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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Private: Down Under by James Patterson (Private #7)

Private: Oz (Private #7)Private: Oz by James Patterson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: The world's most exclusive detective agency opens a new office - in Australia!
With the best detectives in the business, cutting edge technology and offices around the globe, there is no investigation company quite like Private. Now, at a glittering launch party overlooking the iconic Opera House, Private Sydney throws open its doors . . .

Craig Gisto and his newly formed team have barely raised their glasses, however, when a young Asian man, blood-soaked and bullet-ridden, staggers into the party, and what looks like a botched kidnapping turns out to be a whole lot more.

Within days the agency's caseload is full. But it is a horrific murder in the wealthy Eastern Suburbs and the desperate search for a motive that stretches the team to the limit. Stacy Friel, friend of the Deputy Commissioner of NSW Police, isn't the killer's first victim - and as the bodies mount up she's clearly not the last . . .

Read as an audio book.

The Private books are cookie cutter stories where the men are all handsome and have some kind of tragic past where they've lost a wife/child/girlfriend; and the women are all tall, with flat tummies, long legs, luscious hair and are all drop dead gorgeous; and the plots are repetitive.

Sensing a trend? Yup, I have.

Still, these make for a good commute book, vacation read, or just flat out brain candy where I can zone out for a while.

This installment has three parallel mysteries spooling out at the same time:
Craig, new head of Private: Sydney, is at the companies kick-off party when a bloodied and bound man staggers in and collapses, dead, in the middle of the soiree. The tortured man is actually the son of a respected Chinese businessman in Sydney, who hires Private to figure out who did this to his son.

Johnny and forensics expert Darlene are given the job of investigating Australian rock star Mickey's manager. Mickey believes his manager is going to kill him on his 27th birthday because he'd be worth more dead than alive, because Mickey would join the fabled "Club 27".

Craig also has the job of finding out who is killing the rich women in Bellview Hills (sp? "read" this as an audio book), an investigation that puts him in close contact with his cousin, Mark. Mark hates Craig, and has since they were 10. But the police chief said the department would work with Private on this case so Craig and Mark have no choice in the matter.

I enjoyed mysteries in this installment. And again, the reader knows who the antagonist is, knows what steps they are making, but unlike Private: Berlin, it didn't squick me out. Following the antagonist was interesting, not appallingly disturbing.

What I didn't care for were all the various and sundry loose ends that were left waving in the wind like a tattered flag and the half arsed resolutions:

  • Craig's "love affair" with Justine, Jack's not really a girlfriend/girlfriend/ex-fiance. There was excessive pontificating by Craig on Justine's stunning beauty when she arrived in Sydney, at the Private kick-off party, and through out the book. . Justine was involved at the start of the rich women's murders, touching gestures and google eyes with Criag, then...fell right out of the book until she boarded a plane for LA at the end and she cried. They didn't do anything!
  • The kidnapping and killing of Ho Meng's son. Ho Meng knew who had done it, so why all the beating around the bush to hire Private? Poor resolution to a no-mystery mystery.
  • Mark's 30 yeas of animosity toward Craig just suddenly resolved over a hospital bed? I don't think so
  •  Craig driving Justine to the airport a week after he released from hospital for a knife wound to the abdomen that nicked a colon. Authors - please consult with a medical doctor or nurse.
  • How the hell did Craig and - I forget which character - get locked inside an apartment? Door lock people out, not in. 
  • There's no way in heck the protagonist could have made and tossed a homemade Molotov cocktail in a darkened shed, bombed an apartment, run up and down stairs and slashed four tires in the time period indicated.
  • Even with the issues I noted above, I still enjoyed this installment more than some of the others. It's a great commute read and would be perfect for vacation or a very lazy weekend read. Just...don't expect much from these books other than entertainment.

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Monday, September 26, 2016

Recipe Review from 9/19/2016

The Husband harvested our squash this past week.  While Sept 15 is traditionally when we get our first frost, this has been a beautifully warm fall so far.  Not wanting to risk an "oops" night, and because Andy-dog insisted on hunting for mice in the squash bed, squash were harvested.   We have a few.  30 to be exact.  I'll be giving some away...  

The Meal Plan (kinda sorta...)
Sun (L)  leftover fajitas   (S)  One Pot Pasta
Mon (yoga/bkgrp)  leftover pasta
Tues pasta
Wed leftover pasta
Thurs -leftover brats
Fri - leftover brats
Sat - up to the Husband

Lunches - leftovers and sandwiches

One-Pot Cheesy Pasta  (Ckng Lght Sept 2016)  gluten free option**
This is ready in about 20-30 mintues, including prep.  Once food starts going into the pan, there isn't a heck of a lot of time to finish cleaning up or to set the table.

A couple of small additions/substitutions:  I added 8oz of cremini mushrooms, cleaned and thickly sliced (needed to use up the package); I used Italian sausage instead of beef; I used 5 oz chopped Swiss chard (stems removed) in place of the spinach.    

I also don't understand why they have the cook preheat the broiler nearly 20 minutes out from use, when all you are doing is melting cheese.  What a waste of electricity or gas.  Preheat near the end of the pasta cooking - it'll be plenty hot and it's more energy efficient.

End result?  This was darn tasty!  This made more than four servings with the addition of the mushrooms.   If you served this with a salad and warm crusty bread, you could *probably* serve six.  Recommended!

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1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
8 ounces 90% lean ground beef  (I used Italian sausage)
8 oz thickly slice cremini mushrooms 
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1 1/4 cups unsalted chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 cups unsalted crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce
8 ounces uncooked whole-grain penne pasta**
5 ounces fresh baby spinach (I used chopped Swiss Chard)
4 ounces preshredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (about 1 cup) (I grate my own )
1. Preheat broiler to high. Heat oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high. Add onion; sauté 2 minutes. [Add mushroom, cook 4 minutes or until starting to brown] Add beef and oregano; cook 3 minutes, stirring to crumble.

2. Add stock, salt, pepper, tomatoes, and pasta; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 12 to 13 minutes or until pasta is done. Stir in spinach.  Now preheat broiler to high - I used low and it worked just fine.

3. Sprinkle cheese over pasta mixture. Place pan in oven; broil 2 minutes or until cheese melts and begins to brown.

Kale Pesto Pasta with Shrimp  (Ckgn Lght, Sept 2016)  gluten free option
This took closer to 30 - 40 minutes to make than the 20 minutes the magazine touted.  This is probably due to a) the availability and cost feasibility of peeled/deveined frozen shrimp in your area - I'm not paying $20/lb for the above, so I had to peel before use.  I also did not use baby kale as I have a garden full of Swiss Chard and kale, so I had to wash, de-stem and chop that before it went into the food processor.

So, yeah, a bit putzier using what I have available or on hand, but it still comes together fairly quickly. 

I have mixed thoughts on this dish:  2/3 cup pasta water is WAY too much liquid for the pesto sauce.  Aim for 1/4-1/2 cup.  The Swiss chard was a bit vegetal tasting, even though the leaves I used were younger.  I don't know if a person gets this same taste with kale.  You could also even sub spinach - I know that's very mild tasting.  But, for a weeknight dish, this hit the spot.  Some crusty bread along side to mop up sauce would be a good addition. 

photo from cooking
8 ounces uncooked whole-grain penne pasta
12 ounces medium peeled and deveined frozen shrimp, thawed
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
4 ounces baby kale
2 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated and divided (about 1/3 cup)
1/4 cup olive oil 
1. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Add shrimp to pan during last 2 minutes of cooking. Drain pasta mixture in a colander over a bowl, reserving 2/3 cup 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid. Place pasta mixture in a bowl.

2. Place almonds, rind, kale, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor; pulse until finely chopped. Add reserved 2/3 cup  1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid, salt, red pepper, black pepper, and 3 tablespoons cheese; pulse until smooth. With food processor running, pour oil through food chute in a slow, steady stream, processing until smooth.

3. Add kale mixture to pasta mixture; toss to coat. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons cheese 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Who Killed Sherlock Holmes by Paul Cornell (Shadow Police #3)

Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? (Shadow Police, #3)Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? by Paul Cornell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb
Someone has murdered the ghost of Sherlock Holmes. As a fictional character remembered by the people of London, Holmes’ ghost walked the city, and now someone has put a ceremonial dagger through his chest. What could be the motive? The small team of Metropolitan Police detectives who have The Sight find themselves pursuing a criminal genius who soon lures them into a Sherlockian maze of too many clues and too much evidence. Ross finds herself drawn to an actor who may or may not be a deity, and goes on a quest to win back her happiness. Lofhouse seeks the answers, finally, about why she brought the team together. Quill battles for his sanity. Costain battles for his soul. And Sefton just wants to bring his team back together, even if that takes him to the edge of death.

Read for September book group.

Book three in the Shadow Police series, and of the three to date so far, not my favorite.

Premise of the book is, someone or something killed Sherlock Holmes, and is now repeating murders taken from Conan Doyle's books. Quill has gone of the rails with the threat of Hell looming over anyone who has ever lived in London, a threat he feels he can't share with anyone. Costain is trying to make amends to Ross. Ross is fighting to get her happiness back. Sefton just wants everyone to start working together again and confronts their boss, Lofthouse for the secrets she's carrying. Lofthouse wants to rid her Husband of the thing that's holding him - them - hostage.

There is a lot going on in this book, and all the separate plot lines became rather garbled which gave me me the impression of character frantic-ness rather than characters solving a mystery. Quill is going insane, and the group just keeps shrugging and plugging along. Ross is sidetracked with romance and her quest to get her happiness back. Costain is obsessing about Ross. Sefton is kinda lost in the muddle of the other plots. Lofthouse is working on her own mystery.

So...where's the mystery? The info is up on the ops board at the portakabin, the group is one step behind the murders, then BAM! Everything comes together in a lightening bolt of clarity and resolution complete with bright shiny bows. Which left me feeling kinda annoyed.

The other thing that I had to wonder about, was this book the product of inspiration from the current popularity of the PBS Sherlock and Elementary? Did Mr. Cornell attempt to incorporate a well known actor much like he incorporated Neil Gaiman in the previous book? I kinda got that impression.
I did enjoy the idea that London "remembers", that people create the ghosts, that the ghosts are a 'remembering' of all [Sherlocks], not just the current one.  And this is really, the premise behind Quill's team.  

Ultimately, an interesting read that just didn't grab me with as much novelty as the previous two books. Recommended if you've been reading the series. Not mean to be a stand-alone.

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Monday, September 19, 2016

Recipe Review from 9/12/2016

This was a week where the meal plan went totally off the rails.  It happens and most of the time things can just be shuffled forward.  The downside was I ended up with the two pasta dishes being shuffled forward.

The upside to the shuffle, because next week will be a short meal week for me (more on that in a couple postings), is meal planning is done!  I  will just need to double check ingredients before heading off to the store.

The Meal Plan:
Sat (L) leftover pasta and shrimp   (S) Neighborhood potluck
Sun (L) leftover pasta and shrimp  (S) Quinoa, Kale and Romesco Sauce
Mon (yoga)  leftover quinoa
Tues - Chicken Fajitas
Wed (AM yoga) Cheesy pasta
Thurs - leftover fajitas
Fri- leftovers

What actually happened:
Sat (L) leftover miso soup   (S) Neighborhood potluck
Sun (L) leftover miso soup  (S) Quinoa, Kale and Romesco Sauce
Mon (yoga)  leftover quinoa
Tues -leftover quinoa with sauted summer squash and onions
Wed (AM yoga) out
Thurs (Happy Birthday to the Husband!) pizza
Fri- chicken fajitas

Lunches - Tomato Sea-shell soup (me) Sandwiches (Husband).

Kale, Mushroom Quinoa with Romesco (Ckng Lght, Sept 2016)  gluten free, vegetarian option**
Recipe says this is a 40 minute dish.  Took me closer to an hour - it's putsier than it appears. I did skip the hard boiled egg - it seemed out of place with the rest of the dish - and used some grated parmesan cheese instead.  I added some sliced summer squash to the mushroom mixture for color and variety.

The sauce on this is really good.  Don't skip the sauce!  It really pulls the whole dish together. 

1 (6-in.) whole-wheat pita, cut into 6 wedges  (I used 1/2 of a large English muffin)
1 cup drained and chopped bottled roasted red bell peppers
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1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 to 4 Tbsp. water
2 1/2 cups unsalted chicken stock** (or vegetable stock)
1 1/4 cups uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained
3 green onions, chopped, white and green parts divided
2 (8-oz.) pkg. presliced cremini mushrooms
3 garlic cloves, minced
5 ounces baby kale (I used Swiss Chard)
4 large eggs in shells 
1. Preheat broiler to high.
2. Arrange pita wedges on a baking sheet. Broil 1 minute on each side or until toasted. Break into pieces.   My notes - seriously?  Heat a broiler for ONE slice of pita?  Use a toaster! I did for the muffin. 

3. Place pita, peppers, almonds, 2 tablespoons oil, juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and paprika in a food processor; process until smooth. Add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing after each addition until sauce reaches desired consistency.

4. Bring stock and quinoa to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt and white parts of green onions.

5. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add mushrooms and garlic; cook 8 minutes or until mushrooms brown. Add kale to pan in batches, stirring until wilted. Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt.

6. Bring a medium saucepan filled with water to a boil. Carefully add eggs to pan; boil 6 minutes. Remove eggs from pan; place in ice water to cool. Peel and halve eggs.

7. Spoon about 3/4 cup quinoa mixture into each of 4 bowls; top each serving with about 1/2 cup mushroom mixture, 1/4 cup sauce, and 2 egg halves. Sprinkle with green parts of green onions.

Tomato Sea-shell Soup   (Ckng Lght, Sept 2016)  vegetarian
Like I noted in last weeks recipe review on the Miso Soup, I am not going to be prepping one jar a night.  I made enough for the week.   Since I did make this ahead, and I know GF noodles can get soggy, I didn't note a GF option so I'm not sure what to recommend.  

And, as I noted in last weeks review, noodles are messy - stick with chopped zucchini. 

I subbed summer squash for the zucchini, and Swiss Chard for the spinach - it's what I had ready in the garden.

My observation on this one is, you either need to let the jar come to room temp or use boiling water.  I used a cup of  water warmed in the Keurig and it just wasn't hot enough to warm the jar and ingredients.  What ended up working the best was, microwaving about 1 minute, then adding hot water. 

Flavor-wise, this was tasty and not nearly so messy as the Miso soup.

1/2 cup lower-sodium marinara sauce (such as Dell'Amore)
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1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup cooked whole-grain small shell pasta (about 1 oz. uncooked)
1/2 cup zucchini noodles, zucchini ribbons, or chopped zucchini
1/2 cup chopped fresh spinach
1 1/2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese 
1. Combine marinara, pepper, and salt in the bottom of a 1-pint wide-mouth jar. Layer in pasta, zucchini, spinach, and cheese  (My note - keep cheese separate until after water has been added); seal. Refrigerate until ready to use.

2. Add very hot water to jar to within 1 inch of rim. Cover and let stand 2 minutes before eating.

Cheesy Chicken Fajitas  (Ckng Lght, Sept 2016)  gluten free option 
I had some leftover turkey tenders in the freezer so I poached those a night or two before the rest of the dish.  The addition of corn and beans was a bit different - but a perfect use for that summer/fall produce.  This is a pretty basic recipe, really.  It's chicken fajitas, just toss some veggies and stuff into a pan and saute!

This is a really light and refreshing meal - it didn't have the heaviness I sometimes associate with fajitas.  I liked the flavors a lot and thought this would be outstanding over rice - almost like a Chipolte burrito bowl.   Recommended. 

photo from
1/2 cup fresh corn kernels
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup unsalted canned pinto beans, rinsed and drained
3/4 cup chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup unsalted chicken stock
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
4 ounces skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast, shredded
4 ounces part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
8 (6-in.) corn tortillas
8 teaspoons reduced-fat sour cream
1/2 ripe peeled avocado, cut into 8 slices 
1. Preheat broiler to high.

2. Heat oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high. Add onion, bell pepper, corn, salt, and pepper to pan; sauté 3 minutes or until crisp-tender. Add beans, tomatoes, stock, and juice; cook 2 minutes. Top vegetable mixture with chicken; sprinkle evenly with cheese.

3. Place pan in oven; broil 3 minutes or until cheese melts.

4. Heat tortillas according to package directions. Divide chicken mixture evenly among tortillas; top each with 1 teaspoon sour cream and 1 avocado slice.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Fuller Memorandum by Charlie Stross (Laundry Files #3)

The Fuller Memorandum (Laundry Files, #3)The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  Computational demonologist Bob Howard catches up on filing in the Laundry archives when the top secret Fuller Memorandum vanishes - and his boss, suspected of stealing the file. Bob faces Russian agents, ancient demons, a maniacal death cult, and finding the missing memorandum before the world disappears next.

I'm right on the fence between this was somewhat enjoyable once I got into it, or, this was a slog with to many info-dumps. Unfortunately, I'm leaning toward this was a bit of a slog. Which is unfortunate because I really enjoyed the first two books and I was so looking forward to reading this one.

Premise of the book is Bob Howard manages to become entangled in a magical mystery web of intrigue, spies, and cultists after his boss disappears. Mo, his wife and agent with the laundry, is the bearer of a very scary weapon in the way of a violin made of bone is drawn into the ruckus by default. When Bob is kidnapped, Mo has to rally the forces and go forth to do some serious ass-kicking.

IF I had skipped Bob's numerous info dumps into why the world should be afraid of the sleeping god or magic spillover or why magic worked the way it did with computers (which was a cool concept), I might have enjoyed this more. As it was, hoping for a gleaning of humor, insight, or foreshadowing, I read on and found I just wasn't enjoying myself. I found the the plot sluggish, the quirky humor that I liked in one and two far and few between, and the premise for the bad guys tenuous at best.

But I do enjoy the whole idea of the Laundry, toiling away with computers and magic as a barrier between mere mortals and things far older than humans. I like Bob and Mo, Angelton is cool, and the supporting cast fun.

Ultimately, this installment really didn't work for me. Recommended with reservations.

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Monday, September 12, 2016

Recipe Review from 9/5/2016

I made a few more recipes this past week.  Might I draw your attention to a particular stand out:  the Pear-Proscuitto Toast.  So good!!   This is going to make a regular appearance in our house when I have some bread on hand.

In other news, the chicken's were downsized this past week.  Twenty birds went away to Camp Freezer and the Husband sold eight hens/pullets. The Husband is keeping enough chicklets to bring the laying hens up to 16 birds, including a Gentleman.

Last years birds were named after Big Bang Theory characters: Penny, Bernadette, Amy Farah Fowler, and Priya.  I'll let you guess where we pulled inspiration from for this year:  Dick (our boy bird), Sally, and Mrs. Dubcheck.

Meanwhile, I made a few more new recipes:

The Meal Plan:
Sat (L)  sausage, crackers, cheese, fruit  (S)  Chinese take-out
Sun (L) I forgot what I made....  (S)  Burger Steaks
Mon (off) (L) Gnocchi   (S)  Leftovers
Tues:  pork chops and apples
Wed: pork chops and apples
Thurs (yoga) Leftover gnocchi
Fri - was supposed to be a pasta dish, but I got home late late. 

Lunches - Miso soup

Pear-Prosciutto Toast  (Ckng Lght, Sept 2016)
This, believe it or not, is a breakfast dish.  And this was AWESOME!  Like, I made it twice awesome.  I did have two small modifications: I used honey instead of fig preserves (I couldn't find fig, but I DO have honey), and I forgot to buy the swiss cheese, so I used a pre-grated provolone/parmesan mix that I had on hand.  I think I liked that better than Swiss plus I could use less cheese.

This is a salty-sweet combination that is absolutely perfect for breakfast with an additional piece of fruit.  

1 1/2 teaspoons butter, softened
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1 teaspoon fig preserves (I used honey)
1 (1-oz.) slice whole-grain bread, toasted
1 thin slice Swiss cheese (such as Sargento Ultra Thin) 
(I used grated provolone/parmesan mix)
1/4 cup thinly vertically sliced ripe pear
1 very thin slice prosciutto 
1. Combine butter and preserves honey in a small bowl;  (My notes...seriously?  "Combine" butter and spread?  Just slather it on and save yourself a bowl to wash. Sheesh.) Spread butter and preserves/honey evenly over toast. Top with cheese, prosciutto and pear.  

Burger Steaks with Mushroom Gravy and Sweet Potato Fries (Ckng Lght, Sept 2016)
I don't have a microwave, so I baked the sliced sweet potatoes in a 450* oven for 30 minutes, which was about 5-10 minutes too long.  Yeah, I burnt my fries.  Poo.  I skipped the green beans because with the potato, it was plenty of food for the two of us.   

Everything else came together pretty quickly once assembly started.  You can easily sub a gluten free flower mix for All-purpose to make the gravy.   I did use buffalo instead of sirloin, and I have to say, this was not a favorite for me.  I'm just not wild about ground beef; Husband seemed to enjoy it.  Recommended if you like ground beef. 

3 (8-oz.) sweet potatoes
Photo from
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Cooking spray
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 pound 90% lean ground sirloin (I used buffalo)
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 (8-oz.) pkg. presliced cremini mushrooms
1/4 cup water
1 cup unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (or GF blend)
1 (8-oz.) pkg. microwave-in-bag haricots verts (French green beans)

1 1/2 teaspoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1. Place a rimmed baking sheet in oven. Preheat oven to 450°F (leave pan in oven as it preheats).

2. Place sweet potatoes in a microwave-safe dish. Cover with plastic wrap; pierce 2 or 3 times to vent. Microwave at HIGH 5 minutes or until just tender. Cool slightly. Cut each potato lengthwise into 8 wedges; return to dish. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil; toss. Remove baking sheet from oven; coat with cooking spray. Arrange potato wedges on pan. Bake at 450°F for 18 minutes, stirring after 9 minutes. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

3. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high. Shape beef into 4 (1/2-inch-thick) patties; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add patties to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side. Remove from pan.

4. Add remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil to pan; swirl. Add onion, rosemary, and mushrooms; cook 5 minutes. Add 1/4 cup water, scraping pan to loosen browned bits.

5. Combine stock and flour in a bowl. Add stock mixture, remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt to mushroom mixture; bring to a boil. Add patties; cook 4 minutes.

6. Cook beans according to package directions. Place in a bowl. Add butter; toss. Divide potatoes, beans, and patties among 4 plates. Top patties evenly with mushroom mixture and parsley.

Pea, Tomato and Bacon Gnocchi (Ckng Lght, Sept 2016)  vegetarian option**
This comes together in about 20-25 minutes, which is perfect for a mid-week meal.  I served a salad along side for some additional greens.  Recipe calls for peas, but I subbed some chopped summer squash and cooked with the onions and tomatoes.  Tasty, bright, easy!  Recommended.

1 (16-oz.) pkg. whole-wheat gnocchi (such as Gia Russa) (Or whatever you find...)
Photo from
1 cup frozen green peas (I used summer squash)
2 center-cut bacon slices, chopped**  optional
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup halved grape tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese 
1. Bring a large saucepan filled with water to a boil over high heat. Add gnocchi; cook 2 to 3 minutes or until gnocchi float to the surface. Add peas; cook 1 minute. Drain in a colander over a bowl, reserving 1/3 cup cooking liquid.

2. Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat 4 minutes or until crisp. Remove bacon from pan with a slotted spoon. **Or just heat a tbsp cooking oil.  Add onions and garlic to drippings in pan; cook 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes; cook 5 minutes or until slightly broken down, stirring occasionally. Add reserved 1/3 cup cooking liquid; cook 2 minutes. Add gnocchi mixture to pan; toss to coat. Stir in bacon and pepper. Sprinkle with cheese.

Skillet Apple Pork Chops (Ckng Lght, Sept 2016) gluten free
This is a quick recipe to assemble, prep, and cook - there's minimal chopping, and things can be prepped as other things cook.  Chicken can easily be substituted for the pork chops without loosing any great flavor combinations. And I'm super excited to say, I used my FRESH herbs from my porch containers in this! 

A great fall dish.  Recommended!

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
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4 (6-oz.) bone-in pork chops (or equivalent amount in chicken)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1/2 cup unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 medium apples, thinly sliced
1 small red onion, thinly vertically sliced 
1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons oil to pan; swirl to coat. Sprinkle pork chops evenly with 3/8 teaspoon salt and 3/8 teaspoon pepper. Add pork chops to pan; cook 5 minutes on each side or until pork chops are done. Remove from pan.

2. Combine stock and mustard, stirring with a whisk. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl. Add remaining 3/8 teaspoon salt, remaining 3/8 teaspoon pepper, sage, rosemary, apple, and onion to pan; cook 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in stock mixture. Return pork chops to pan; cook 3 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half.

Miso Noodle Soup  (Ckng Lght, Sept 2016)  gluten free, vegetarian
This is meant to be a transportable lunch soup - assemble, refrigerate, add hot water at work (or home or where ever you are), let stand a couple minutes and eat!

Now, because I am NOT going to cook an ounce of noodles every night, nor am I going to prep one pint jar a night, I made five jars at once and tossed in the fridge.  I did leave the eggs unpeeled - they'll stay fresher in their own self made "packages".  I also forgot to by 'shrooms, so I subbed summer squash (I've got plenty on hand...).

Definitely portable. I have two complaints - the miso combination stays stuck on the bottom so you either need two swirl vigorously and hope your lid doesn't leak, or take a knife and stir, OR put the miso paste on top of the cabbage, then layer 'shroom, noodles and cilantro.  That way the miso paste won't make the noodles soggy.

Second complaint is, long noodles are messy to eat out of a jar!  I seriously question whether anyone tested eating this in a one-pint jar because well, it was slurpy, sloppy messy.  But I suspect eating noodles out of a bowl would be messy too.   

Overall?  Tasty, satisfying, and a bit messy to eat out of a jar. 

1 tablespoon white miso  (I used red miso)
Photo from
1 tablespoon warm water
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 small garlic clove, grated
1/3 cup thinly sliced red cabbage
1/2 cup cooked flat brown rice (pad Thai) noodles (about 1 oz. uncooked)
2 shiitake mushroom caps, thinly sliced  (Forgot...used summer squash instead)
1 tablespoon chopped green onions
4 thin slices red jalapeño
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 hard-cooked large egg  (I used a whole egg.  Seriously, half an egg?)
1. Combine miso, 1 tablespoon water, oil, and garlic in the bottom of a 1-pint wide-mouth jar, stirring with a fork. Layer in cabbage, noodles, mushrooms, onions, jalapeño, cilantro, and egg; seal. Refrigerate until ready to use.

2. Add very hot water to jar to within 1 inch of rim. Cover and let stand 2 minutes before eating.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Auntie Lee's Chilled Revenge by Ovidia Yu (Auntie Lee #3)

Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge (Singaporean Mystery, #3)Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge by Ovidia Yu

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  Rosie “Aunty” Lee—feisty widow, amateur sleuth and proprietor of Singapore’s best-loved home cooking restaurant—is back in another delectable, witty mystery set in Singapore.

Slightly hobbled by a twisted ankle, crime-solving restaurateur Aunty Lee begrudgingly agrees to take a rest from running her famous café, Aunty Lee’s Delights, and turns over operations to her friend and new business partner Cherril.

The café serves as a meeting place for an animal rescue society that Cherril once supported. They were forced to dissolve three years earlier after a British expat killed the puppy she’d adopted, sparking a firestorm of scandal. The expat, Allison Fitzgerald, left Singapore in disgrace, but has returned with an ax to grind (and a lawsuit). At the café one afternoon, Cherril receives word that Allison has been found dead in her hotel—and foul play is suspected. When a veterinarian, who was also involved in the scandal, is found dead, suspicion soon falls on the animal activists. What started with an internet witch hunt has ended in murder—and in a tightly knit, law-and-order society like Singapore, everyone is on edge.

Before anyone else gets hurt—and to save her business—Aunty Lee must get to the bottom of what really happened three years earlier, and figure out who is to be trusted in this tangled web of scandal and lies.


Premise of the story is, Allison Love is brutally murdered in her hotel room prior to an arranged meeting with Brian, Josephine and Cherril over a pending lawsuit that the three ruined Allison's marriage and life. Valerie Love, Allison's sister, is left traumatized and alone in hateful Singapore and Auntie Lee takes her in.

As the murder investigation unfolds, Auntie Lee begins to realize there is more to this than meets the eye, and pulling and pushing a few strings herself, starts to unravel a complex tale of love and revenge.

This installment was slow going. I had a difficult time feeling engaged in any way and had trouble sympathizing, empathizing, relating to or with any of the characters. Auntie Lee is restricted to limited walking after a tumble off a makeshift step-stool. She is struggling to feel engaged as life in her shop goes on without her.

Valerie Love is just annoying, which is, ultimately, the point. But, for the 368 pages in which I had to read about her being annoying, it grated on my nerves rather than eliciting a feeling of suspense and empathy. This right here was probably the main reason I found the book to be tedious. Add in the issue of Valerie's calling people "stupid bitches" or "stupid sluts" and similar and she was just not a likeable or empathize-able character.

Josephine and Brian were two dimensional to really develop any thoughts for them. Cherill was carrying her own fears and secrets, but by the time it came for her big reveal, it came across more as a "huh?" and "meh".

What perplexed me and to which I found somewhat uncomfortable as the book progressed, was the constant reference to Valerie (and others) being fat. As in, Valerie is the pale fat sister. I can see the reference once, but the commentary about people being fat was constant. I am uncertain if this is a Singaporean thing, or an attempt to Westernize the book and thus, a commentary on how Westerner's are all overweight.

About the only thing I enjoyed was the few scenes with Nina, Inspector Salim, and Commissioner Raja. And Auntie Lee ordering too many mangoes.

So, ultimately, not my favorite in the series. This one lost some of the quirky charm the first two books had and became a long, uncomfortable read. Recommended with reservations.

View all my reviews


Monday, September 5, 2016

Recipe Review from 8/29/2016

I made a few recipes last week.  The September issue of Cooking Light is simply loaded with awesome ideas this month!  *Most* of them seem to be in the 30-45 minutes to prep time frame, which works well in my world.  And and few need a bit of advanced planning or make on the weekend. 


The Meal Plan:
Sat:  (L) Out   (S)  Stuffed sweet potatoes
Sun (L)  Leftovers       (S)    Chicken and Chili hash
Mon (Yoga/Bkgrp)    leftovers
Tues    Honey Dijon Fish with zucchini
Wed (Field day) Stacked Chicken Enchiladas  (grill a chicken ahead of time)
Thurs (Yoga)   leftovers
Fri  - I forgot what I made... 

Lunches - Apple, Kale and Chicken salad wraps

Sausage and Broccoli Stuffed Sweet Potatoes   (Ckng Lght, Sept 2016) gluten free; vegetarian option**
Okay!  I had a few changes to this dish!  I subbed ground breakfast sausage for the beef (I had a package of sausage in my freezer and I don't eat beef); I baked the sweet potatoes because I don't have a microwave; I used fresh broccoli instead of frozen.  Some tweaking to cooking directions was necessary, and I noted those below.  My tweaks require a bit more pre-planning (like starting the potatoes an hour ahead). 

For my vegetarian readers - this would be great with black beans.

Overall, this was very tasty (full disclosure - not the Husbands favorite, he doesn't care for sweet potatoes).  The creamy sweetness of the sweet potatoes contrasted nicely with the bell peppers and tangy sausage.  

Photo from
4 (8-oz.) sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon canola oil, divided
1 cup chopped red onion
3/4 cup drained and chopped bottled roasted red bell peppers
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
10 ounce 90% lean ground sirloin (I used ground sausage)
** Vegetarian option - use two cans of rinsed and drained black beans.  
2 cups frozen steam-in-bag broccoli florets (I used fresh broccoli)
2 ounces pre-shredded 2% reduced-fat Mexican-blend cheese (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1. Rub sweet potatoes with 1 1/2 teaspoons oil; pierce several times with a fork. Microwave at HIGH 12 to 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender.   I don't have a microwave; I baked in a 350* oven for just over an hour or until easily pierced by a fork

2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high. Add remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil; swirl to coat. Add onion and red bell peppers; cook 5 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Add garlic, and cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in chili powder, 1/4 tea­spoon salt, cumin, and ground red pepper. Add beef (or pork); cook 6 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble.

3. Preheat broiler to high.  Because I had the oven on, I just used the oven.

4. Heat broccoli according to package directions; stir into beef mixture. Arrange potatoes on a baking sheet. Partially split potatoes lengthwise; fluff the flesh with a fork. Top potatoes evenly with beef mixture, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cheese. Broil  [Baked] 30 seconds or until cheese melts. Sprinkle with green onions.

Chicken and Chili Hash  (Ckng Lght, Sept 2016)  gluten free, vegetarian option**
Another dish were I greatly modified because I don't have a microwave - which really isn't an issue, but does require a tich more planning ahead.  While I was grilling chicken for the Kale, Apple and Almond Chicken salad (below) and the Stacked Enchiladas (below) I cooked the potatoes and set aside to dry.  The potatoes were then ready for final assembly when I went to make supper. 

The other significant substitution was I used the leftover breakfast sausage from the Stuffed Sweet Potatoes instead of chicken.  And dried thyme for fresh.  I'm NOT paying those prices for fresh herbs at the store, and I didn't think to plant some this spring.

Overall, a very tasty "brinner" (breakfast for dinner, as my friend calls it).  Fairly easy to assemble, hearty, and tastes great. 

2 tablespoons water
Photo from
12 ounces Yukon Gold potatoes, cubed
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
12 ounces ground chicken  I used breakfast sausage
1 cup thinly vertically sliced red onion
1 poblano chile, seeded and chopped
2 cups cremini mushrooms, quartered (about 6 oz.)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, divided (I used 1/2 tsp dried thyme)
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, divided
4 large eggs

1. Place 2 tablespoons water and potatoes in a microwave-safe dish; cover with plastic wrap. Microwave at HIGH 5 minutes or until tender. Place potatoes on a paper towel-lined plate.   I don't have a microwave.  I placed cubed potatoes into a pot of cold water, brought to a boil, and cooked for about 15 minutes or until fork tender. 

2. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high. Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, red pepper, and chicken; cook 5 minutes, stirring to crumble. Remove chicken mixture to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Add onion and poblano chile to drippings in pan; cook 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms, 2 teaspoons thyme, and garlic; cook 5 minutes. Add mushroom mixture to chicken mixture.

3. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add potatoes; cook 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, chicken mixture, and 1 tablespoon vinegar to pan; cook 2 minutes.

4. Add water to a saucepan, filling two-thirds full; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; add remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar. Break each egg into a custard cup, and pour each gently into pan; cook 3 minutes. Carefully remove eggs from pan using a slotted spoon.

5. Divide hash evenly among 4 plates; top with eggs and remaining 1 teaspoon thyme.

Honey-dijon Glazed Salmon with Zucchini Chips  (Ckng Lght, Sept 2016)
As usual, a few modifications - I turned this into a one meal dish; I used Lake Trout instead of salmon, and I grilled instead of broiling (broiling never works for me).  The downside of grilling was I didn't quite get the glaze effect of broiling. 

The glaze worked really well with Lake Trout, which can be a oily fish.  Grilling helps with that oily taste/flavor.  While I halved the amount of fish, I didn't halve the glaze/sauce.

For the zucchini mix, I did substitute regular onion for the shallot because I forgot to add to the grocery list.  I lightly browned/caramelized the onion, then cooked up the zucchini.  Nothing special there.  I served everything over brown rice.

Overall, a fast and tasty mid-week dish.

Photo from
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
Cooking spray
4 (6-oz.) salmon fillets
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 shallot, thinly sliced and divided
2 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4-in. slices (about 3 cups), divided
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1. Place a rimmed baking sheet in oven. Preheat broiler to high (keep pan in oven as it preheats).

2. Combine honey, mustard, vinegar, 3/4 teaspoon pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH for 2 minutes, stirring after 1 minute. Reserve 2 tablespoons honey mixture.

3. Carefully remove pan from oven. Coat pan with cooking spray. Arrange fillets, skin side down, on pan; broil 6 minutes. Brush remaining 2 1/2 tablespoons honey mixture over fillets; broil 2 minutes. Remove pan from oven; brush fillets with reserved 2 tablespoons honey mixture. Keep warm.

4. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over high. Add half of shallots; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add half of zucchini; cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Place zucchini mixture in a bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining 1 tablespoon oil, remaining shallots, and remaining zucchini. Add remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cilantro to zucchini mixture; toss. Serve zucchini with salmon fillets.

Stacked Chicken Enchiladas (Ckng Lght, Sept 2016)  gluten free
MORE modifications!  But not too many, mostly just some simplification.  Instead of cooking up a bunch of chicken thighs, I had cooked a chicken earlier and shredded it ahead of time.  So I skipped right to the "combine yogurt, chicken and green onions".

After I cooked the onions, jalepeno and garlic, I skipped the whole "put in a blender bit".  I layered tortillas, sauce, chicken, onion mixture and cheese.  Blending seemed like an unnecessary extra step that just created more dishes to wash.

Because the chicken was not warm, I did change the baking time and temperature:  I cooked for 30 minutes at 350*.  This gave me time to wash dishes and help with an outside chore.  I let stand for 10 minutes, then served.

This would be great with some fresh cornbread. 

1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
Photo from
12 ounces skinless, boneless chicken thighs (I used shredded chicken I had cooked earlier)
5/8 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 cup plain 2% reduced-fat Greek yogurt
1/4 cup chopped green onions, divided
1 medium-size red onion, cut into 1/2-in. slices
1 medium jalapeño
4 garlic cloves
1 1/2 cups canned unsalted crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
6 (6-in.) corn tortillas, divided
Cooking spray
4 ounces preshredded 2% reduced-fat Mexican-blend cheese (about 1 cup), divided

1. Preheat oven to 425°F.

2. Heat oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high. Add chicken to pan; cook 4 minutes on each side. Remove from pan; cool slightly. Shred chicken; sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt. Combine chicken, yogurt, and 2 tablespoons green onions in a bowl.

3. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high. Add red onion and jalapeño; cook 4 minutes, turning occasionally. Add garlic to pan; cook 4 minutes or until vegetables are charred on all sides. Place remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, jalapeño mixture, tomatoes, stock, and cumin in a blender; blend until smooth.

4. Place 2 tortillas in the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish coated with cooking spray, tearing tortillas as needed to fit in a single layer. Spread 1/2 cup tomato mixture over tortillas in dish; top with half of chicken mixture and 1/4 cup shredded cheese. Repeat layers once with 2 tortillas, 1/2 cup tomato mixture, remaining chicken mixture, and 1/4 cup cheese. Top with the remaining 2 tortillas, remaining 3/4 cup tomato mixture, and remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Bake at 425°F for 15 minutes. Top with remaining 2 tablespoons green onions

Apple, Kale, and Chicken Salad  (Ckng Lght, Sept 2016)
Yup, I had an substitution/alteration here too.  I just can't leave a recipe as is!  Same as above, I used pre-cooked shredded chicken that I had prepped over the weekend (those two grilled birds went a long way!). 

This was for lunches during the week.  For the husband, I initially put in a large wrap, but he reported back it all just kinda fell out.  Mine went into a lunch container with the dressing in a separate tub.

This is a very tasty salad - I love the celery and apple combo with the mustard dressing.  What I didn't like was being hungry two hours later.  I either needed to make a BIGGER salad to bring to work, or have this as a side to a small sandwich.   Either way, I recommend this one!

1/4 cup olive oil
Photo from
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
12 ounces skinless, boneless chicken thighs
Cooking spray
6 cups baby kale
2 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced diagonally
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
1 apple, halved and cut into 1/4-in.-thick slices
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted

1. Combine oil, rind, juice, thyme, mustard, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a bowl, stirring with a whisk. Place 2 tablespoons juice mixture in a large ziplock plastic bag; reserve remaining juice mixture. Add chicken to bag; seal bag. Let stand at room temperature 10 minutes, turning bag occasionally.
2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Remove chicken from marinade; discard marinade. Pat chicken dry. Sprinkle chicken with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add chicken to pan; cook 5 minutes on each side or until done. Place chicken on a cutting board; let stand 5 minutes. Cut across the grain into thin slices.
3. Combine kale, carrots, celery, and apple in large bowl. Add remaining juice mixture; toss to coat. Divide kale mixture evenly among 4 plates; top evenly with chicken. Sprinkle with almonds and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

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