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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Dark Intelligence by Neal Asher (Transformation #1)

Dark Intelligence (Transformation, #1)Dark Intelligence by Neal Asher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: One man will transcend death to seek vengeance. One woman will transform herself to gain power. And no one will emerge unscathed....

Thorvald Spear wakes in a hospital to find he's been brought back from the dead. What's more, he died in a human vs. alien war that ended a century ago. Spear had been trapped on a world surrounded by hostile Prador forces, but Penny Royal, the AI inside the rescue ship sent to provide backup, turned rogue, annihilating friendly forces in a frenzy of destruction and killing Spear. One hundred years later the AI is still on the loose, and Spear vows for revenge at any cost.

Isobel Satomi ran a successful crime syndicate, but after competitors attacked she needed power and protection. Negotiating with Penny Royal, she got more than she bargained for: Turning part-AI herself gave Isobel frightening power, but the upgrades hid a horrifying secret, and the dark AI triggered a transformation that has been turning her into something far from human….

Spear hires Isobel to track Penny Royal across worlds to its last known whereabouts. But he cheats her in the process and quickly finds himself in her crosshairs. As Isobel continues to evolve into a monstrous predator, it's clear her rage will eventually win out over reason. Will Spear finish his hunt before he himself becomes the hunted?

Dark Intelligence is the explosive first novel in a brand new trilogy from military SF master Neal Asher and a new chapter in his epic Polity universe.

Read for April book group.

Space crabs. Rouge AI's. Out of work assassin drones. Human's being transformed into hooders. Crabs being transformed into humans. War drones turned Planetary Warden's. A human who may not necessarily be who he thinks he is. Scifi doesn't get much better than this. Seriously good reading.

The main plot is that of revenge and retribution.

The subplots add the complexity. Thorvold Spear, resurrected after 100 years is bent on revenging Penny Royal for destroying an entire planet he was on during the Prador War. Isobel Santomi, merchant of cored humans and thralls for the Prador, made a deal with Penny Royal to be even more than what she is - she wanted to be a predator. Sverl, Prador, asked a similar request of Penny Royal and now finds himself protecting that which he thought he loathed. Penny Royal's purpose is woven through all three, and has its own justifications for what is going to happen.

This was just...brilliant. Asher's books start out methodical, with carefully laid plot work, then BAM! You can't put the book down and you don't know where or when exactly that happened.

Scifi doesn't get much better than this. Seriously good reading. So why are you reading this review?! Go read the book!

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Recipe Review from 4/18/2016

Not much in the way of news from last week.   It was nice outside, then not nice.  Bit of yard work.  Bit of house work.  Chickens continue to do chicken things.  By this time next week I should have a baby chick update.

Until then, the Meal Plan:

Sun (L) Leftovers  (S)  Shrimp LoMein
Mon (Yoga/Block)  leftover lomein
Tues (Yoga)  Pea, Bacon and bowtie pasta
Wed - Hawaiian Fried Rice
Thurs (Yoga/St. Cloud)  leftovers
Friday - leftovers
Sat (L) leftovers

Lunches - Husband = sandwiches
                Me = butternut squash soup with apple/pecan relish

Butternut Squash Soup with Apple Pecan Relish (Source unknown...)  vegetarian, gluten free
This was the winning soup at our "SOUP"-er Bowl cook-off back in February.  

This is a loosey goosey kind of soup recipe.  You can make your own chicken stock, or used store bought.  You can make this on the stove top or in the slow cooker.  I opted for the slow cooker so I could get outside and work in the yard.  To say this can be very hands off would be an understatement.

DON'T skip the relish!   This is what really pulls everything together.  Do use a tart sweet apple.

Also noted - this would be better when all the ingredients are in season.  There was a definite difference between my soup flavor and the original, and I'll chalk that up to older squash.   Ditto for the apple.

Apple-Pecan Relish:
·         Equal parts toasted, crushed pecans and chopped apples with peels left on
·         Cinnamon and lightly salted to taste
·         Pure maple syrup to taste

Butternut Squash Soup:
·         Sauté about 2-3 tablespoons butter and 1 medium onion in pot
·         Cube a medium 2-3 pound butternut squash and add to pot
·         4-5 cups chicken broth or stock 
·         1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
·         ¼ teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
·         1 teaspoon salt
·         ½ teaspoon crushed black pepper

Sauté about 2-3 tablespoons butter and 1 medium onion in pot 

Bring all soup ingredients to boil, then simmer for 20-30 minutes or until all the squash is soft enough to blend.   Combine all ingredients except relish and cream cheese in a slow cooker.  Cook on low 6-8 hours or high 4 hours, or until squash is soft enough to blend.  

Then add 1 8oz package of cream cheese. Let it melt in the soup then either use a blender or immersion blender to make into creamy consistency. 

You can also add some maple syrup to the soup at this time.

Ready to serve, just spoon the relish on top.

Shrimp Lo Mein  (Ckng Lght, May 2016)  gluten free option
This comes together very quickly, so make sure you have everything mise en place.

Overall, tasty, fresh, and a bit on the bland side.  I did serve with siracha sauce for a little added heat.   You could also add some red pepper flakes for some background zing!.   Or, conversely, omit if serving to little or sensitive tastebuds. 

1/2 lb multi-grain spaghetti
1 1/2 cup unsalted chicken stock
photo from
2 tbsp plus 2 tsp lower-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp dark sesame oil
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 black pepper
2 tsp canola oil
2 cups small broccoli florets
3/4 cup thinly sliced carrot
3/4 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper
1 lb peeled and deveined extra-large shrimp
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp grated peeled fresh ginger
1 tbsp rice vinegar

1) Cook pasta according to package directions; omitting salt and fat, and removing from heat 2 minutes earlier than recommended for al dente texture.  Drain.

2) Combine chicken stock, soy sauce, cornstarch, sesame oil, sugar, and black pepper, stirring well.

3) Heat a large skillet or wok over high heat.  Add canola oil to pan; swirl to coat.  Add broccoli, carrot and red bell pepper, saute 5 minutes or until veggies soften.   Add 1/4 cup stock mixture; saute 2 minutes.  Add shrimp, garlic, ginger, and 1/4 cup stock mixture; saute 3 minutes or until shrimp are about done.

4)  Add pasta and remaining stock mixture.  Cook over medium heat 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat, stir in vinegar.

Mini Bow Ties with Bacon and Peas  (Ckng Lght, May 2016)  gluten free option
Another fairly fast turnover between prep and table.  I did have a couple alterations to simplify and well, flavor boost.

1) Seriously?  Three slices for a dish that serves four?  Not enough bacon.  I up'd the bacon to 6 slices for a more flavorful dish.  Do drain out the extra bacon fat though, reserving about a tablespooon to cook the onion in. 

2)  Buy an onion and chop it yourself.  Cheaper, fresher, less bacteria.

3)  This was a no-brainer and I'm surprised Ckng Lght didn't do it, especially since they advocate for pre-chopped onion.  Skip chopping your own carrot and buy a package of frozen peas and carrots.  Use two cups instead of just one for peas.   You won't regret this. 

8 ounces uncooked mini farfalle (bow tie pasta)
3 center-cut bacon slices, chopped (I used 6 slices of thick cut)
photo from
1/2 cup prechopped onion
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 cup unsalted chicken stock
2 cups frozen green peas and carrot mix
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (I used 1 tsp dried)
5/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 ounces 1/3-less-fat cream cheese

1. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain pasta, reserving 1/4 cup cooking liquid; set aside.

2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add bacon; cook 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon.  [Remove all but 1 tbsp of bacon fat]. 

3. Add onion and carrot to drippings in pan; cook 5 minutes. [Add dried thyme here if using.] Add stock; bring to a boil. Add peas [and carrots]; cook 2 minutes.

4. Remove pan from heat; stir in reserved 1/4 cup cooking liquid, bacon, thyme, salt, pepper, and cream cheese. Add pasta to pan; toss to coat. Serve immediately.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Private: Games by James Patterson and

Private Games (Private, #4)Private Games by James Patterson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  Private, the world's most renowned investigation firm, has been commissioned to provide security for the 2012 Olympic games in London. Its agents are the smartest, fastest, and most technologically advanced in the world, and 400 of them have been transferred to London to protect over 10,000 competitors who represent more than 200 countries.

The opening ceremony is still hours away when Private investigator and single father of twins, Nigel Steele, is called to the scene of a ruthless murder. A high-ranking member of the games' organizing committee and his mistress have been killed. It's clear that it wasn't a crime of passion, but one of precise calculation and execution.

Newspaper reporter Karen Pope receives a letter from a person who calls himself Cronus, claiming responsibility for the murders. He also proclaims that he will restore the Olympics to their ancient glory and will destroy all who have corrupted the games with lies, cheating, and greed. Karen immediately hires Private to examine the letter, and she and Nigel uncover a criminal genius who won't stop until he's ended the games for good.

Read as an audiobook.

Private: Games revolves around Peter Knight, now head of Private: London and the start of the London Olympic Games. Peter is still reeling from the loss of three Private: London's personnel in a tragic plane crash, when the killer known as Chronos starts to methodically target members of the Olympic committee and the athletes themselves. First down is Peter's Mother's fiance, followed by two attacks on other committee members, an athlete during opening games, and more follow. On top of all the pressure to find his mother's fiance's murder and the security of the games, Peter's nanny quits. As the body count and pressure rise, things become rather interesting.

Mixed thoughts on this selection. I have noted before I'm not a fan of knowing the movement, actions, and thoughts of the antagonist. This book was no exception and after the opening chapter I found myself skipping over most chapters with the killer. Was I missing anything? A bit, yes, but nothing I couldn't figure out which makes me happier anyway. I did catch a few chapters from the point of view of Chronos's Furies, which I liked better than Chronos.

Point of contention: Peter's kids are reported to be three years old. They did not necessarily behave like three year olds, which always bugs me with kids in books. Personally, I think writing about kids would be extremely difficult, because the years and behaviors rather meld together in sleep-deprived nostalgia about the wee ones. Unfortunately, this manifests itself in books with kids behaving out of age and thus out of character.

What I do like about the Private series so far is the intense punch these books pack into a rather small space of time. The authors heap (mostly) believable calamity upon calamity on the protagonists and through this trial by fire the hero has to either rise, or be consumed. How the authors pull together all the plot threads is what really intrigues me and what I enjoy the most.

Note, I say I had mixed thoughts on this one - I liked the action. I didn't like knowing Chronos's thoughts and actions. I liked the idea of Chronos and the Furies. I didn't like the kids. I liked the Olympic setting. I didn't like the loose ends floating around.

The big one: I didn't like the ending. Cheesiest ending ever - seriously, I was laughing out loud and that's not a good thing. Without giving any spoilers, possibly the corniest climatic confrontation I have ever read in addition to feeling rushed. It was as if the authors needed to keep the book under a certain word count, had 1000 words to wrap things up, and didn't want to cut something from the body of the book.

Overall, aspects of this were engaging, parts were skip worthy, and the ending fell flat. Recommended with reservations.

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Monday, April 18, 2016

Recipe Review from 4/11/2016

Spring has sprung, complete with crocus's blooming, a bit of yard clean-up, a bit of container gardening, and a bit of big-garden clean-up.   Not bad for mid-April in Duluth. 

I'm trying something new-to-me this year with growing my herbs on the porch.  Years past I've planted my herbs in the garden, 'cause that's what you do, right?  Except, when I'm making dinner and I realize I need parsley/oregano/marjoram/that herb and now I need to run out to the garden or send the husband and it becomes A Big Deal.  Plus, my herbs will double as my porch greenery and I don't have to go buy flowers.  Win-win!


I'm also giving homemade kombucha a try.  A co-worker gave me a SCOBY  (symbiotic 'colony' of bacteria and yeast) with a starter liquid so all I had to do was make the sweet tea.  So I did.  First tasting should be ready next Sunday. 

And I made a couple new dishes:

Sun (L)  Turkey Qunioa Taco Skillet  via pinterest (S)  Roast chicken and mashed potatoes (or pork?)
Mon (yoga)  leftovers
Tues (Block) leftovers
Wed (Park Rapids all day) leftovers
Thurs (yoga)   take n bake pizza
Fri (Block/Rocket) leftovers
Sat (Block)(L) Leftover soup   (S) Tortellini soup pkg

Lunches (Husband) sandwiches
               (Me) Slow cooked Taco Chili 

Slow Cooked Black Bean Taco Chili (Baked by Rachel via Pinterest)  gluten free
The photo grabbed my attention on this recipe, and once I saw this was basically chop and plop  assembly, it was on the meal plan.

Just a couple of alterations - I used turkey tenderloins, frozen corn instead of canned (and more of it), and fire roasted tomatoes instead of just plain diced. 

This is not a thick chili, but comes out more like a soup. 

  • 1 1/2lb chicken breast, trimmed of fat  (I used turkey tenderloins)
  • 15oz corn, drained  (I used 12oz frozen)
  • 15oz black beans, drained and rinsed well
    photo from
  • 15oz petite diced tomatoes, drained  (I used 14.5 oz fire roasted)
  • 1C yellow onion, chopped
  • 1C green red bell pepper
  • 1 jalapeño, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/8 - 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, optional
  • 1 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 1/2 - 3C chicken broth
  • Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
  • Tortilla chips
  • Sour cream
  1. To the bowl of a 5-6 quart slow cooker, add raw chicken breasts, beans, vegetables, spices and chicken broth. Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8. Remove chicken breasts to shred, then return to slow cooker.
  2. Serve with shredded cheese, tortilla chips and optional sour cream.

Turkey Taco Quinoa Skillet (Spoonful of Flavor via Pinterest)  gluten free
This comes together very quickly, with time to wash cans, dishes, and counter tops while the dish simmers.  I had one small substitution - I had some leftover and frozen mild breakfast sausage so I used that instead of buying ground turkey.

This was delicious!   I served it over some spinach, but it could be served in soft or hard shell tacos, over lettuce of choice, or on it's own.  I think this will make enough for about three meals, or close to it.  

Photo from Spoonful of Flavor blog.
  • 1/2 pound lean ground turkey (I used leftover mild italian sausage)
  • 1/2 of a yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 ounce can diced green chiles
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 15 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 14.5 ounce can diced fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn
  • 1/4 cup jarred salsa
  • 1/2 cup rinsed quinoa
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • Cilantro for garnish (optional)
  1. Spray a large skillet generously with cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat.
  2. When the skillet is hot add in the diced onion and cook for about 2 minutes until it starts to soften.
  3. Add in the ground turkey and minced garlic and cook until the meat is almost cooked through, breaking it up into crumbles with a spoon as it cooks.
  4. Stir in all the spices and the diced green chiles, cooking for another minute.
  5. Add in the black beans, corn, fire roasted tomatoes, salsa and quinoa, stirring until everything is combined.
  6. When the mixture starts to bubble add in the water, cover the skillet with a lid and lower the heat to medium-low.
  7. Simmer for about 20-25 minutes or until the quinoa is cooked, it should still have a slight bite to it, but not be hard and crunchy.
  8. Sprinkle the shredded cheese on top and cover with the lid cooking until the cheese is melted.
  9. Serve as is, in tortillas for tacos, or on top of your favorite greens.

    Thursday, April 14, 2016

    Six Years by Harlan Coben

    Six YearsSix Years by Harlan Coben

    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    Jacket Blurb:  Harlan Coben, the master of domestic suspense, returns with a standalone thriller in the vein of #1 bestsellers Hold Tight, Caught and Stay Close that explores the depth and passion of a lost love . . . and the secrets and lies at its heart. Six years have passed since Jake Fisher watched Natalie, the love of his life, marry another man. Six years of hiding a broken heart by throwing himself into his career as a college professor. Six years of keeping his promise to leave Natalie alone, and six years of tortured dreams of her life with her new husband, Todd. But six years haven’t come close to extinguishing his feelings, and when Jake comes across Todd’s obituary, he can’t keep himself away from the funeral. There he gets the glimpse of Todd’s wife he’s hoping for . . . but she is not Natalie. Whoever the mourning widow is, she’s been married to Todd for more than a decade, and with that fact everything Jake thought he knew about the best time of his life—a time he has never gotten over—is turned completely inside out. As Jake searches for the truth, his picture-perfect memories of Natalie begin to unravel. Mutual friends of the couple either can’t be found or don’t remember Jake. No one has seen Natalie in years. Jake’s search for the woman who broke his heart—and who lied to him—soon puts his very life at risk as it dawns on him that the man he has become may be based on carefully constructed fiction. Harlan Coben once again delivers a shocking page-turner that deftly explores the power of past love and the secrets and lies that such love can hide.

    Read as an audio book.

    Premise of the book is after a whirlwind summer romance Jake's True Love married another, and after six years Jake still desperately loves Natalie. The tender glowing embers Jake carries in his shattered heart are ignited upon seeing the obituary for Natalie's husband, Todd. An impulse takes him to South Carolina to...what he doesn't know, but he has to go. Where he learns that the bereaved woman and children are neither Natalie, nor belong to Natalie.

    This revelation pulls Jake into a whirlwind of mistaken purposes. Nobody Jake talks to a) believes Jake doesn't know where Natalie is and b) believe Jake's only purpose for looking for Natalie is simply out of love. Everyone suspects our professor has ulterior and sinister motives.

    And, just in case the reader doesn't understand the depths to which Jake loves Natalie, Jake will tell you again, and again, and...yet again.

    Six Years contains a plethora of incredibly stupid people. Starting with Jake and the big question - why didn't Jake look up the marriage certificate for Natalie and Todd first thing? Church documents are moot. Government documents are not and they are documents of public record.

    The threatening cops. So Jake is standing on the side of the road looking at the former access to Recharge Retreat. If the cops had done nothing, or just stopped to ask if they could help Jake, was he lost, so on and so forth, no red flags would have been raised. But nooo, cops bluster and threaten and tell obvious lies and raise Jake's suspicions.

    Then we get to Bob and Otto. Before abducting anyone, didn't these people do their research? Jake is doing research. But the bad guys don't? They just show up and torture and murder for the heck of it? Of course they do. They are the bad guys.

    Jed, Cookie, and etal at the Retreat in Vermont. Let's threaten to kill the one guy who might have an answer and again, not bother with research. Apparently nobody believes in having a civilized conversation. The few conversations seemed to consist of: "I don't know", "I don't understand", "I don't believe you" and "Leave it alone".

    So for suspense, this was decent if you can get beyond the ever present pining for Natalie, their summer of love, and lots of repeated dialog. It had several eye-rolling moments of disbelief, some interesting plot twists, and a web of intrigue that was borderline plausible. Ultimately, recommended with some slight reservations.

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    Monday, April 11, 2016

    Recipe Review from 4/4/2016

    Not much to say about this week.  It snowed.  It melted.  It snowed and melted again.  Sun came out and it decided to get cold (9*F/-13*C).  Then it warmed up and the winds came. 

    One of the Husband's chickens (a Priya) has gone broody.  He decided to just go with this and is going to see if she can hatch four eggs.  If this is unsuccessful, our 2016 chicken order arrives about the time the eggs "should" hatch, and he can give her a couple chicks from there to raise.

    And I made a few new dishes...

    The Meal Plan
    Sun (L) leftovers    (S) Slow cooked brown sugar ham
    Mon (yoga) Leftovers
    Tues (Block)   Out
    Wed - Veggie Burrito Bowl
    Thurs (Yoga/Cities) leftovers
    Fri (Block) leftovers
    Sat (L) Out   (S) Salmon Noodle Bowl

    Lunches - Slow cooked potato soup, fruit veggies,

    Slow cooked brown sugar ham  (from The Magical Slow cooker via Pinterest)
    A while back we purchased a quarter of a locally raised heritage pig.    I wanted something super simple for the ham, and found this recipe.  This recipe was most excellent!   Ham came out fall apart tender, I pulled out the liquid, brought it to a boil on the stove, then added a tablespoon of cornstarch to thicken.  The sweet/smokey flavors worked so well together.   I served with a side of Broccoli Apple Cranberry salad that I reviewed in the previous week.   Recommended!

    5-7 lb. picnic pork shoulder ham (this ham will say ready to eat)  (Mine was 4lbs, bone-in)
    ⅛ cup or so of mustard (just eye-ball it)
    ½ cup brown sugar
    1 (20-oz.) can crushed pineapple - DO NOT DRAIN
    1. Add the ham in to the slow cooker, I put the part that looks sliced down. Squirt over the mustard. Pat over the brown sugar. Now pour over the pineapple, letting the jucies fall down the sides, spread the crushed pineapple over the brown sugar.
    2. Cover and cook on LOW for 6 hours. Don't open the lid while it cooks, so heat doesn't escape.
    3. Using a carving fork, turn the ham around so the sliced side is on the side. Carve the ham, it's ok the let the ham drop down into the juices, they are SO good.
    4. Serve and enjoy.

    Slow Cooked Potato Soup (Gimme Some Oven via Pinterest)   vegetarian option*
    The directions below make this look much more complicated than it really is.   First part of the recipe - cook the potatoes.  Second part - make a very thick roux and combine with potatoes.  Add cheese/sour cream, heat through.  Done!

    I did skip the bacon because I don't care for soggy bacon in my dishes.   I did, however, saute the onion in a bit of bacon fat for some additional background flavor notes.  I didn't blend any of the potato mixture at the end, just served as-is.

    I really liked this dish.  I was contemplating some cauliflower would have been a very tasty addition.   This was my lunches for the week, with a side of veggies.   Recommended! 

    • 6 slices cooked bacon*, diced
      Photo from Gimme Some Oven
    • 3 cups good-quality chicken or vegetable stock
    • 2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes**, peeled (if desired) and diced
    • 1 medium white or yellow onion, peeled and diced
    • 4 tablespoons butter (or bacon grease)
    • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1 (12-ounce) can 2% evaporated milk
    • 1 cup shredded reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese
    • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt or sour cream
    • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt, or more to taste
    • 1/2 teaspoon freshly-cracked black pepper
    • optional toppings: thinly-sliced green onions or chives, extra shredded cheese, extra bacon, sour cream

    1. Add bacon, chicken stock, potatoes and onion to the bowl of a large slow cooker, and stir to combine.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours, or until the potatoes are completely tender and cooked through.
    2. Once the soup has slow cooked and is about ready to serve, cook the butter in a small saucepan on the stove over medium-high heat until it has melted.  Whisk in the flour until it is completely combined, and then cook for 1 minute, stirring occasionally.  Gradually add in the evaporated milk while whisking it together with the flour mixture, and continue whisking until the mixture is completely smooth.  Let the mixture continue cooking until it reaches a simmer, stirring occasionally, and then it should get really thick.
    3. Immediately pour the milk mixture into the slow cooker with the potatoes, and stir until combined.  Add in the cheddar cheese, Greek yogurt (or sour cream), salt and pepper, and stir until combined.  If you would like the soup to be even thicker, you can use a potato masher or a large spoon to mash about half of the potatoes (while the soup is still in the slow cooker) to thicken the soup up.  Stir to combine, then taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.
    4. Serve warm, garnished with desired toppings.  Or transfer to a sealed container and refrigerate for up to 3 days.  (This recipe will not freeze well.)
    Recipe Author (Gimme Some Oven) notes: 
    *You can either fry the bacon, cook it in the microwave, or buy pre-cooked bacon.  If frying or microwaving, I recommend dicing the bacon before cooking it.  And if you are frying it, I highly recommend saving the bacon grease for later and then using it to make your roux (instead of butter).
    **I highly recommend using Yukon gold potatoes, which have the perfect texture and buttery taste for this soup.  But Russet potatoes or red potatoes would also work just fine in this recipe.
    ***If you would like to make this recipe vegetarian, use vegetable stock, omit the bacon, and I would recommend adding in 2-3 teaspoons of Old Bay seasoning for extra flavor.

    Vegetarian Burrito Bowl  (  vegetarian, gluten free
    For such a simple and tasty dish, this took about 45 minutes from start to table, which surprised me.   Perhaps it was because of the chopping and grating - I don't buy pre-grated cheese because I don't like the potato starch they use to prevent clumping.

    I did one alteration, and that was to combine the corn with the beans and saute all together with the spices.

    End result? Fresh, flavorful, and easy, with a nice zing from the cumin and chili powder. Reminiscent of what I get at Chipolte minus the meat (and glop).    I did miss my corn chips (forgot to get some), but not necessary.  Great for lunch, supper, or pack for a picnic!  Recommended.

    2 tablespoons olive oil
    Photo from
    1 cup basmati rice (I used 2 bags of instant, which measured 1 cup)
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    2 15.5-oz. cans black beans, drained, rinsed
    1 teaspoon chili powder
    1 teaspoon cumin
    1 avocado, pitted, peeled, diced
    2 tablespoons lime juice
    1 1/2 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen, thawed if frozen
    1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, quartered
    Sour cream, shredded Cheddar, cilantro leaves, sliced radishes, chopped pickled jalapeños, and tortilla chips, optional

    1. Warm 1 Tbsp. oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add rice and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups water and 1/2 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.
    2. Warm remaining 1 Tbsp. oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in 1/2 cup water, beans, chili powder and cumin. Bring to a simmer and cook until most of liquid has evaporated, 5 to 7 minutes, stirring once or twice. Season lightly with salt.
    3. Combine avocados and lime juice in a medium bowl. Divide rice among 4 bowls. Top with bean mixture, corn, tomatoes and avocados. Serve with garnishes and chips on the side, if desired.

    Salmon Noodle Bowl (  vegetarian
    I have  been intrigued by one-pot and bowl meals lately.  In fact, the May issue of Cooking Light has an article on the healthy aspect bowl meals and about five corresponding recipes.  Many are assembled in one pot, many are not, but a layering of grains, veggies, sauce and a small portion of meat.  You'll be seeing some of these recipes over the coming months.

    This recipe came from a link my friend sent me on all superfast bowl dishes.  I actually had everything but asparagus!  This came together so quickly I didn't even have time to start dishes.   I did use buckwheat noodles (pantry reduction! yay!) and I subbed red pepper for the cucumber.  Not a fan of cucumber.

    This is supposed to be served at room temp or slightly cool.  Overall?  It was alright.  The lime dressing was a bit overpowering and that was cutting back even.  I would have liked a bit more sesame flavor, and should have sauted the fish in sesame oil as well.  If had had the ingredients on hand, I probably would make this again.
    photo from

    4 ounces soba buckwheat noodles or whole-wheat spaghetti
    5 ounces asparagus, cut in thirds
    Cooking spray
    1 (6-oz) salmon fillet, skin off, cut into 8 pieces
    1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
    Zest and juice of 1-2 limes (3 TBSP juice)
    1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
    1/4 teaspoon fresh pepper
    4 ounces cucumber, skin on, cut into medium pieces
    I used 1/4 of a red peppers, jullienned
    1/2 small avocado, cut into bite-size pieces 
    1. Cook the noodles in boiling water until soft (about 6 minutes for soba, 8 for spaghetti, my notes - cook according to package directions). Transfer with tongs to a strainer. Add asparagus to same boiling water. Cook until al dente (about 2 minutes); rinse under cold water.

    2. Heat a grill pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Coat lightly with cooking spray. Cook the salmon [and red pepper] until cooked through, turning pieces (about 2-3 minutes per side). Reserve.

    3. Make the vinaigrette: Whisk together sesame oil, lime zest and juice, and salt and pepper in a small bowl. Combine the noodles, asparagus, and vinaigrette in a medium serving bowl.

    4. Add the cucumber and avocado; toss to coat. Just before serving, add salmon. Serve warm or at room temperature, or make up to 4 hours ahead and keep refrigerated in an airtight container.

    Thursday, April 7, 2016

    The Drop by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #17)

    The Drop (Harry Bosch, #17)The Drop by Michael Connelly
    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    Jacket Blurb:  Harry Bosch has been given three years before he must retire from the LAPD, and he wants cases more fiercely than ever. In one morning, he gets two. DNA from a 1989 rape and murder matches a 29-year-old convicted rapist. Was he an eight-year-old killer or has something gone terribly wrong in the new Regional Crime Lab? The latter possibility could compromise all of the lab's DNA cases currently in court. Then Bosch and his partner are called to a death scene fraught with internal politics. Councilman Irvin Irving's son jumped or was pushed from a window at the Chateau Marmont. Irving, Bosch's longtime nemesis, has demanded that Harry handle the investigation. Relentlessly pursuing both cases, Bosch makes two chilling discoveries: a killer operating unknown in the city for as many as three decades, and a political conspiracy that goes back into the dark history of the police department.

    Read as an audio book. 3.5 stars

    I enjoyed this installment with some caveats. I suppose it was too much to hope for, what with Bosch having a new partner with 10 years of detective experience, that Bosch would be less of an ass. For myself, I think that is the biggest detraction, and thus a star deduction, with this series. And perhaps it's the narrators interpretation coming though - very often how a book is read can dictate the reception of the book.

    But, yes. I've commented on this in earlier Bosch books, how demeaning Bosch treats his partner(s), co-workers, the people he's calling for information, pretty much anyone he interacts with. Just because a person doesn't "have the same calling" or looks at the world differently, doesn't mean they are morally bankrupt or inexperienced.

    Okay, got that off my chest (again).

    As I noted, I did enjoy this book. I liked the duality of the mysteries, one current, one cold case. I liked the direction the suicide/murder investigation took, the realization that a person isn't always right, that things are not always what they seem. What I didn't care for was the assumption that Bosch has to always be right. Through the 17 books, we've seen him solve numerous mysteries. But the reader only hears through Bosch about the case(s) he doesn't solve, and from what I can recall, he then goes on to solve those cold cases too.

    The cold case mystery had an appreciative twist at the end. The ongoing discussion between Hannah and Bosch about being sympathetic to sexual predators, the question of evil being nature or nurtured, and two people working to right wrongs (and is one method better than the other?) thought provoking.

    I didn't like Bosch's attitude toward Kiz toward the end, when she noted that the Chief's office is what allows the boots on the ground and the detectives and forensics and basically the whole LAPD to do their job without interference from - or at least less interference from - political elements. Bosch scoffed at her suggestion of such a buffer, when it is a point of fact. And after nearly 30 years on the force, he should know that.

    Ultimately a very good dual mystery of one cold case with a great twist and one murder/suicide question. Recommended if you've been reading earlier installments. Not the best as a standalone.

    View all my reviews

    Monday, April 4, 2016

    Recipe Review from 3/28/2016

    A very uneventful week up here.  It snowed.  Snow melted.  It rained.  Snow melted some more.  It snowed again.  And it got cold.  Again.

    Husband and I got together with friend Tess to watch the final four tourney, and even that was uneventful with Villanova soundly beating  Oklahoma and Syracuse getting spanked by North Carolina.  Two blow out games. 

    Even meals were uneventful and leftovers or re-makes, with the exception of the broccoli salad:

    Sun (S)  pasty with gravy and salad
    Mon (yoga/bkgrp/Legion)  out or leftover zucchini soup
    Tues (Block) leftover zucchini soup
    Wed - leftover zucchini soup
    Thurs (yoga)  Salmon, rice and salad
    Fri (Block)  leftover zucchini soup  (...and it's finally gone!)
    Sat (L) hummus and veggies   (S)  FINAL FOUR!!   Take out fried chicken, broccoli salad, pie

    Lunches/Snacks - homemade hummus, veggies, pita bread, fruit, yogurt, luna bars

    Restaurant-Style Hummus  (modified from ATK)  gluten free, vegetarian   **sesame allergy
    I will do a shout out about the hummus recipe though.  I discovered this recipe in Cooks Illustrated by America's Test Kitchen years ago and fell in love with the simplicity and flavors, and I've been making it ever since.  It makes about a cup and a half, roughly. 

    A food processor is a must, unless you have a mega-blender.  

    I have used Krinos tahini and found it to be somewhat runny for my tastes, thus making my hummus a bit thin.  My preference is the fresh-ground tahini from my co-op, which is more paste-like.  You can also use more or less olive oil to adjust the consistency.   I love hummus sandwiches (soft artisinal white bread, hummus, provolone cheese, sprouts, tomato or red pepper - yum!), or as a veggie dip with pita wedges. 


    Combine and set aside:
    Photo from
    1/4 cup water
    3 tbsp lemon juice

    Combine and set aside:
    6 tbsp tahini**  (I found the 'homemade' from the co-op is the best for consistency)
    2 tbsp olive oil   (I use 1 tbsp if my tahini is runny, 2 tbsp or more if my tahini is very thick)

    Rinse and drain:
    15 oz can chickpeas

    Rest of ingredients:
    1 clove garlic
    1/4 tsp cumin
    1/4 tsp salt
    pinch cayanne

    Optional:  fresh cilantro or parsley leaves for garnish

    1) Prepare in order listed above.

    2) Put chickpeas, garlic, cumin, salt and cayanne in food processor.   Blend 15 seconds, stopping to scrape sides once.

    3) With food processor going, add water mixture to chickpeas and blend until mostly smooth, stopping and scraping sides once.

    4)  With food processor going, add tahini mix, blending until smooth, stopping and scraping sides once.

    5) Refrigerate couple hours or overnight to let flavors meld for best results.  Top with cilantro or parsley as desired. 

    Broccoli Apple Salad  (The Recipe Critic via Pinterest)  vegetarian, gluten free*
    I love variations on broccoli salads, and this one caught my eye.  Super easy to toss together, perfect for a potluck, picnic, or other gathering.   I did skip the red onion as I don't care for onion breath and raw onion disagrees with many peoples tummies (like the Husbands).  I also served the pecans along side so they wouldn't get mushy soft, not everyone likes pecans, and just in case of nut allergies.

    This also made enough to easily serve 8-10 people.   Lots of leftovers from my small gathering!

    photo from The Recipe Critic
    Serves: 4-6
    • 4 cups fresh broccoli florets, (about 2 medium heads)
    • ½ cup shredded carrots
    • ¼ cup diced red onion
    • 2 large apples, finely chopped (I used gala apples)
    • ½ cup pecans, coarsely chopped
    • ½ cup dried cranberries
    • Creamy dressing ingredients:
    • ½ cup lite mayonnaise*
    • ½ cup low fat Greek yogurt
    • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
    • 1 Tablespoon sugar
    • ¼ teaspoon salt
    • ⅛ teaspoon pepper
    1. In a large bowl combine broccoli, carrots, red onion, apples, pecans, and dried cranberries.
    2. To make the dressing: Whisk together mayonnaise, greek yogurt, lemon juice, sugar, salt and pepper.
    3. Add the dressing to the salad and toss to coat. Chill until ready to serve.

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