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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Private India: City on Fire by James Patterson and

Read as an audio book.

This *might* have been better read on paper, so to speak.  It wasn't that I struggled with the narrators accent, I struggled with the names and the narrators overall intonation.  His voice wasn't as succinct and clear as I like to hear on an audio book, so I had difficulty with the volume, pronunciation, and  trying to figure out who was who because most of the characters sounded so similar.

Premise of the book is Santosh, head of Private: India in Mumbai, is battling private and external demons.  His wife and child are dead after he plowed their car into a tree on a hairpin turn, leaving him injured mentally and physically.  Rupesh, head policeman (I forget his title) has been angry with him for years after the accident.   Externally, a serial killer is strangling women with yellow scarves and arranging their bodies according to the nine phases or avatars of Durga.   And much like the different faces of the Goddess Durga, nothing in India is what it seems on the surface.
There was a small ISI terrorist subplot that was woven throughout -  but this little subplot tendril would crop up at odd times until it's grand finale that felt more like the author going, oh, this sounds cool because I can add a gun fight!

Speaking of guns, the frequent mention of Nisha wearing a Glock and taking comfort in her Glock on her hip was not lost on me.  What I questioned was do Indians carry the same thoughts about guns as American's do?  Is it a prevalent part of their culture and would it be predominant part of a Indian female detective/former policewoman's wardrobe?  The men didn't seem to think about their gun as much as Nisha did, and when it came down to it, her gun didn't do her a heck of a lot of good. 

And, speaking of gun fights, nobody is going to carry a gold plated Desert Eagle in the back of their pants (or even the small of their back) and if said gun is as difficult to fire (as our fine Jack Morgan pointed out), a drugged up, underweight prostitute is NOT going to be able to smoothly pull the gun from someone's pants and fire it with any kind of reliability.  

Just sayin'. 

So, an interesting read in a fascinating city in an incredible country.  I appreciated that this wasn't the usual "India is so great!" diatribe, but a look at it's dark and seedy underbelly, the corruption that is rampant at all levels, the hypocrisy of individuals, and how money can grease a lot of wheels. 

The Tower of Silence was so intriguing I had to look it up - did you know there is a vulture shortage due to habitat loss and the birds are on the cusp of extinction due to the use of an anti-inflammatory  used in cattle that is fatal to vultures?  And this happened in the 2000's.    I also thought using the Hindu Goddess Durga and her nine avatars to correlate with the nine murdered women was well done.  It did make me wonder though,  how much of the book had been "Americanized" for the target audience? 

Ultimately, mixed reviews on the plot and execution of said plot, but I enjoyed the setting immensely. Recommended if you've read previous Private books. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Recipe Review from 12/19/2016

A bit of a mish-mash for meals and recipes this week.  We had some nice leftovers from the ham dinner from the week previous, one night both of us were out for our meetings, double office potlucks, which brought us up to the end of the week. 

The Meal Plan:
Sun  (L) leftovers  (S) Leftover ham dinner from Saturday.
Mon (yoga/bkgrp/Legion)
Tues - leftover ham dinner
Wed (work potlucks)  slow cooked chili
Thurs (yoga)  leftover chili
Fri - leftover chili

Lunches - a bit of everything...

Slow Cooker [Beef] and Sweet Potato Chili (Ckng Lght Nov, 2016)  gluten free
Only two significant substitution and that was a very mild breakfast sausage for the beef and pinto beans for the black.   This is super easy to assemble - you can chop veggies while the sausage cooks, then everything goes into the slow cooker and you walk away.  

This was an awesome chili!  Slightly sweet, little bit of heat, perfect chili flavor - I had to keep reminding myself it was sweet potatoes and not squash, so, you could substitute butnut squash for the sweet potatoes.  In hindsight, a can of hominy would have been a really good addition.   I'm thinking I need to bookmark this one and bring it to our office chili cook-off next year.  Recommended!   
1 pound 90% lean ground sirloin   (I used sausage)
photo from
4 cups (3/4-in.) cubed unpeeled sweet potato (about 1 1/4 lb.)
2 1/2 cups unsalted beef stock
2 cups chopped yellow onion
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/4 cup unsalted tomato paste
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
8 garlic cloves, minced
2 (14.5-oz.) cans unsalted diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (15-oz.) can unsalted black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (1 cup)
  1. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high. Add beef to pan; cook, stirring often, just until crumbled and mostly browned, about 3 minutes. (Beef will not be fully cooked.) Remove from heat.
  2. Combine sweet potatoes and next 11 ingredients (through black beans) in a 6-quart slow cooker. Stir in beef. Cover and cook on LOW 7 hours. Stir in 1/2 cup cilantro. Ladle chili into 8 bowls; top with cheese and remaining cilantro. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Armada by Ernest Cline

Final book group book for 2016.

Young Adult. I felt like I had read this one before, knowing full well I hadn't.

Similar to Ready Player One, this is a bit of a nostalgic walk through the 80's and 90's video game noir combined with a heavy dose of the young adult (or not so young adult) scifi books predominant in the same time frame.

Premise of the book is Zach is on the cusp of graduation from High School, a part time worker at a video game store, one of the top ranked players in the video game Armada, and wishing he could meet his long dead father. Zach's world revolves around nostalgic scifi movies, books, and classic video games. His room is a tribute to his father, killed in a sewer plant accident when he was 19 leaving young Zach and his Mom on their own. Then Zach sees an actual scout ship from Armada, and his entire world view changes.

While an interesting and fond stroll through some classic books and movies of my past, about half way through I thought the story bogged down in its own nostalgia. I really struggled to keep reading because it was too much like all those young adult scifi books - young special protagonist is the worlds only salvation because only they see what no one else can. The issue here was, I cared about Ender, I didn't care about Zack.

Alas, I wish I could have moved on. When Zach is finally recruited by the Earth Defense Alliance - who somehow built an uber secret base on the Moon and have been battling the Europans for the last 20 years - my ability to suspend my disbelief drifted off into vacuum.
  • Those thousands of amateur astronomers never saw anything?
  • A Moon-base that was built based upon 80's fictional movies (note the plural)?
  • How did they get pop to the moon?
  • Everything on the Moon is run remotely by drones via people on earth?

If this book's target audience had truly been young adult, and shelved accordingly, I could have approached this book differently (like leave it on the shelf). As it was, all these noir references spooled together in some kind of living video game ultimately fell flat for me as an adult.

Recommended for 10-16 year olds.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Recipe Review from 12/12/2016

Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!  Which is what it did everywhere but here.  Here, it just got cold. 

The Meal Plan:
Sun (L) leftover pizza from get-together  (S) leftover beef/barely stew
Mon (yoga) leftover beef barley stew
Tues - Skillet Chicken Parmesan
Wed - leftover
Thurs (yoga)
Fri (yoga) Chicken Tikka Masala
Sat (L) leftovers  (D) Dinner with Parents

(Husband) sandwiches, fruit, yogurt, luna bars, figgy bars
(Me) leftover cassoulet, leftover barley stew, potluck

One-Pan Chicken Parmesan (Pinterest via The Cookie Rookie)  gluten free option, vegetarian option!
I was craving a baked pasta dish and I remembered I had this one saved on Pinterest.  This fit what I was looking for: tubular pasta, saucy, little bit of cheese, flavorful, and EASY. 

This could easily be modified to fit a Gluten Free pasta (just don't over cook), and  can be made meat free - skip the chicken and add quartered brown mushrooms, maybe some onions and bell peppers.  \

My modifications: I used turkey tenders for the chicken, and I made my own "Italian dressing" (1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil, 1/2 tsp red wine vinegar, 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning - let stand 5 minutes)

photo from the Rookie Cookie blog
2 tablespoons Italian dressing (not the creamy kind)
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into cubes 
16 ounces small/medium sized rigatoni pasta
1 24-ounce jar of your favorite Marinara pasta sauce
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Chopped fresh basil for garnish (optional)  (It's winter, I'm not paying for fresh basil)
  1. Heat chicken and Italian dressing in a large 12 inch skillet over medium high heat (If you don't own a large skillet, you can use a stock pot). Season chicken with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Cook chicken until browned and just cooked through, about 5 minutes depending on thickness of chicken.
  3. Add the box of pasta and the entire jar of marinara. Fill the empty marinara jar with water and add to the skillet. If using a stockpot, use 2 cups water. Lightly stir the mixture to combine.
  4. Bring mixture to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for 15 minutes or until pasta is tender to your liking. ***
  5. Cover with grated parmesan and then shredded mozzarella. No need to stir. Continue to cook for 2-3 more minutes or until cheese is fully melted. You can also broil the entire skillet for about 4 minutes to make the cheese extra melty!
  6. Top with chopped basil (optional) and serve! Enjoy!
***The pasta in the middle of the skillet and underneath will be more tender than the outside pasta. It's okay if those pieces are a bit toastier and less soft. The inside will be plenty soft.

Quick Chicken Tikki Masala (Cooking Classy blog via Pinterest via Epicurious)  gluten free, vegetarian option
This would have been really good if I hadn't tired to get "creative" and use smoked paprika instead of regular.  While not inedible - far from it - it just wasn't "tikki masala" as I know and love. 
That being said, I would make this again (san's attempted modifications).  It comes together very quickly, it's flavorful, and with some boil in a bag basmati rice, makes for great homemade Indian food.

This could also be made vegetarian buy subbing two cans of chickpeas for the chicken. 
photo from Cooking Classy
1 1/2-inch knob ginger, peeled
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 large yellow onion, peeled
1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts, diced into 1-inch cubes
1 1/2 Tbsp garam masala spice blend, divided (see notes)
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 1/2 tsp ground paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, more or less to taste
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (I used fat-free, any kind will work fine though)
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
Cooked jasmine or basmati rice, for serving

1. Pulse ginger and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. Add onion and pulse until finely chopped. Toss chicken with 1 1/2 tsp garam masala and 1 tsp salt. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook, rotating halfway through cooking, until cooked through, about 6 - 7 minutes total. Transfer chicken to a plate.

2. Heat remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion mixture and saute until onions have softened, about 3 minutes. Add tomato paste, remaining 1 Tbsp garam masala, the paprika, and cayenne and cook, stirring constantly, 30 seconds. Add crushed tomatoes, season with salt to taste, and cook stirring occasionally until mixture is hot, about 2 minutes (you can let it simmer longer if needed if the canned tomatoes used were watery. If the canned tomatoes were thick you can add a few Tbsp of water if needed to thin the sauce mixture). Return chicken to pan and cook 1 minute longer. 

3. Remove from heat, stir in Greek yogurt and lemon juice. Serve warm over rice topped with cilantro.

Cooking Classy recipe source: loosely based off of this recipe on Epicurious

County Potatoes au Gratin  (Ckng Lght, May 2006)  vegetarian option, gluten free option
I halved this recipe because a 9x13 was too much for four people.  It halved nicely.

Mixed thoughts on this one - easy to assemble, I admit I liked the longer baking time (time to clean up, relax, and pull the rest of the meal together.  What I didn't care for was the milk mix seemed to...curdle? coagulate?  get glumpy? when all was said and done.  I even let it stand for the allotted 15 minutes.  So...presentation was less than stellar. 

The Husband commented that it wasn't very cheesy, and I had to agree.  The cheese flavor that I love and expect in au gratin just wasn't there.  Recommended with reservations.

Photo from
1 medium onion (about 5 1/2 ounces), thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups 2% reduced-fat milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2/3 cup) or gluten free mix
6 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese (1 1/2 cups), divided
6 ounces diced ham (about 1 1/4 cups)
3 pounds peeled baking potatoes, cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices
Cooking spray
1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté 5 minutes or until onion is tender. Combine milk, salt, pepper, and flour, stirring with a whisk. Add milk mixture to pan. Bring to a simmer; cook until slightly thick (about 2 minutes), stirring frequently. Add 4 ounces cheese and ham, stirring until cheese melts. Stir in potatoes.

3. Place the potato mixture in a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle potato mixture with remaining 2 ounces of cheese. Cover with foil coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 30 minutes or until lightly browned and potatoes are tender. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Garlic Honey Mustard Slow Cooked Ham ( via Pinterest) 
 I wanted a slow cooked recipe for the last of our heritage ham for my Holiday dinner with the Folks.  This fit the bill perfectly!  I did have to HALVE the recipe - my ham was only 4lbs.  This makes a lot of sauce, even halved.  This had the perfect amount of sweet/tangy to compliment the rest of the dinner of potatoes, cranberry dressing, and roasted squash.  I would totally make this again.

9-10 pound precooked spiral cut ham, bone in
2 cups honey
1 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons minced garlic (I use jarred)
  1. Combine all ingredients except ham in your blender and pulse until well blended. Reserve one cup of glaze.
  2. Place ham in crock pot, flat side down. Slowly pour glaze over ham, making sure to get some between each spiral slice. Lift ham to get glaze underneath as well.
  3. Cook on low for 2 hours. Pour remaining glaze over ham and continue cooking on low for an additional 1 to 2 hours depending on the size of your ham.
  4. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly (Haller #6)

The Gods of Guilt (Mickey Haller, #6)The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: Mickey Haller gets the text, "Call me ASAP - 187," and the California penal code for murder immediately gets his attention. Murder cases have the highest stakes and the biggest paydays, and they always mean Haller has to be at the top of his game.

When Mickey learns that the victim was his own former client, a prostitute he thought he had rescued and put on the straight and narrow path, he knows he is on the hook for this one. He soon finds out that she was back in LA and back in the life. Far from saving her, Mickey may have been the one who put her in danger.

Haunted by the ghosts of his past, Mickey must work tirelessly and bring all his skill to bear on a case that could mean his ultimate redemption or proof of his ultimate guilt. The Gods of Guilt shows once again why "Michael Connelly excels, easily surpassing John Grisham in the building of courtroom suspense"
(Los Angeles Times).

Read as an audio book.

It is somewhat fascinating to me, how a courtroom trial - an agreeably dry and tedious process at the best of time - can be turned into a suspense/thriller novel. Which comes around to how many times can our said defense attorney Mickey Haller be physically attacked to keep him off the trail or as a warning not to continue. I'll have to remember to ask the defense attorney I know if things are really this exciting. I suspect not.

Premise of the book is Mickey is defending the online pimp (he handles online website design and escort bookings) of a former client, a professional escort who went by the name of Glory Days. Mickey thought Gloria had moved on and up in the world, moving to Hawaii under the auspicious of a patron (though if he believed that, he's not as smart as he thinks he is...). As Haller and his staff start to dig deeper into case, they discover a decade or more of cover-up involving a trio of escorts, the DEA, and a Mexican cartel member. Now it's up to Mickey to clear his client of murder and expose some dirty agents.

Overall, pretty good. First third of the book is set up, establishing the cast and characters who all played a part to bring this whole scenario to trial. I will say, the DEA and Mexican Cartel aspect was a tiny bit implausible. I'll say that and someone in internet-land will snort and say they read it in the paper.

I also felt there was a bit too much use of phrase "the Gods of Guilt" by Haller. Once or twice to establish the title and as use as a plot devise, but every chapter (it felt that way)? Egads. I don't need to be hit over the head with the concept. I get that the jury represents the "Gods "who will determine if someone is ultimately guilty or not.

There was a scene where Haller's car is forced off an embankment and takes a tumble. Mickey's driver, Earl is thrown from the car and Mickey is roughed up pretty good. Then the accident felt glossed over. The reader finds out Mickey was in hospital, but... that's it. No more mention of aching pain, chiropractic care, physical therapy, etc. Unless I missed a sequway or time jump, which is entirely possible listening to an audio book during a commute, the accident came across as filler. A way to add more guilt to Mikey's already burdened conscious.

I conclude by saying, this is one trial that takes the reader right up to the last pages of the book. There are a couple of very interesting - but not unexpected - twists before everything is wrapped up all tidy like with a big shiny bow.

Recommended if you've read the first five in the series.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 12, 2016

Recipe Review from 12/5/2016

Winter has arrived with temps reaching a balmy 10* during the day, and from what the weather reports are predicting, things are going to continue to be a mite bit chilly this coming week.  It's definitely the season for soups and stews. 

The Meal Plan:
Sun (L) Coconut Thai Butternut Soup     (S)  Chicken Dinner with fixin's
Mon (yoga)  leftover chicken
Tues - leftover chicken
Wed -leftover soup
Thurs (yoga) - leftover soup
Fri -  Slow cooked Beef and barley stew
Sat (Craft fair/Early Christmas with the Sis)

Classic Cranberry Sauce (Ckng Lght, Nov 2008)  vegetarian, gluten free
I'm pretty sure I've variations on this "classic", and in all likely hood may have made this recipe, but there were no notes in my cookbook so I thought what the heck?

My recipe alterations included dropping the sugar down to 1 cup and adding 2 tbsp triple sec (Grand Mariner would also work).  I skipped the orange rind because I didn't have any on hand.

photo from
1 1/2 scant 1 cups sugar
3/4 cup fresh orange juice (about 3 oranges)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Dash of ground cloves
1 (12-ounce) package fresh cranberries
1 tablespoon grated orange rind 
1. Combine first 6 ingredients in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium; cook 12 minutes or until cranberries pop. Remove from heat; stir in rind. Cool completely. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Slow Cooker Sausage Cassoulet (Ckng Lght Nov 2016)   gluten free option**
I do love me a hearty cassoulet, and I like them even more when it's more bean and veggie based than meat.  Add in the simplicity of a slow cooker and we had a winning recipe!

I only had two substitutions - I used 6 oz kielbasa for the sweet Italian chicken sausage because I had it on hand, and I used dried beans (pre-cooked) instead of canned.   And one modification - I skipped the breadcrumbs.

This was perfect for a week of dropping temperatures -  it made enough for about 6 meals total (four lunches and supper for two).  It's hearty, warming, and flavorful.  Recommended. 

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion
photo from
1 1/2 cups (3/4-in.-thick) diagonally cut carrot
1 cup chopped peeled turnip
1/2 cup diced celery
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 (15-oz.) cans unsalted cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
2 (4-oz.) links fully cooked sweet Italian chicken sausage, chopped
1 (28-oz.) can unsalted diced tomatoes, undrained
3/4 cup unsalted chicken stock
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon unsalted butter **
1/2 cup whole-grain breadcrumbs
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/4 cup)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley 
  1. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion, carrot, turnip, celery, and garlic; cook 5 minutes or until just tender.
  2. Place vegetable mixture in a 5-quart slow cooker. Add cannellini beans, sausage, tomatoes, chicken stock, thyme, salt, pepper, and bay leaf. Cover and cook on LOW 8 hours or until vegetables are tender.
  3. Melt butter in a small skillet over medium. Add breadcrumbs; cook 3 minutes or until browned, stirring frequently. Remove pan from heat; stir in cheese. Stir half of breadcrumb mixture into cassoulet in slow cooker; sprinkle remaining breadcrumb mixture and parsley evenly over each serving.
 Thai Coconut [Squash] Soup (Ckng Lght, Oct 2016) vegetarian
This is fairly quick to pull together, though best done on a weekend if planning for a week night meal.   I found this to be incredibly liquidy - we prefer our squash soup to be nice and thick.  As in stand up a spoon thick.  So I basically doubled the squash.  Probably should have doubled the seasonings.... oh well.
photo from
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, chopped
4 cups (1/2-in.) cubed peeled fresh pumpkin or butternut squash (about 1 lb. 2 oz.)
1 large Granny Smith apple, cut into 1/2-in. cubes
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon red curry paste
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups unsalted vegetable stock (such as Swanson)
3/4 cup light coconut milk
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons cilantro
Lime wedges
  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat; swirl to coat. Add onion; cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic; cook 2 minutes. Add pumpkin, apples, curry paste, ginger, and salt; cook 5 minutes, stirring often. Add stock; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer 25 minutes or until pumpkin and apples are tender.
  2. Place half of pumpkin mixture in a blender, remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape). Secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters); blend until smooth. Place soup in a bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining pumpkin mixture. Pour in coconut milk and lime juice, and reheat in pan if needed. Divide soup evenly among 8 bowls; sprinkle evenly with cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.

Slow cooker [Pork] and Barley Stew (Ckng Lght, Nov 2016)
This recipe received positive reviews in the magazine. less than positive about my results.  I followed the recipe with one exception - I subbed pork for the beef.  OH! Wait, two exceptions.  I ended up using 2 tbsp dried onion flakes for the onion because I ran out of onion.  WHO the heck runs out of onion!?!   Everything else is as directed.

By the time this was done and cooked - this was more casserole like in its consistency than stew like.  Thick...very thick.  I have to add extra water when re-heating to get it stir-able.   It also turned out incredibly bland which surprised me.  I expected a nice heartiness from the beef broth, thyme and tomato paste.  What I got was almost tasteless - I'm adding siracha sauce for a little extra kick.

So, not my favorite by any means.  Not a colossal fail, just not what I anticipated.  Recommended with reservations.
photo from

4 cups unsalted beef stock
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 cup uncooked hulled (whole-grain) barley
1 cup water
1 cup sliced celery
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
6 garlic cloves, minced
4 large thyme sprigs, plus leaves for garnish
3 bay leaves
1/4 cup unsalted tomato paste
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 pounds beef stew meat, divided
2 1/2 cups (1-in.) pieces carrot
  1. Stir together first 8 ingredients in a 6-quart slow cooker. Add thyme sprigs and bay leaves; dollop tomato paste on top.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add half of beef; cook until well browned, about 6 minutes, turning once. Add beef to slow cooker. Repeat with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and beef. Scatter carrots over beef. Cover and cook on LOW until meat and grains are tender, about 8 hours. Discard thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Ladle stew into 8 bowls; sprinkle with thyme leaves.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Movie: Dr. Strange

I haven't done a movie review in a while...simply because I just haven't been to the theater.  Fall was too beautiful to waste indoors.

The Husband and I caught an early showing of Dr. Strange last Saturday.  I LOVE that I can catch a 915am movie!!  Grab some lunch afterwards, run an errand, and I can still enjoy my afternoons. 

Dr. Strange is set in the Marvel Comic universe, of which I only have a passing knowledge.  I've seen the first two Ironman movies and that's about it. The great thing is, you don't need to really understand the Marvel world or comics to enjoy this movie. 

Premise of the movie is Dr. Strange is a brilliant and egotistical surgeon.  He's callous, self-centered, and, from hints dropped in the movie, spending money hand over fist.  On his way to a speaking engagement, he fires his car off the side of a hill (texting and driving!) and crushes his hands.  Without his hands, he becomes nothing.  After a last ditch surgery fails, he spends the last of his money on a trip to Nepal to seek the help of the mystics. He gets more than he bargained for when the Ancient One shows him a world he doesn't believe exists - it's outside the realm of science.

The Ancient One has a student who went rogue and has stolen a spell from one of the sacred books. This spell is to bring to power the Eater of Worlds.  Dr. Strange, his understanding of his powers not yet manifest or understood, is forced to take on a the Ancient One's adversary and a God. 

Fun, fun movie!  The plot was engaging.  The special effects were AWESOME.  The acting was good - we are dealing with a lot of CGI Green Screen here - and the humor was, humorous.  I thought the movie was a balanced blending of action, character development, humor, special effects all while advancing the plot.

This can be watched as a stand-alone movie.  That being said, the observant movie goer will have observed how they set up a sequel.  Dr. Strange was engaging enough that I would go see the next one.   Recommended. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Recipe Review from 11/28/2016

It continues to be dreary and overcast - I think we're going on two weeks now of continuious cloud cover?  Might have had some sun last Saturday afternoon, but it was brief.  Snowed a bit Saturday into Sunday so at least it's not dreary brown any more. 

Pretty basic menu this week, nothing too exciting. 

The Meal Plan:
Sun (L) Leftover chili  (S)  Slow cooked corn chowder
Mon (yoga/bkgrp/legion mtgs)  out
Tues (field day)  tofu lomein
Wed - Pumpkin soup  pancakes
Thurs (yoga)  leftover lomein
Fri - leftovers
Sat (L)  out   (S)  leftover corn chowder and popovers.

Honey Whole Wheat Pull-apart buns (Ckng Lght Nov 2016)
These are definitely a plan ahead baked good, which I did not do and I kinda slammed these through at the last minute.  Which does not work in our cooler house.  Now there might have been some extenuating circumstances to the less than stellar performance of the dough:
  • My flour is old.  I hadn't realized how long it had been in the freezer and didn't think it would matter. 
  • My milk/butter were too warm even though I checked the temp and it was within an acceptable range.  
  • My house is just too cool for a traditional counter top rise even though I put the bread by a warm oven and a warm crockpot.  
First rise was less than stellar, but I went with it.  Second rise wasn't much better, but dough was rising.  Bread did poof more in the oven and actually made buns.  Overall flavor was good, texture and crumb were good, and I liked being able to use my spring-form pan for something other than the periodic cheesecake.  But there was something off with the dough itself.

I plan on making these again, but trying the orange/sage variation. 

photo from
1 pkg. dry yeast (about 2 1/4 tsp.)
3 tablespoons warm 1% low-fat milk (100°F to 110°F)
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
2 tablespoons honey 2 large eggs
4.5 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 cup)
4 ounces white whole-wheat flour (about 1 cup)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Cooking spray
2 teaspoons water
1 large egg yolk
  1. Dissolve yeast in warm milk in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; let stand 5 minutes. Add butter, honey, and 2 eggs to milk mixture; beat at low speed 1 minute or until combined. Weigh or lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flours and salt in a bowl. Add half of flour mixture to milk mixture; beat at low speed until combined, scraping down sides of bowl with spatula as needed. Remove paddle attachment; insert dough hook. Add remaining half of flour mixture; beat at medium-low speed 4 minutes or until combined.

  2. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface; knead 5 minutes or until smooth. Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°F), free from drafts, 1 hour and 15 minutes or until doubled in size. (Gently press 2 fingers into dough. If indentation remains, it has risen enough).

  3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut dough into 12 equal portions. Working with 1 portion at a time (cover remaining pieces to avoid drying), gently roll into a smooth ball. Place rolls in a 9-inch springform pan coated with cooking spray, leaving space between rolls. Cover and let rise 1 hour and 15 minutes or until almost doubled in size.

  4. Preheat oven to 350°F.

  5. Combine 2 teaspoons water and egg yolk in a bowl, stirring with a whisk. Brush rolls with egg mixture; discard remaining egg mixture. Bake 13 minutes or until golden. Place pan on a wire rack; cool 5 minutes. Remove sides from pan; cool completely.

Corn Chowder  (Slow Cooker Revolution)  gluten free, vegetarian option
I didn't see a previous post of this after a quick search on the blog, and I didn't have any notes in the cookbook indicating I've made this before.  I'm going on the assumption this is new, even though I have a feeling I've done it before.   I'm also going from memory as I type this, so I may have to come back and tweak the ingredients. 

This is pretty basic in taste, best with fresh corn but frozen works just dandy.  You can up the flavor factor by adding some shrimp toward the end of cooking and make it a shrimp-corn chowder.  This made enough for 4 lunches for one, and dinner for 2 so...roughly 6 servings. 

4 cups corn
1 qt chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup onion, chopped
4 medium potatoes, cubed
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2-3 celery stalks, chopped 
1 tsp garlic
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp thyme  
1/2 - 1 cup half n half 

1) Put everything in the slow cooker, cook on low 8 hour or high 4 hours (or to your slow cookers time/temps, they're all a bit different).   Using and immersion blender, puree to desired thickness.  You can skip blending if you like, it's entirely optional.  Add half and half to desired taste.  Serve.

Tofu and Vegetable LoMein  (Ckng Lght, Nov 2016)  vegetarian option**
Couple of items right of the top:  I cannot find "fresh linguine or Chinese egg noodles" where I live.  Does. Not. Exist.  This is not the first recipe I have gone in quest of said noodles, and I keep hoping someday they will miraculously appear, but in the mean time I continue to experiment with noodle substitutions.  This time it was udon noodles, cooked according to directions on the package.  They worked okay.

I have a love/hate relationship with tofu.  I like eating it, and the versitility it offers in dishes, but trying to get it to "brown"?  HA!  I've tried a dry pan, I've tried a lightly oiled pan, I've pressed the water out of the brick, nothing seems to work and I end up with tofu burnt to the bottom of my pan.  

I will also admit, I goofed up the recipe.  I forgot to add the stock and cornstarch mix.  I was getting ready to serve, I looked behind me on the counter and lo! there was my measuring cup with this lone ingredient.  So I tossed it on top and gave everything a good stir.  Cornstarch didn't have time to completely dissolve so the noodles were a bit...grainy.

By the time we had this as leftovers, it tasted much better.

photo from
8 cups water
6 ounces refrigerated fresh linguine or fresh Chinese egg noodles
1/2 cup unsalted chicken stock or vegetable stock**
2 teaspoons cornstarch 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil, divided
6 ounces extra-firm tofu, cut into 1/2-in. cubes
10 ounce shiitake mushroom caps, sliced (about 2 cups)
1 red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced napa cabbage (from 1 cabbage)
3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 cup frozen shelled edamame, thawed

  1. Bring 8 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add noodles; cook 3 minutes or until al dente. Drain; rinse under cold water. Drain.

  2. Combine stock and cornstarch in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Heat a large skillet over medium-high. Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add tofu; cook 5 minutes or until browned, stirring frequently. Remove tofu from pan. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil, mushrooms, and bell pepper to pan; cook 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cabbage and soy sauce; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add stock mixture and edamame to pan; cook 3 minutes. Add noodles and tofu; toss to combine. Divide tofu mixture among 4 shallow bowls.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Nemesis Games by James SA Corey (Expanse #5)

Nemesis Games (Expanse, #5)Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: The fifth novel in James S.A. Corey's New York Times bestselling Expanse series--now being produced for television by the SyFy Channel!

A thousand worlds have opened, and the greatest land rush in human history has begun. As wave after wave of colonists leave, the power structures of the old solar system begin to buckle.

Ships are disappearing without a trace. Private armies are being secretly formed. The sole remaining protomolecule sample is stolen. Terrorist attacks previously considered impossible bring the inner planets to their knees. The sins of the past are returning to exact a terrible price.

And as a new human order is struggling to be born in blood and fire, James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante must struggle to survive and get back to the only home they have left.

November's book group selection.

This, was a awesome book. A bit of a departure from previous sections in the series (and way better than death slugs and eye fungus from the previous book) in that our crew of the Rocinante has dispersed to the four winds while the Rocinante is undergoing repairs. Each of the crew has something from their past that needs wrapping up. Each crew member says their goodbyes, but it's left open and unsaid if they are planning on returning. James Holden is left to his own devises, bumping around a station, purposeless until the news reporter Monica disappears after telling him about ships going missing. .

When the proverbial shit hits the fan (or the stealth rocks start falling on Earth), our merry crew is scattered across the galaxy:
  • Amos is on Earth, deep underground chatting with Clarissa Mao when the lights go out.
  • Alex is with Bobbie, and they find themselves zipping around the galaxy with the Martian Prime Minister while Avasarala throws her political weight around.
  • Naomi becomes Marco's prisoner - someone she thought she had left decades ago - under the pretense that Marco wanted the mother of his child safe when the Belter's stand up and take their rightful place in the universe. 
  • Holden is left on station with the Rocinante when the last sample of the protomolecule is stolen from Fred Johnson's office. Fred and Holden begin to realize that nothing is safe and nobody can be trusted.

My least favorite story line was Naomi's - simply because it felt more like filler than the solidity the sub-plots had. I grew tired of her internal emotional tug of war regarding Marco and being shoved back into a situation she thought she had left behind. I wanted to smack her upside the head and say get over yourself already!

I loved that Avasarala and Bobbie were back in full force. Chrisjen is probably my favorite character in this series. I laughed out loud when Avasarala is bombasting the Martian Prime Minister in a message to Bobbie, knowing full well that the PM can overhear what she's saying, and when Bobbie apologies, he shrugs and admits that Avasrala didn't say anything that he hadn't already heard. Great scene.

And ultimately, the question becomes, how will all these plot lines return to the Rocinante. You know they will, so it's a matter of how. Which I won't tell you about here. Nemesis Games is just too much of a roller coaster ride to deny you the enjoyment of finding that out for yourself.

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