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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Ancillary Justice (Radch #3) Ann Leckie

Ancillary Mercy (Imperial Radch, #3)Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  The stunning conclusion to the trilogy that began with the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke award-winning Ancillary Justice.

For a moment, things seem to be under control for the soldier known as Breq. Then a search of Atheok Station's slums turns up someone who shouldn't exist - someone who might be an ancillary from a ship that's been hiding beyond the empire's reach for three thousand years. Meanwhile, a messenger from the alien and mysterious Presger empire arrives, as does Breq's enemy, the divided and quite possibly insane Anaander Mianaai - ruler of an empire at war with itself.

Anaander is heavily armed and extremely unhappy with Breq. She could take her ship and crew and flee, but that would leave everyone at Athoek in terrible danger. Breq has a desperate plan. The odds aren't good, but that's never stopped her before.

Read for March book group. Number three in the Radch series.

I really enjoyed this installment. So many things just worked for me:
  • I thought the book moved smartly along, with Breq pushing events more than reacting as she did in the second book.
  • I thought Translator Zeiat and Sphene were a great counterpoint to what could have been a rather dry plot. That the Presger was a, made it clear that the alien race didn't think the same as humanity. And the author coming up with the idea of fish sauce, oysters and fish! Loved it! 
  • I enjoyed the dialog that examined what defines a 'human', and how the Presger seriously considered Breq's demands helped balance the quirkiness of the Translator.
  • I also immensely enjoyed the Breq's growing understanding of how Station and Ship saw themselves, and how perhaps, Station and Ship wanted more, or at least to be acknowledged that they could do more, even if Ship and Station didn't necessarily want titles. Except, I did really like how Station wanted to be called "Cousin" by Breq and Sphene.

This book isn't without it's issues, it had a lot going on, numerous moving pieces and I had the vague feeling that some pieces were left behind or not quite satisfactorily resolved. For example, without giving any spoilers, Tisarwat boards a ship at one point for covert activities, they are caught, and next we see her is at the climatic conclusion. It felt like something was missing in between, like a Saturday afternoon movie that you've seen a hundred times and recognize where something was cut out.

And this is a totally silly nitpick - where is Mercy of Klar getting eggs so the Translator and Sphene can play with eggshells? Do they have space chickens? Could be ducks I suppose, or quail - so space poultry? Did they bring the eggs up from the planet or the station? How was station raising chickens?

Blurb on the book is dubbing this a "stunning conclusion" to this series. In my opinion, this really didn't come across as "stunning" - interesting, yes - nor did it feel like a complete everything's all wrapped with a bow conclusion. That there was definitely wiggle room and opportunity for more. I would like to see more...

Overall, I greatly enjoyed the third book in the series. I found it engaging, humorous, thought provoking, and the plot and characters pulled me right along. Recommended if you've read the first two, which is a must. This is not a stand-alone in any way.

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Monday, March 28, 2016

Recipe Review from 3/21/2016

Twas Minicon weekend!  Minicon 51 to be precise and my 22 time attending.   Usually Minicon warrants its own posting, but I have to say it was such a quiet and uneventful convention that I will only comment in passing.  I attended only a handful of panels:

Being a Fan of Problematic Things - How do we reconcile our love for fandoms that are less than perfect without making excuses? How do we critically examine things that we enjoy? Where is the line between enjoyment with understanding, and refusing to acknowledge the problems? Is the problem that some fandom is problematic, or is the problem that many fans don't see it as problematic?

The Aftermath of the Puppies - How did that Sad/Rabid Puppies thing turn out? What effect will they have on future Hugos? What did they do for the Hugos awarded in 2015, and what do we forsee for the future? Early on after the Puppy Slate, there was talk of amending WSF rules. What has been proposed?

Ask a Scientist - An old standard in the book of Minicon. A panel of scientists in a variety of fields takes audience questions on more or less anything.

Playback from New Horizons and Pluto flyby  -  There's a treasure at the edge of the Solar System. It's a data recorder, aboard the New Horizons spacecraft, slowly sending to Earth several gigabytes acquired during last summer's flyby of Pluto. That information is still coming down. At the mission's home base in Maryland, Bill Higgins witnessed the excitement during the encounter. Now he reviews results, downlinked in recent months, that are illuminating the mysteries of Pluto, its five moons, and its neighborhood.

Overheard Conversations during the Convention - A discussion of things that had been overheard during the convention, and conversations that are worthy of more discussion.

Most notable was a trip to a new (to me) yarn store in Minneapolis!  OMGosh!   Fun! Fun! Fun!   Steve Be

The Meal Plan:
Sun (L) Leftover pasta   (S)  Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
Mon (yoga/Legion)  leftover pasta and chili
Tues (Grand Rapids/Block) leftover chicken
Thurs - Sun (Minicon Weekend!!!)

Lunches (Husband) Sandwiches, veggies, fruit, yogurt, Luna bars
             (Me) ATK Vegetarian Chili, Fritos, fruit, yogurt, Luna bars

Whole Wheat Pancakes (modified from America's Test Kitchen)     vegetarian
These are 100% whole wheat, and the recipe works.  These were fluffy, nutty, and darn near perfect.  When I make them again, I would add a splash of vanilla extract or almond extract for a little flavor boost.  And I do mean 'little' boost.

These also made a nice amount - enough for breakfast for two, and leftovers for breakfast the next morning with some poached eggs.   Delicious!  Recommended!

2 cups unbleached whole wheat flour (11 ounces)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
12 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
2 1/4 cups buttermilk
2 tbsp butter, melted
5 tbsp oil, divided
2 large eggs
(1-2 tsp vanilla extract or almond extract)

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 200 degrees. Spray wire rack set inside baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray; place in oven. 
  2. Whisk flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda together in medium bowl. In second medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter. Make well in center of dry ingredients and pour in wet ingredients; gently stir until just combined (batter should remain lumpy with few streaks of flour). Do not overmix.
  3. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Using paper towels, carefully wipe out oil, leaving thin film of oil on bottom and sides of pan. Using ¼ cup measure, portion batter into pan in 4 places. Cook until edges are set, first side is golden brown, and bubbles on surface are just beginning to break, 2 to 3 minutes. Using thin, wide spatula, flip pancakes and continue to cook until second side is golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Serve pancakes immediately, or transfer to wire rack in preheated oven. Repeat with remaining batter, using remaining oil as necessary.

Slow Cooked Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic  (Ckng Lght, April 2016)  gluten free option**
If your initial reaction to the recipe title is trepidation and apprehension about using 40 cloves of garlic, set those thought aside and make this recipe NOW.   This was absolutely delicious!  Melting tender potatoes and chicken all drizzled in a light, fragrant and aromatic sauce, the garlic just buttery and soft.  

Ease of assembly couldn't be quicker, especially if you use pre-peeled garlic, which I HIGHLY recommend.

I will note, I didn't see the point in using skin-on, bone in thighs after all was cooked and eaten.  I also recommend bumping up the amount of chicken - use a 2lb package and toss in about the same for potatoes.  There's plenty of sauce to go around, you don't have to pick out bones, cartilage and mushy skin, and there will be a bit more for leftovers.

I LOVE leftovers... can't wait to have some more of this.

6 bone-in, skin on chicken thighs (I used 2 lbs or 8 thighs)
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup water
3 tbsp flour** (gluten free flour blend of choice)
2 tbsp butter, melted
40 cloves of garlic, peeled (buy pre-peeled!!)
1 1/2 lbs small red potatoes, scrubbed and left whole
12 sprigs fresh thyme

Spray crockpot with cooking spray.  Mix together white wine, water, flour and butter.   Pour into prepared crockpot.  Lightly salt and pepper chicken thighs.  Place in crock pot skin down.  Add prepared garlic and potatoes.   Spread thyme over all.   Cook on LOW 6-8 hours, depending upon how fast your slow cooker cooks.  Remove thighs, potatoes and garlic.  Strain liquid and discard solids.  Serve with au juice. 

Vegetarian Chili  (modified from America's Test Kitchen Cookbook)  vegetarian
Oh my gosh.  Putsy putsy putsy.  And I kinda knew that going in, but still...putsy

Ah HA!  As suspected from copying this recipe from an online source, there was a typo in my cookbook.  Which I suspected when I went to grind the mushrooms, chilies and oregano and ended up with a mushy mess.  Shitake mushrooms should have been dried, not fresh!

I simplified this a bit - I pre-cooked my beans in the slow cooker and then combined everything at once for the final two hours of cooking.  Had I read the "blurb" more closely in the cookbook, I would have skipped the drying and grinding of the chilies and used pre-ground.   That would have saved an easy 15 or 30 minutes off of prep.

End result?  Was this worth it?  Yes.  This was a very hearty, flavorful, and rich dish.  It had the texture and appearance of a ground meat chili, but totally vegetarian.   This also made a lot and will feed a crowd - or freeze half for another day.  I guarantee, your meat eaters won't notice the difference.  

1 lb. (2 1/2 cups) dried beans, picked over and rinsed
2 dried ancho chiles  (I used 3 ancho)
2 dried New Mexican chiles
1/2 oz. dried shiitake mushrooms, chopped coarse
4 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 c. walnuts, toasted
1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes, drained with juice reserved
3 tbsp. tomato paste
1 - 2 jalapeño chiles, stemmed and coarsely chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp. soy sauce
1/4 c. vegetable oil
2 lb. onions, chopped fine
1 tbsp. ground cumin
7 c. water
2/3 c. medium-grind bulgur
1/4 c. chopped fresh cilantro

1. Bring 4 quarts water, 3 tablespoons salt, and beans to boil in large Dutch oven over high heat. Remove pot from heat, cover, and let stand for 1 hour. Drain beans and rinse well. Wipe out pot. 

1a.  Day or evening before, place prepared beans into slow cooker and cover with at least 2-3" of water.  Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 4.   Rinse, drain, set aside. 

2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Arrange anchos and New Mexican chiles on rimmed baking sheet and toast until fragrant and puffed, about 8 minutes. Transfer to plate and let cool, about 5 minutes. Stem and seed anchos and New Mexican chiles. Working in batches, grind toasted chiles, mushrooms, and oregano in spice grinder or with mortar and pestle until finely ground.  

3. Process walnuts in food processor until finely ground, about 30 seconds. Transfer to bowl. Process drained tomatoes, tomato paste, jalapeño(s), garlic, and soy sauce in food processor until tomatoes are finely chopped, about 45 seconds, scraping down bowl as needed.

4. Heat oil in now-empty Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onions and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Lower heat to medium and add ground chile mixture and cumin; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add rinsed beans. and water and bring to boil. Cover pot, transfer to oven, and cook for 45 minutes.

5. Remove pot from oven. Stir in bulgur, ground walnuts, tomato mixture, and reserved tomato juice. Cover pot and return to oven. Cook until beans are fully tender, about 2 hours.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Private: #1 Suspect by James Patterson and Moira Paetro (Private #2)

Private #1 Suspect (Private, #3)Private #1 Suspect by James Patterson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  Unsolvable cases 
Since former Marine Jack Morgan started Private, it has become the world's most effective investigation firm--sought out by the famous and the powerful to discreetly handle their most intimate problems. Private's investigators are the smartest, the fastest, and the most technologically advanced in the world--and they always uncover the truth.

Impossible murders 

When his former lover is found murdered in Jack Morgan's bed, he is instantly the number one suspect. While Jack is under police investigation, the mob strong-arms him into recovering $30 million in stolen pharmaceuticals for them. And the beautiful manager of a luxury hotel chain persuades him to quietly investigate a string of murders at her properties.

The #1 suspect is Jack MorganWhile Jack is fighting for his life, one of his most trusted colleagues threatens to leave Private, and Jack realizes he is confronting the cleverest and most powerful enemies ever. With more action, more intrigue, and more twists than ever before, PRIVATE #1 SUSPECT is James Patterson at his unstoppable best

Read as an audio book. Book #2 in the Private series - you do need to have read Private for the background information in #1 Suspect.

Again, a new to me series and like book #1, there is a lot going on. We start with the murder of Jack's former girlfriend, Colleen Malloy. Jack is very neatly set up for this, police think it's a slam dunk case, the DA thinks it's a slam dunk case, Jack's attorney thinks Jack's chances are pretty slim, even though the reader can see way to many holes in the set up to make this a "slam dunk" in any way shape or form.

Like - how did she get to Jack's place? Why was her missing handbag never questioned? The authors made a point that Colleen was brought into the house unconscious, so, how did that happen? Toxicology report? Bashed in the head? Smothered? And if the gun being buried in the front yard but yet the purse is missing, that should be throwing all sorts of questions into the air, but it didn't seem to. Yeah, I had issues with the so-called "set-up" and cops with hard-ons to bring down Jack.

Justine, Jack's other former girlfriend, and Private's psychologist, is furious with Jack for having a tryst with Colleen prior to her murder. She's now job hunting and takes on one final case: Danny, a young actor, is accused of raping several younger women, in addition to kidnapping and murdering his 16 year old co-star Piper.  But Danny swears he hasn't done anything he's been accused of and says he's being set up.

Private is also investigating the seemingly random murders in a hotel chain as owned by Jinx. Jack wants to bed Jinx, but he still harbors feelings for Jackie, and he's still torn up about Colleen. Oh, poor Jack.

Meanwhile, the rest of Private's top investigators are tiptoeing around mob involvement - Jack was hired by the mob to find a van full of pharmaceuticals that was stolen off the highway and the delivery guys murdered in the desert. Jack's crew has found the van, but now they need to figure out what to do about it. Jack wants nothing to do with the mob, but he's stuck. Personally, I thought the answer would be, do the job, don't accept payment.

My biggest complaint with the book is Jack's continual whining about how he screwed up with Colleen, how he wishes Justine wasn't mad at him, how he can't open up the way Jackie wanted, but yet, he desperately needs Justine and oh! how she makes his heart stop every time he looks at her, but, gosh, Jinx is gorgeous and he wouldn't mind a toss in the sack... GACK!! Enough already!

So far these are fast and furious little books, even on audio. Six disks, which I can crunch though in about a week on my commute. The authors know how to do suspense, even though the reader can pretty easily figure out what's going to happen, it's still a lot of on the edge of your seat reading.

Overall, these are fast, suspenseful, entertaining and pure brain candy. Great for commutes, traveling or as beach reads.

View all my reviews

Monday, March 21, 2016

Recipe Review from 3/14/2016

Have I mentioned how weird the weather is in Duluth?  Not lately?   One weekend ago we were enjoying 60* temperatures.  I was walking the dogs on the Lakewalk in a long sleeve shirt, the snow had all but melted in the larger snowbanks.

This weekend I was shoveling Wednesday's snow storm residuals - 6-8" of what had been heavy, wet snow.  Luckily by Saturday below freezing temps did their magic and it was just frozen snow.   And that all depended on where you were in Duluth - downtown it rained all day long and they had to close the tunnels due to flooding.  My house - 10" of snow.

Weird, weird weather.

3.16.2016  Duluth, MN Flooded Tunnel.  photo from the internet.

The Meal Plan
Sun (L) Sausage Pasta Skillet   (S)  Pork Roast and veggies
Mon (yoga)  leftover roast pork
Tues (yoga/Block)  leftover pasta
Wed - Garlic Brown Sugar Chicken with Rice
Thurs (yoga) Pizza
Fri (yoga/Block)  leftovers
Sat (Block)  ??            (S) 

Lunches - Husband = sandwiches, chips, yogurt, luna bars, fruit
                 Me - Green Lentil soup, yogurt, luna bars, fruit, the usual...

Green-Lentil Soup with Coconut Milk and Indian Spices (A Beautiful Plate via Pinterest)  gluten free, vegetarian option**
This comes together very quickly.  I found the French green lentils in the bulk bins at the co-op .  I thought I had bought what I needed, but I ended up with about a cup extra.  Oh well, I can get creative and find another recipe!   I did not use ghee or clarified butter.  I used what I had on hand, which I think was salted.    No substitutions in this one, though I was thinking some diced carrots would have been a very pretty and tasty addition.  Recommended.

photo from A Beautiful Plate Blog
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 and 1/2 quarts (6 cups) low-sodium chicken (or vegetable**) broth
1 and 1/2 cups Lentilles de Puy (French green lentils), rinsed and picked over
2 tablespoons ghee, clarified, or unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
pinch of ground nutmeg
fresh black pepper
1 cup full-fat canned coconut milk

  1. Heat the unsalted butter in a large soup pot. Add the diced onion and garlic, and saute over medium-high heat for 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are very soft and translucent. They will reduce in volume significantly.
  2. Add the fresh thyme and turmeric, and continue to saute for an additional 7-8 minutes, until the mixture is very soft and fragrant.
  3. Add the stock and the lentils and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender (yet still hold their shape).
  4. In a small saucepan, heat the ghee (or clarified butter or unsalted butter) over low heat. Add the spices and fresh black pepper, and saute, stirring constantly for 2 minutes or so, until the butter is fragrant. Watch the pan carefully, as it can easily go from fragrant to burned quite quickly.
  5. Add the butter-spice mixture to the soil. Pour in the coconut milk, and heat soup over medium heat for 15 minutes. Season soup with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.
Author notes: Leftover soup can be stored in a container and kept in the fridge, and reheated before serving, for up to 3 to 4 additional days.

Author notes: Barely adapted from Once Upon a Tart by Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau

Creamy Sausage and Spinach Pasta Skillet  (The Comfort of Cooking Blog via Pinterest)
This is pretty much a 30 minute skillet dish, especially if you have everything set out and ready to go, as in, shred the cheese ahead of time. 

This was also a "pantry reduction" dish; I had some leftover chicken andoullie sausage in the freezer and half a bag of egg noodles.  Worked perfectly.  This would also be good with crumbled Italian sausage.   Another dish where I didn't substitute anything.

I do recommend skipping the Monteray Jack cheese at the end, and just offer the dish with some fresh grated Parmesan, Asiago, or grated Italian blend.   And while I didn't notice any heat from the one jalapeno pepper, I know that is not always the case, so if there are sensitive taste buds or little taste buds just skip the jalapeno.  

Made enough for two meals for two of us.   Recommended.

Photo from Comfort of Cooking Blog
1 Tablespoon olive oil
6 oz. smoked sausage (turkey, beef or chicken), sliced 1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
8 oz. uncooked dry pasta  (I used egg noodles)
3 cups fresh baby spinach, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup (4 oz.) shredded Monterey jack
2 green onions, thinly sliced

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add sausage and sauté until nicely browned, 5-7 minutes. Drain off excess fat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add diced tomatoes, chicken broth and jalapeno. Stir to combine and dissolve any browned bits off the bottom of the skillet.

Stir in uncooked pasta and submerge under liquid. Cover and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the pasta is tender, stirring occasionally.

Stir in spinach, 1 cup at a time, until wilted. Maintain heat so that liquid will continue to simmer and thicken. Season with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle with shredded cheese, cover and let rest for a few minutes, or until cheese is melted. Sprinkle with green onions and serve hot.

Brown Sugar and Balsamic Glazed Pork  (Just a Pinch Recipes via Pinterest)
Oh my gosh!   SO good!  SO easy!

Now, I did complicate this a teeny tiny bit by roasting it rather than cooking in the slow cooker.  I had it in my head that this was an oven recipe, and when I realized the error of my ways. it was too late to do it in the crockpot.  Oven it was.  Where I promptly tried to overcook it.  Luckily I had a oven-proof temperature reader (which I forgot to turn on the "done" alarm") and was able to pull out the meat before it was a hockey puck.

If you don't have a crock pot, just Google your cut of  pork and "how to cook" and follow the directions. 

End result - don't. skip. the. glaze.   Fantastic.   Served with asparagus and a side salad.  Recommended.

1 (2) lb boneless pork tenderloin (or regular pork loin
1 tsp ground sage
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 c water

1/2 c brown sugar
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1/4 c balsamic vinegar
1/2 c water
2 Tbsp soy sauce

Combine sage, salt, pepper and garlic. Rub over roast. Place in slow cooker with 1/2 cup water. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. About 1 hour before roast is done, combine ingredients for glaze in small sauce pan. Heat and stir until mixture thickens. Brush roast with glaze 2 or 3 times during the last hour of cooking. Serve with remaining glaze on the side.

Garlic Brown Sugar Chicken Thighs  (Damn Delicious Blog via Pinterest)  gluten free
Super easy and very quick from start to table.  One notable substitution - I used boneless skinless chicken thighs rather than bone in-skin on.  I was also using freezer leftovers so I only had four thighs rather than a whole package to work with.  Which was okay.

This is tangy, sweet, with soft flavors of garlic.  I served this with a side of brown rice and zucchini.  Four thighs made enough for one meal.  Recommended!

8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs  I used 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts; about 1 lb
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper, to taste.
  3. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large oven-proof skillet over medium high heat. Add chicken, skin-side down, and sear both sides until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side; set aside.
  4. Melt remaining tablespoon butter in the skillet. Add garlic, and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat.
  5. Stir in brown sugar, honey, oregano, thyme and basil until well combined. Return chicken to the skillet.
  6. Place into oven and roast until completely cooked through, reaching an internal temperature of 175 degrees F, about 25-30 minutes.
  7. Serve chicken immediately, garnished with parsley, if desired.

Bucatini Puttanesca  (Ckng Lght, Mar 2016)  vegetarian option**
There is something to be said for one-pot dishes.   They offer a simplicity that is frequently overlooked in favor of more "involved" dishes, when in fact, these are just as satisfying and flavorful. The magazine did out it as a "24 minute" recipe, but this was closer to 40 minutes from start to table.  It takes nearly 15 minutes alone to halve three pints of cherry tomatoes!  
I strongly recommend prepping everything before turning on the stove.  Once the cooking starts, assembly goes very quickly.  I did have enough time while the pasta came to a boil to wash dishes. 
This dish was really good.    I loved the flavors in this - tangy olives and capers balanced by the sweet tomatoes.   Recommended!

This made enough for two meals for two, and one meal for one.

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
photo from
6 garlic cloves, minced
4 anchovy fillets** (skip, or substitute a splash of Worcestershire sauce)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
4 cups unsalted chicken stock
12 ounces bucatini or thick spaghetti (I used 16oz linguine)
3 pints multicolored cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons unsalted tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
24 pitted kalamata olives, chopped
3 tablespoons capers
1/8 teaspoon salt 

1. Heat a large high-sided sauté pan over medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add garlic, anchovies, oregano, and red pepper; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly to break up anchovies. Add stock and pasta to pan; bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes and tomato paste. Cook 2 to 3 minutes or until pasta is done. Remove pan from heat; add remaining ingredients, tossing to combine.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly (McEvoy #2)

The Scarecrow (Jack McEvoy, #2)The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  For Jack McEvoy, the killer named The Poet was the last word in evil.  Think again, Jack.

Jack McEvoy is at the end of the line as a crime reporter. Forced to take a buy-out from the Los Angeles Times as the newspaper grapples with dwindling revenues, he's got only a few days left on the job. His last assignment? Training his replacement, a low-cost reporter just out of journalism school. But Jack has other plans for his exit. He is going to go out with a bang — a final story that will win the newspaper journalism's highest honor — a Pulitzer prize.

Jack focuses on Alonzo Winslow, a 16-year-old drug dealer from the projects who has confessed to police that he brutally raped and strangled one of his crack clients. Jack convinces Alonzo's mother to cooperate with his investigation into the possibility of her son's innocence. But she has fallen for the oldest reporter's trick in the book. Jack's real intention is to use his access to report and write a story that explains how societal dysfunction and neglect created a 16-year-old killer.

But as Jack delves into the story he soon realizes that Alonzo's so-called confession is bogus, and Jack is soon off and running on the biggest story he's had since The Poet crossed his path years before. He reunites with FBI Agent Rachel Walling to go after a killer who has worked completely below police and FBI radar—and with perfect knowledge of any move against him.

What Jack doesn't know is that his investigation has inadvertently set off a digital tripwire. The killer knows Jack is coming—and he's ready

Read as an audio book.

This is a loose follow up to Jack McEvoy's role in The Poet, which I reviewed earlier here: The Poet. 

The Scarecrow takes place some 8 to 10 years later. Jack has just received word that he's being laid off from the Los Angeles Times, and oh, by the way, he has to train his replacement, Angela. In less than a week, everything goes dreadfully wrong, Angela is dead, and Jack calls FBI agent Rachel Walling in to help. It gets worse from there when Jack and Rachel uncover a very sly and devious murder.

I don't know if it was my mood, or the book, or a combination of both, but I grew impatient with the plot. I've mentioned in the past that I'm not a fan of knowing what the antagonist is doing, and after a while, I just started skipping over any bits written from the antagonists point of view. Most of those were only about 5 or10 minutes in length and relatively short compared to Jack's chapters. I noticed when I started skipping those chapters, I never felt like I was missing anything and I wasn't left confused about what was happening next. Not a good sign when I could skip a chapter - even a small one - and still stay on top of the plot.

I did like the Jack and Rachel connection. It still fell under the "guy beds the girl trope", but this time it felt more natural because Jack and Rachel had a past history that brought them to this point in time. So, the relationship in this worked.

Overall, a decent mystery that would have perhaps been better if we could have seen less of the antagonist and Jack thinking a bit more before he when running off to save the day.

Recommended if you've read the Poet.

View all my reviews

Monday, March 14, 2016

Recipe Review from 3/7/2016

Spring is coming! Spring is coming!  And it's been wonderful!  Snow is melting gradually so the yard isn't quite a mooky mess.  Still had to pull out the paw-dip bucket to clean off muddy paws, but overall it hasn't been overly sloppy.  Though, Andy-dog might disagree since he hates having his paws washed. 

And Lil' Bernadette has decided the mulch on the outside of the chicken run is much more to her liking than the mulch on the inside of the run.  She has taken to "flying the coop" and spending the day bustling around in the oak leaves and detris that surround our chicken run.  She hasn't quite figured out that she can get back in the same way, however. 

The Meal Plan:
Sun (L) leftover pasta    (S) Pork chops with  Brussels sprouts and apples
Mon (yoga)  leftover chops
Tues (Virginia/Vet appt)  Hawaiian fried rice
Wed- leftover rice
Thurs (yoga) - leftover rice
Fri (Block)
leftover soup
Sat (L) out   (S) Leftover soup

Lunches - Creamy slow cooked chicken wild rice soup, cornbread muffins, fruit, yogurt, Luna bars

Slow Cooked Creamy Chicken Wild Rice Soup  (Rachel Cooks blog via Pinterest)  gluten free
My kind of recipe - chop, plop, walk away.   My kind of recipe - lots of carrots and celery.  Check it out!  TWO cups of each.  Love it!

Two substitution's: one was turkey tenderloins for the chicken thighs.  Co-op didn't have any thighs this week and the chicken breasts were nearly double in price what the turkey tenderloins were.  No brainer. Went with the turkey.

Much to my great surprise, this cooks up into a nice thick - perhaps too thick - soup, which I'm going to attribute to my use of instant brown rice.  Now, I like a thick soup, so not a biggie.  I will also note, this turned out very bland, so much so the husband commented on it.  This needed salt at serving time.   Otherwise, a very hearty and warming soup for late winter and early spring.  
photo from Rachel Cooks blog
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked wild and brown rice blend (I used 2/3c instant brown rice and 2/3c wild rice)
  • 1 package Just BARE Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs (about 1.5 pounds)
  • 1 large onion, diced (a heaping cup)
  • 2 cups chopped celery
  • 2 cups chopped carrots
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups no-salt added chicken stock
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • milk or water as necessary to thin soup
  1. Combine all ingredients except cream in a large slow cooker.
  2. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. Remove bay leaves and discard.  Remove chicken thighs, shred and return to slow cooker.
  3. In a medium bowl, place 1/2 cup heavy cream. Slowly whisk 1-2 cups of hot soup into cream. Then, slowly pour that mixture back into the slow cooker while whisking.
  4. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed before serving.

Pork Chops with Sauteed apples and Brussels Sprouts  (Ckng Lght, Mar 2016)  gluten free
Easy!!  Soo easy!  Except I slightly burnt the Brussels sprouts.  I will fully admit, I do not get along with my broiler.  I also think the sprouts could be cooked in the pan just before the apples are added to make this a one-pot dish.   Other than that, easy to assemble, good flavor, fast to get to the table. 

12oz Brussels sprouts, halved
Photo from Scifi with Paprika Blog
2 tbsp canola oil, divided
5/8 tsp kosher salt, divided
4 (4oz) boneless center-cut pork chops
2 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
12 oz sliced Honeycrisp apple (1 large apple)
1/3 cup unsalted chicken stock
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
3 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp chopped fresh-flat-leaf parsley

1) preheat broiler to high. Set oven rack on the middle shelf.  (I did high, middle rack, and I still managed to lightly burn my sprouts)

2) Combine sprouts, 1 tbsp oil, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper in a bowl and toss to coat.  Arrange sprouts in a single layer on a jelly-roll pan coated in cooking spray (I line with aluminum foil first, then spray)  Broil 12 minutes, stirring every three minutes.

3) Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add remaining 1 tbsp oil; swirl to coat.  Sprinkle pork with 1/4 tsp salt and remaining 1/4 tsp pepper.  Add to panCook remaining 3 minutes.  Turn; cook 2 minute or until done.  Transfer pork to a plate.

4)  Add 1 tbsp butter and apple to pan; saute 2 minutes.  Add stock and nutmeg; bring mixture to a boil.  Stir in remaining 1/8 tsp salt, remaining 1 tbsp butter, syrup, Dijon mustard, and parsley; cook 1 minute.  Divide chops among four plates; top evenly with apple mixture.  Serve with sprouts.

Hawaiian Fried Rice  (The Recipe Critic via Pinterest)  gluten free**   vegetarian option
The recipe author notes on her blog how incredibly easy this super tasty dish is to pull together, and she's not kidding.   This is great for leftover ham because it doesn't come across as a Oh gosh, another day of ham! type dish.

I used two bags (small size) of Uncle Ben's instant white rice.  Brown would also work fine, but I felt like white rice tonight.  As the rice cooks, I prepped the veggies and drained the pineapple.   Use your 14" skillet for this!  Then it was assemble as directed! 

A side note - rice made the day before is usually best for "fried rice" recipes.  In a pinch (like for tonight's meal), I allowed the rice packets to drain, then I spread the rice out on a floursack towel and let cool.  The towel absorbs some of the excess moisture, and spreading it out even briefly allows the steam to release.  You'll get a better fried rice dish by doing that.  

I really liked this dish, and I can see having this as a back-up meal for hectic weeks. I usually don't have ham on hand, but I could see this made with Spam (don't groan!  It's pretty tasty and would be perfect in this dish!)   Not a meat eater - substitute baked tofu for the ham, or skip completely and add additional veggies. 


30 minutes start to table
photo from The Recipe Critic
Serves: 6-8
  • 1½ cups- 2 cups chopped ham (or skip and add more veggies)
  • 1 small white onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 cups cooked rice
  • 1 cup pineapple tidbits (drained!)
  • 1 Tbs sesame oil
  • 2-3 Tablespoons soy sauce (more or less to taste)**  watch for gluten!
  • 2 Tbsp chopped green onions (optional)
  1. Preheat a large skillet or wok to medium heat. Pour vegetable oil in the bottom. Add chopped ham, white onion, and red bell pepper and fry until tender.
  2. Slide the ham onion, and red bell pepper to the side, and pour the beaten eggs onto the other side. Using a spatula, scramble the eggs. Once cooked, mix the eggs with the vegetable mix.
  3. Add the rice and pineapple to the veggie, ham and egg mixture. Pour the soy sauce and sesame oil on top. Stir and fry the rice and veggie mixture until heated through and combined. Add chopped green onions if desired.

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