yes, she's a mother in distress, but egads, I felt like the author just neutered her.

I also thought the threat to Harry's daughter, thus bringing Harry to Hong Kong, was a pretty weak plot devise. The 36 hour chase around Hong Kong came across more like an action flick than a mystery novel.

The one small redeeming quality was Harry's realization he'd been totally and utterly manipulated. Lest I drop a spoiler, I won't say by whom. I felt oddly vindicated, like I wanted to poke my finger in his face and shout, "See! It's not always about you, asshole."

Ultimately, for myself, not Connelly's best Harry Bosch book.



View all my reviews

Monday, January 11, 2016

Recipe Review from 1/3/2016

A warm week.  A bitterly cold weekend.  Lots of hearty meals in between and all of them highly recommended for ease of prep and great taste!  


The Meal Plan:
Sun (L) leftover coddle   (S) Slow cooked Chicken Tikka Masala
Mon (yoga) leftovers
Tues - leftovers
Wed - Roasted Red Pepper Soup
Thurs (yoga) leftovers
Fri (yoga) take n bake pizza or Hot Sour soup
Sat - tbd

Lunches - Chipolte Butnut Squash Chili, fritos, fruit, yogurt, luna bars


Slow Cooked Chipolte Butternut Squash Chili  (Little Spice Jar via Pinterest)  vegetarian, vegan
This recipe was originally written for stove top assembly, and I thought it would be perfect in the slow cooker.  This comes together fairly quickly if you don't have to chop your butnut squash, a bit longer if you have to do the squash prep.

You could also totally skip sauteing the onions, red pepper and jalepeno and just do a chop and plop.  I took the time to bloom the onion and spices for a bit more robust flavor.  

I'm not a coffee drinker, so I found some Nestle instant coffee packets (6 for $1.40) and used one of those. I'll toss the rest into the freezer for another time.

This turned out awesome!  One chipolte added just the right amount of flavor and zing, I liked the pinto beans better than black, and cooking this in the slow cooker made it a snap!  This made enough for 5 lunches for two of us, so it can easily feed a crowd.  

  • 1 ½ - 2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and diced
  • 2 (14 ounce) cans fire roasted tomatoes
  • 2 (14 ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed  (I used pinto)
  • 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, diced (I used one pepper)
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1-2 jalapeƱos, seeded and diced (see note)
  • 1 ½ tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • ½ tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder (or less)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • ¾ cup coffee
  • 1 cup vegetable stock (I used chicken broth)
  • OPTIONAL: 2 tablespoons cornmeal

  1. To the slow cooker, add diced squash, tomatoes, beans, chipolte peppers and brown sugar.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a 12" skillet. Add the onions and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the onions just to soften.
  3. Add the red bell pepper, jalapeƱos, garlic and let cook 1 minute before adding in the cocoa powder, smoked paprika, chipotle peppers, chili powder, and cumin.  Stir until lightly fragrant and remove from heat and add to the slow cooker.  While pan is still hot, carefully pour in coffee and deglaze the pan, stirring to release leftover spices.  Pour coffee mixture over slow cooker mixture
  4. Pour in vegetable stock and stir mixture gently.  Cover and cook 6-8 hours on low or 4 hours on high, or until squash is tender.  
  5. Recipe author suggests: To make your chili heartier, sprinkle in 1 tablespoon of the cornmeal, stir to combine, and allow 5-7 minutes to thicken. You can add the second tablespoon and follow the same directions to thicken it further.


Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala  (Ckgn Lght Jan/Feb 2016)  gluten free option*
I dearly love Indian food.  I love Indian food that I can make at home and in the slow cooker.  This...was a smashing success!

One significant adjustment - use a standard 1.75 lb package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  There is so much sauce in this that the recipe can easily handle the larger package of thighs, plus by going boneless you don't have to fart around picking out the bones.  The meat will come out fall apart tender slathered in a fantastic sauce.   This will give you enough for 3-4 meals for two, depending if the Hubby goes back for seconds.      Highly recommended! 

1 tbsp evoo
1 cup chopped onion
1 tbsp minced peeled fresh ginger (I grate mine)
6 garlic cloves (I grate mine)
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 (14.5oz) cans unsalted diced tomatoes
1/3 cup water
3 tbsp flour or flour substitute
1 tbsp garam masala
1 1/2 tsp paprika (I used smoked)
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground red pepper
4 (6oz) skinless, bone-in chicken thighs (I used one 1.75 lb package boneless, skinless thighs)

1 cup light coconut milk
3 tbsp chopped cilantro
2 cups cooked brown basmati rice
1/4 cup plain yogurt (not necessary)

1) Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onion, ginger, and garlic to pan; cook 6-7 minutes or until starting to brown, stirring occasionally.  Stir in tomato paste and tomatoes, bring to a simmer, and cook 3 minutes.  combine 1/3 cup water and flour (or substitute) stirring with a whisk until smooth.  Add flour mixture, garam masala, paprika, curry powder, salt and pepper to pan; stir well.  Bring to a boil and cook 1 minute.

2) Place chicken thighs in a 6 quart slow cooker coated with cooking spray.  Add tomato mixture to slow cooker.  Cover and cook on LOW 7 hours or until chicken is very tender and sauce has thickened.  Turn slow cooker to HIGH, uncover and add coconut milk, stirring gently to combine.  Cook, uncovered 15 minutes.  turn cooker off, stir in cilantro.  Let stand 10 minutes.  Serve over rice.


Roasted Red Pepper Soup (Taste of Home via Pinterest)  gluten free, vegetarian
Easy enough recipe to assemble mid-week.  Just make sure to dice the potatoes small so they cook quickly.  I did not peel my potatoes - always seems silly to do so.   I skipped the green chilies because I thought they were for a different recipe and opened them earlier than I should have.  I didn't use vegetable broth because I just flat out forgot to add it to the grocery list.  Water is a fine substitute.

I realize typing this up I forgot the cilantro and lemon juice. Ha!  Didn't even notice.  This is another dish that was really good and is perfect for any kind of chilly weather.  Serve with a salad and or some homemade bread.   This made enough for three meals for two of us.

photo from Taste of Home
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 jar (7 ounces) roasted sweet red peppers, undrained and chopped
  • 1 can (4 ounces) chopped green chilies, drained
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 3 cups diced peeled potatoes
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup reduced-fat cream cheese, cubed
  1. In a large saucepan, saute onions in oil until tender. Stir in the roasted peppers, chilies, cumin, salt and coriander. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Stir in potatoes and broth; bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Stir in cilantro and lemon juice. Cool slightly. In a blender, process the cream cheese and half of the soup until smooth. Return all to pan and heat through.  Yield: 6 servings.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Intruder by C.J. Cherryh

Intruder (Foreigner, #13)Intruder by C.J. Cherryh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Jacket Blurb:  (lamest blurb ever)  The civil war among the alien atevi has ended. Tabini-aiji, powerful ruler of the Western Association, along with Cajeiri his son and heir, and his human paidhi, Bren Cameron, have returned to the Bujavid, their seat of power.
But factions that remain loyal to the opposition are still present, and the danger these rebels pose is far from over.


Cherryh's Foreigner books tend to slide fairly seamlessly from one to the next, and Intruder was no exception. Bren has left his coastal estate to be extensively remodeled and is back in "his" newly renovated apartment in the Bujavid. Tabini-aiji is down the hall, and the Dowager on the other side (this must be a massive complex...). It is now Bren's job to pave the way, so to speak, for Murini's pending visit to sign formal alliance documents with the Dowager.

Not a lot of action-action in this book, which I was entirely okay with. After the last three books with the cross country escapades, shoot-outs, bombs, kidnappings and assassinations, a respite was welcome. The most action that happens in this book is a lot monkey. However, on the political front in the atevi world, there is some very significant shifting.

And that's what makes these book so damn fascinating - Cherryh's world building goes right down to political alliances and factions, who has insulted whom, long standing grievances, and Cherryh moves her characters around with the skill of a chess master.

The political aspect is nicely balanced by the thoughts and actions of Cajeiri and his small ashid. The eight year old going on felicitous nine is learning how to be a leader, while at the same time, channeling the needs, wants and desires of an eight year old. Cajeiri also gives the reader a great look at the atevi culture and world: the concept of man'chi and how it's formed, allegiance to parents, the politics of raising a future leader, and well, the problems of raising a future leader.

My one small complaint with this book was I had the vague impression the books cultural "feel" shifted from an Oriental styled background to a Victorian one about midway through. Prior to this book there hasn't been any mention of social gatherings, and now everyone seemed to be planning a party, complete with verbal invites, and it just felt like something out of the Victorian era. Complete with lots of lace.

Highly recommended the whole series. Start with Foreigner however, not a series to be picked up in the middle.



View all my reviews

Monday, January 4, 2016

Recipe Review from 12/28/2015

This will be the wrap up recipes for 2015.  Despite not being in the house for nearly three months during the remodel, then trying to move back in (which was harder than I anticipated), and my several weeks of vacation in August, we did pretty good in the new recipe department.  Only a handful of recipes bombed, several stand outs, and lots of yummy meals in between.  

Wine Grapes, Corvallis, OR

This last week of the year the Husband was in charge of the weekday Menu:
Sat (L) Miso Soup
Sun: (L) leftover Christmas dinner  (S) leftover miso soup
Mon: (yoga)  leftover Chicken Quinoa Enchiladas
Tues:  Slow cooked Irish Coddle
Wed: leftovers
Thurs: (NYE get-together at friends)
Fri: salmon and veggies
Sat: (L) leftovers  (S)  afternoon wedding

Lunches - Husband had sandwiches; I had fried rice. 


Miso Soup (Steamy Kitchen via Pinterest)  gluten free, vegetarian** if consume fish
I had been craving miso soup, and I know it's pretty simple to make, but of course I had to make it more complicated but it really wasn't my fault!!  Co-op doesn't carry instant dashi.  ((grumble))  But, a very helpful fellow at the co-op looked up what I would need to make my own dashi broth (below), and it was simple enough that I plowed ahead.

The homemade dashi stock and the miso recipe liquid amounts don't quite match, so I reduced the miso quantities accordingly.  This made enough for lunch for two, and leftovers for one.

I skipped the dried wakambe (sp?) seaweed because it's not necessarily my favorite and after buying the kombu for the stock, I decided one seaweed in the cupboard was plenty.

End result?  Tasted just like what I get in the restaurant, perhaps a bit blander.  I added a plop of siracha sauce to my last bowl.  Sacrilege, I know, but hey, it added a little bit of zing!   Perfect for a chilly day.  I do believe I'm going to try and find some instant dashi so I can make this again.  Miso soup really is that simple. 

photo from Steamy Kitchen blog

Authors notes:  This miso soup recipe can be made in 10 minutes! Remember, you don't want to boil the miso paste -- add it at the end with the heat off to avoid a gritty texture.

8 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons instant dashi granules 
1/4 cup miso paste
1 tablespoon dried seaweed (for miso soup), soaked in water I skipped...just,cause.
1/2 cup cubed tofu 
2 tablespoons chopped green onion


1. Pour the water into a pot and bring to a boil. Add the instant dashi and whisk to dissolve. Turn the heat to medium-low and add the tofu. Drain the seaweed and add the seaweed to the pot. Simmer for 2 minutes.

2. In the meatime, Spoon the miso paste into a bowl. Ladle about 1/2 cup of the hot dashi broth into a bowl and whisk with chopsticks or a whisk to mix and melt the miso paste so that it becomes a smooth mixture.

3. Turn the heat off, add the miso paste to the pot and stir well. Taste the soup - if it needs more flavor, whisk in another tablespoon or two of miso paste. Top with green onions and serve immediately.




Homemade Dashi: 
Makes 6 cups
1 (6-inch) piece kombu (dried kelp), wiped lightly with damp cloth*
2 (5-gram) packages (about 1 cup) katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes)*
*available at Asian markets or maybe your co-op. 


  1. In large saucepan over moderately high heat, combine 6 1/2 cups cold water and kombu. Bring to boil, then remove and discard kombu. Remove pan from heat and stir in bonito flakes. Cover pan and let steep 3 minutes.
  2. Strain stock through cheesecloth-lined sieve into large bowl. Use immediately or cool, uncovered, then refrigerate, covered, up to 1 week. 

Slow Cooked Dublin Coddle  (Cooking in Bliss Blog)  gluten free
The Husband picked and assembled this dish.  His one complaint was he didn't realize how much pre-sauteing there would be.  Bacon had to be fried, sausages had to be fried, onions had to be sauteed.  Add in a mid-assembly slow-cooker switch (needed the bigger one) and he was a bit frustrated.

We use a local "organic" bacon, which tends to render a lot of fat.  The Husband noted that he should have drained off some of the bacon fat before frying the onions.  I suggested he could have baked the bacon in the oven, then used just a tbsp to fry the onions and sausages.   He also noted, that he thinks using something like Canadian Bacon would add flavor but less fat.  Might be worth considering.

So, other than the excessive bacon grease, this was a pretty tasty dish.  Serve along side some nice crusty bread to mop up the juices, and add a salad for some greens.   
Photo from Cooking in Bliss Blog
  • 6 Sausages (preferably Irish Sausage)  We used polish sausage
  • 9 strips of Bacon (thick slices) 
  • 6 large potatoes
  • 2 large carrots
  • 2 medium onions
  • 1 beef stock cube  We used 1 cup beef stock
Instructions
  1. Add 1 cup of water to your crock pot and turn it on high. Drop in the beef stock cube and stir until it dissolves.
  2. Chop your bacon and fry it in a large skillet.
  3. Slice the sausage how you would prefer – in half or 4’s. Add the sausage to the frying bacon.
  4. Cut your onions into rounds and add them into the sausage and bacon; fry until translucent.
  5. Peel, rinse and cut your potatoes into large chunks. Cut up your carrots.
  6. Once the meat and onions are through cooking add them into the crock pot. Top with the potatoes and carrots.
  7. Put the lid on the crock pot and cook at high (4 hours) or low setting (8 hours) until done.



Friday, January 1, 2016

Year in Review 2015

2015 has been an amazing year in our small household.  Lots of traveling, a kitchen/downstairs remodel, a couple of notable science fiction conventions, chickens (!), but not much in the way of biking or hiking.  Reading, knitting, and recipe reviews were about the same.    


Places I went:
Tuscon, AZ
Tohono O'Chul Arboretum

Las Vegas, NV 
Valley of Fire State Park


World Science Fiction Convention, Spokane WA
Spokane Falls


Corvalis, OR
Where my sister and I "wined" and knit a lot...or was that knit a lot and wined a little?



Things we did:
REMODEL!!!    Okay, this sucked up way more time than I ever suspected, and we didn't even do the work ourselves! Moving out and moving back in was more disruptive than I anticipated and even now, at the close of the year, I still don't have everything back in it's place.  

From this:




to THIS!  
yaowza!













We got chickens in April.    Husband has put an incredible amount of time and effort into building the coop, raising the chicks, planning and executing this new adventure.  More to come in the New Year!

It's a big, scary world out there...you go first!


















New Books Finished  (Novels, Novellas, Novelettes, Short Stories)
2015 - 89 (25726 pages approximately)

2014 - 89 (28442 pages)
2013 - 98    (28277 pages)
2012 - 129  (32617 pages)
2011 - 115  (30365 pages) 
2010 – 80   (21848 pages)
2009 – 45   (16094 pages)
2008 – 45   (14456 pages)




New Recipes Tried
Pea Soup with a Shrimp and Pepper Confit
2015 - 98

2014 -  109
2013 -  125
2012 -100 
2011 - 95
2010 – 82
2009 - 92
2008 - 129
2007 - 120
2006 - 103
2005 - 137
2004 - 143
2003 - 154


Miles Biked:
2015 - 50    Oh,  this was just dismal...

2014 - 292 road   (lots and lots of spin, stopped keeping track)
      Jane Addam's Trail 
      Mesabi Trail Ride
2013 - 300 road (628 spin miles - yes, higher spin than road. Very sad.)
2012 -  572.5 road  (568 spin)
      Heartland Trail, MN - 38 miles
      Badger State Trail, WI - 56 miles
      Mesabi Trail Ride, MN - 68 miles
2011 - 470 road  (755 spin)
      Menominee River Century - 50  miles
      Mesabi Trail Ride - 50 miles
2010 – 701 personal best!
      Split Rock Century (my first!) - 100
2009- 250


Miles Hiked:
2015 - 15  (just two hikes this summer)

2014 - 20ish
2013 -20
2012 - 20
2011  - 40+   
2010  - 48


Knitting Projects completed:
...I know I had some knitting projects, I just don't remember what.  I may have neglected to take pictures. 

I did attend my first Stephen and Steven Tour, which was...I'm still undecided.  I think I've settled on overwhelming and perhaps a bit disappointing?  I did learn a new cast on technique but I'm not sure the session was worth one cast on.



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