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Monday, January 30, 2017

Recipe review from 1/23/17

Pretty quiet and uneventful week all the way around.  Our excitement consisted of foiling a small, persistent red squirrel from getting into the bird feeder.  One pole baffle and several trimmed branches later, we had a very perplexed squirrel.  Watching his thought process as he shimmied up the pole only to slide back down, and to run up the mountain ash, only to run back down, was pretty entertaining.

The Meal Plan for week of 1/16:
Sun (L)  leftover tagine  (S) Slow cooked chicken dumpling soup
Mon (Yoga)  leftover chicken soup
Tues - leftover chicken soup
Wed - Chicken, butnut squash and gnocchi dumplings
Thurs (Yoga) - leftovers
Fri - leftover chicken and gnocchi dumplings
Sat (L) out    (S)  leftovers

Lunches - (me)  black bean soup   (Husband) sandwiches

Old Fashioned Chicken and Dumplings Soup (modified American Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution)
I did one significant substitution in this and that was to use a whole, cut-up chicken rather than the boneless, skinless chicken thighs the recipe originally called for.   I also subbed edmame for peas, because I forgot my bag of peas at the Folks place (in the freezer) when I swung by for a visit.  Darn it!   This recipe will easily accommodate peas, edmame, green beans, or similar.

This was really good!  It's been ages since I've had a classic chicken soup with dumplings on the top.  There were almost more dumplings than soup.  Yum!  This made about 6 servings for two of us.  Recommended! 

3 lbs chicken (I used one whole chicken, quartered)
2 onions, minced
2 celery ribs, sliced 1/4" thick
6 garlic cloves, minced or grated
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/3 cup all purpose sherry
4 1/2  cups chicken broth (plus extra if needed)
4 carrots, sliced 1/4 thick
2 bay leaves
1 cup frozen peas (I used edmame)
3 tbsp parsley, chopped

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup whole milk (I used goat milk)
3 tbsp butter

1. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.  Heat 1 tbsp oil in 12" skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking.  Brown half of chicken lightly on both sides and transfer to bowl.  Repeat with remaining chicken.

2. Add 1 tbsp oil to pan and heat until shimmering.  Add onions, celery, garlic, tomato paste, and thyme and cook until vegetables are softened and lightly browned, 8-10 minutes.  Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute.  Slowly whisk in sherry, scraping up any browned bits.  Wish in 1 cup broth, smoothing out any lumps.  Transfer to a slow cooker.

3.  Stir in remaining 3 1/2 cups broth, carrots, and bay leaves into slow cooker.  Nestle chicken with accumulated juice into slow cooker.  Cover and cook until until chicken is tender, 4-6 hours on low.

4.  Transfer chicken to cutting board, let cool slightly, then shred into bite-sized pieces.  Let stew settle and and remove fat from surface.

5. Strongly Recommended - Transfer mix to large dutch oven.  Stir in shredded chicken, peas and parsley (optional) and season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer over medium heat.

6. FOR THE DUMPLINGS: Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl.  Heat milk and butter over gentle heat until butter is just melted.  DO NOT OVERHEAT.  Stir milk into flour mixture until just incorporated and smooth.

7. Drop golf ball sized "dumplings" on top of simmering soup leaving about 1/4 inch between each dumpling.  Cover and cook until dumplings have doubled in size, 25 to 35 minutes.  Serve. 

Chicken and Butternut Gnocchi  (Ckng Lght, Jan/Feb 2017)
This was tasty, but I had some issues which were mostly my fault (recipe interpretation):

My co-op only sells bone-in skin on thighs, and I didn't take the time to de-bone. Cooking took a lot longer than I had anticipated and that was with adding in extra time to account for bone-in.

My squash did NOT cook in 8 minutes, and yes, it was cut into small pieces.

I don't have access to ww gnocchi, so I used the local frozen kind that I typically buy. Yum...should have maybe stuck with the vacuum sealed kind (found with the dried pasta) because the frozen turned kinda gloppy/gluey while I was trying to get the squash to finish cooking.

And after all that, I totally spaced adding the spinach...

But, flavor was still good and this could easily be made vegetarian by skipping the chicken completely.

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 (6-oz.) skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-in. pieces
photo from

3 cups (1/2-in.) cubed peeled butternut squash
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
1 (12-oz.) pkg. whole-wheat gnocchi
3/4 cup unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
2 tablespoons prepared refrigerated pesto
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic
5 ounces baby spinach, chopped
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/4 cup)
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add chicken; cook 5 minutes or until browned. Place chicken in a bowl.

  2. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in pan over medium. Add squash and onion; cook 8 minutes. Add squash mixture to chicken. Add gnocchi to pan; cook 2 minutes. Add chicken mixture, stock, pesto, sage, garlic, and spinach to pan; cook 1 minute. Top with cheese.

Slow cooked Black Bean Soup (modified American Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution)
I loved the simplicity of this recipe:  saute the onions and the spices, toss everything into the slow cooker, and walk away.  I did think this turned out a bit bland despite the chili powder, cumin, and smoked ham hock.

This made a huge batch - enough for about 8 servings.   My guilty pleasure: I served it with Frito scoops.   Recommended! 

3 onions, minced
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin (I gotta have my cumin)
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 cups water
1 lb dried black beans (2 1/2 cups), picked over and rinsed
3 celery ribs, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-pieces
2 bay leaves
1 smoked ham hock, rinsed
2 tbsp cilantro, minced fresh cilantro

1.  Heat 1 tbsp oil in a 12" skillet over medium-high heat.  Saute onion, garlic, chili powder until softened.  Put in slow cooker.

2.  Stir broth, water, beans, celery, carrots, and bay leaves into slow cooker.  Nestle ham hock into slow cooker.  Cover and cook until beans are tender, 9-11 hours on low or 5-7 hours on high.

3.  Transfer ham hock to cutting board and let cool slightly.  Shred into bite sized pieces discarding skin and bones.

4.  Using a potato masher, mash mixture until desired consistency.  Add in shredded ham hock and let sit until heated through.  Stir in cilantro, season with salt and pepper to taste and serve. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Up the Line by Robert Silverberg

Read for January book group.   Two stars out of five.

I've attended 20+ years of scifi conventions now and my friend and I have been observing one panel that seems to repeatedly crop up - The Classics. In which the panel members and audience wax poetic about "the good old days" (roughly the 1950-1970s), how the "new" books just don't have the same sense of wonder, and how EVERYONE "should" (re)reading Heinlein, Azimov, Vinge, Silverberg, Bear, etc.

I've been reading those authors since I discovered scifi in my teens.

Some books and authors have withstood the test to time.

Other books (and authors) should quietly be relegated to the bottom shelf.

Up the Line was one of those books.

The premise is interesting enough - Jud Elliot leaves a dreary Civil Servant job after three weeks and discovers he can be a Time Courier, shuttling people "up the line" to momentous events in history. His specialty is Byzantium, and after training in, he begins tours of his own. While during one layoff - a mandatory two week break between tours - he goes "up the line" to visit a fellow courier and meets Pulcheria, a young woman of remarkable beauty and a very distant relation. What happens next transcends time and timelines as one of Jeb's tourists escapes the group, messes up time, and sends the Couriers scrambling to fix the problem before the Time Patrol finds out.

What happened next was a strong desire to wash my brain in bleach.

This was sexually...gross. I don't think I can describe it any other way. What should have been a futuristic representation of the freedom of sex and sexuality came across as a male wet dream - where the women are loose and their thighs tight. Breasts are for display and nipples for grabbing. Where sex is for the taking across time and timelines. Sorry Mr. Silverberg, I know you wrote erotica before scifi - but this melding of the two genres didn't work.

Or perhaps it did...?

If I can step away from my revulsion, it would be interesting to find out how this was received in 1969/1970. Was it viewed through the lens of "Yeah! Free love, Baby!" Was this indicative of the thoughts, mores, and bra burning of the 1970's? Can someone in their 20s, 30s or even 40s read this now and marvel at the whole aspect of time traveling?

Allow me to briefly touch on the historical aspect. Some thought, study and research was obviously given to this topic. Why did Silverberg pick Byzantium? For it's richness? A cross-roads in history? I'm not a historian on Middle Eastern history so I can't speak to the accuracy of what was written. What I can say the bits that were presented came across as a lot of names delivered in rapid fire presentation as the Hagia Sophia burning and the city falling to pillaging and raping.

Of moderate interest was Jeb's "Black Death" tour - and the precautions taken to ensure the plague wasn't brought forward in time (even though it still exists, even today...).

Could Up the Line have even been written sans all the lusting, public sex and groping of pre-pubescent kids? Probably.

But it wasn't. So there it is. Not recommended.

Addendum: much to my shock, this was nominated for a Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1969, and a Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1970. I probably shouldn't be so surprised...I'm willing to bet in 1970 the target audience was 98% male.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Recipe Review from 1/16/2017

An unusual post this week - I didn't type out the recipes this go around because they were all sooo long and moderately involved.  I've referenced the cook books.   If you use your slow cooker as much as I do, I HIGHLY recommend America's Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution.  Amazing. 

The Meal Plan week of 1/16:
Sat (L) leftover chicken  (S) out - Pizza Luce
Sun (L) Moroccan Chili    (S) Spaghetti and meatballs
Mon (in town for class)  chili
Tues (sub yoga PM )  spaghetti
Wed - meatballs and polenta
Thurs (yoga)  meatballs and polenta
Fri (yoga)  Moroccan tagine

Lunches (Me) slow cooked Moroccan Tagine   (Husband) wraps

Moroccan Chili (modified America's Test Kitchen Slow Cook Revolution)  gluten free
This was another notable chili though the "Moroccan" aspect was very subdued and reflected more in the chickpeas than the spices. I used pork instead of beef and didn't detected a huge difference. Ground lamb or buffalo might also be good substitutes. This came together very quickly, flavors are nicely balanced, and while not a "hot" chili - it wasn't lacking for spices. I served this with some naan as a change of pace from chips. The only downside is this only makes about 5 servings, so that was a bit disappointing . Otherwise, recommended.

Slow Cooked Chickpea Tagine (modified America's Test Kitchen Slow Cook Revolution)
gluten free, vegetarian option
If my nose and taste buds are telling me anything, it's that I managed to somehow burn this one. The perplexing bit is - there was nothing "burned" in the bottom or sides of the slow cooker, I didn't have to scrape anything off the sides, and I didn't notice anything charred. Yet...burned. I think. I ate it anyway because this made about 8-10 servings and I wasn't going to waste that much food. It's not like it was inedible, just not what I thought I could/would be.   Recommended with reservations - I don't know I goofed something or if that's just how the recipe tastes. 

Spaghetti and Meatballs (Lidia's Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine)
I saw this one on one of Lidia's cooking shows, and it looked simple and tasty enough that I had to get the cookbook and give it a whirl. While it wasn't quite as easy as she made it look on TV, it was still decent for a weekend meal: I could clean as I go and had plenty of leftovers for later in the week.

 If the cook follows her recipe, it flows along pretty smoothly - chop onions, sauté, add tomatoes, set aside and let simmer. Make meatballs, fry/sauté, add to sauce and finish cooking. Make spaghetti. Clean-up and eat! A couple comments - I used hot Italian sausage instead of beef/pork mix; my sauce was lacking a bit of zing because I was out of red pepper flakes (I did add some garlic). And I only cooked one half pound of the box of spaghetti - as a mid-week change I served the rest over polenta.   Recipe recommended, jury still out on the rest of the cook book.    

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

In Memoriam: Ben 2002-2017

Our neurotic but happy-go-lucky little English Setter Ben passed on Friday, Jan 13 at age 14 1/2.  A series of seizures on early evening left him unresponsive, ending a slow health decline that began back in September of 2016 when he got Vestibular Disease (senior dog vertigo).

sleepy pookie ~2006
Ben came to us in Sept of 2002, a wee little sprite of a thing, all floppy ears, uncoordinated paws and long of tail.  His "sister" Kia took an immediate dislike to him - we found out later she had an under active thyroid and wasn't feeling well so that explained a lot.  Sibling relations slowly improved and we soon had the dynamic duo making us laugh, groan, and occasionally gnash our teeth. 

Ben and Kia ~2008

While the Husband had hopes to train Ben as a bird dog, we soon found out he was gun shy - which included fireworks,  thunderstorms, and the vacuum cleaner.  While guns, thunderstorms and fireworks were his bane until his passing, in his senior years, he decided the vacuum wasn't all that bad.
              Cody       Kia       Ben  ~2009

Ben and Andy  ~2012
Ben's absolute favorite was car rides.  He was happiest in the back of a car - it didn't matter if the car was parked in the yard, a parking lot, at the Folks house, he wanted to be in the car.  A bit problematic sometimes when the weather drops below 0*.

His second favorite was his pool.  Ben loved the water.  When he was a puppy, we took him down to Lake Superior to introduce him to the water while we threw sticks for Kia.  When we next looked, this 9 month old puppy was heading for Wisconsin!  There was a bit of angst about getting him to turn back around.  All was well. 

swimmy poo!  2008

Ben's favorite place to sleep was under the bed or couch.  Amazing really, to watch a 50lb dog crawl under the bed, but it was his safe spot until his hips wouldn't let him do that any more. 

Hard day of digging

Ben-pup will be with us a long time, even though he has physically gone:  his fine English Setter hair is in everything.   Years ago my folks sold a suburban with a black, carpeted interior  - we joke to this day that Ben's fur is probably still embedded in that carpeting.  I'm sure I will be finding "Ben" for years to come in nooks and crannies around the house.

So we wish Ben a fond farewell. 

May you find many mice to hunt. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Recipe Review from 1/8/2017

It was cold, like below zero cold with biting winds.  Then it warmed up to 20*F and it snowed.  And in 12 hours, it dropped to zero again.  A person can get mental whiplash from these kinds of weather swings.

Bottom line is, this is soup, stew and chili weather!  Pull out those slow cookers, warm up the ovens, and get cooking!  
The Meal Plan for week of 1/8
Sun (L) leftover curried lentil soup   (S)  Tequila and Lime Chili
Mon (yoga)  leftover chili
Tues - out or at home shoveling and leftover chicken dinner
Wed - leftover chicken dinner
Thurs (yoga)  leftover chili
Fri- soup and grilled cheese??
Sat (L)  pasty         (S) Bulldog game - out

Tequila and Lime Chili (modified from America's Test Kitchen, Slow Cooker Revolution)  gluten free
This was a bit putzy on the front end - sauté onions, garlic, tomato paste, spices; add turkey mixture and sauté; add tomato sauce and sauté - at this point I was beginning to wonder why not just cook the whole darn thing on the stove?   But, there's nothing quite like a long, slow cooked chili, the house filled with the smell of spices and tomato-y goodness.  So into the slow cooker it went.

This was outstanding.  Husband voted it best chili yet.  I would make this again without hesitation, but in the future I would add either another can of beans, or a can of hominy.  I thought the chili was a bit lacking in the "filling" department.  This is a perfect chili to make on a weekend. 

This made 6 servings.  

Step 1
1 slice bread, torn into quarters (I used homemade wheat bread)
2 tbsp 1/2n1/2
1 lb ground turkey (ATK recommends NOT ground turkey breast, aka 99% fat free - you need the fat)
vegetable oil (I used bacon fat)

Step 2
2 onions, chopped
2 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp tomato paste
3 garlic cloves, minced or grated
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 (15oz) can tomato sauce

Step 3
1 (14.5oz) can diced tomatoes (don't drain)
1 (15oz) can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup tequila
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp minced canned chipolte in adobo sauce

1 tsp grated lime zest (about 1/2 of a small lime)
1 tbsp fresh lime juice (I used 1/2 of a small lime)
more tequila if too thick

Step 1 - Mash bread and milk together in a large bowl using a fork.  Mix in ground turkey, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper using hands.

Step 2a - Heat oil (or bacon grease) in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add onions, chili powder, tomato paste, garlic, cumin, oregano and red pepper flakes and cook until vegetables are just starting to soften.

Step 2b - Add turkey mixture and cook, breaking up any large pieces.  Cook about three minutes or until outside of turkey starts to brown (good luck seeing that under the tomato paste and chili powders...).  Stir in tomato sauce, scraping up any browned bits and transfer to slow cooker.

Step 3 - Stir diced tomatoes with juice, beans, 3 tbsp tequila, soy sauce honey and chipolte into slow cooker.  Cover and cook until turkey is tender, 4-6 hours on low.

Step 4 - Let chili settle for 5 minutes, then remove fat from surface with a large spoon.  Break up any remaining large pieces of turkey with spoon.  Stir in remaining tbsp of tequila, lime zest and lime juice.  Season with salt and pepper, tequila, and lime juice to taste.  Serve!

Chipolte-Spiced Pumpkin Soup  (Ckng Lght, Oct 2016)  gluten free, vegetarian option
This recipe is part of a "Make It Three Ways" article, and I've now made all three: Pumpkin-Apple Soup, Thai Coconut Pumpkin Soup, and Chipolte-Spiced Pumpkin Soup.  I also made all three with Butternut squash.

Another OMG good soup!  One significant modification and that was to double the squash.  I like my squash soup thick.  I didn't double anything else and didn't feel the overall flavors were diminished.  Of the "Make it Three Ways", this one was my favorite:  bit of heat, fragrant, filling.  Recommended.

Even with doubling the squash, this made exactly six servings.  
2 tablespoons olive oil
photo from
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.)  (I used 2lbs of butnut squash)
1 large Granny Smith apple, cut into 1/2-in. cubes
1 finely chopped seeded chipotle chile canned in adobo sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups unsalted vegetable stock (such as Swanson)
1/4 cup water as necessary to thin soup to desired thickness.  I like mine thick, so I skipped. 

1 ounce thinly sliced and slivered Spanish chorizo  (I used 1 link of Mexican chorizo, crumbled and fried.)

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, chopped chile, 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.While soup cooks, place chorizo in a small skillet, and cook over medium-low heat until crisp.

3.  Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth.  Divide soup evenly among 8 bowls; sprinkle evenly with cooked chorizo.

Worlds Best Oatmeal Cake (variation by Pinch of Yum blog)
I've been facilitating a fair number of meetings this past December and January and even I've grown tired of the donut holes (the blueberry version was the best received) and so-so store bought cookies (m&m cookies are a favorite).  Plus buying so many treats gets a bit hard on the wallet.   This weeks meeting landed on a Wednesday, which meant I was home on Tuesday and could actually bake something!   A previous co-worker used to make a version of this cake for potlucks, it was always well received, and so I went in search of the recipe.  I couldn't find the one from before (and I forgot to check my own blog...), but I think this was pretty close.

Easy to whip up, most folks have these ingredients on hand, and frosting is optional.  This one called for a ganache style frosting (which I skipped), and I found other recipes with a German Cake-style with pecans and coconut topping, or a classic cream cheese frosting.  I like plain.  So plain it is.   Follow the recipe link for the chocolate frosting option.

  • 1 cup quick cooking oats (*I used regular rolled oats)
  • 1¾ cups boiling water
Photo from Pinch of Yum blog.
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • ½ cup butter, melted
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten with fork
  • 1¾ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 12 oz bag chocolate chips, divided
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans, divided (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350*. Add boiling water to oatmeal and let stand for a few minutes (*10 minutes if using regular rolled oats).
  2. With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars. Add the eggs and mix well.
  3. Add flour, soda, salt and cocoa and mix until just incorporated. The batter will be very thick.
  4.  Add softened oats/water mixture to the batter and mix well. Stir in half of the bag of chocolate chips (6 ounces).
  5. Pour into a greased or buttered rectangular 9x13 cake pan. Sprinkle the top of the cake with the rest of the bag of chocolate chips (6 ounces) and walnuts or pecans if using.
  6. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Do not overbake. Let cool completely.
Pinch of Yum Notes:
*You can substitute rolled oats for the quick cooking oats, but they should be soaked in the boiling water for at least 10 minutes. Also, if you use rolled oats, the texture of the cake will be different as the oats will be more noticeable.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Private: Vegas by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (Private #9)

Private Vegas (Private, #9)Private Vegas by James Patterson

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: What happens in Vegas...stays Private.
Las Vegas is a city of contradictions: seedy and glamorous, secretive and wild, Vegas attracts people of all kinds--especially those with a secret to hide, or a life to leave behind. It's the perfect location for Lester Olsen's lucrative business. He gets to treat gorgeous, young women to five-star restaurants, splashy shows, and limo rides--and then he teaches them how to kill.

Private Jack Morgan spends most of his time in Los Angeles, where his top investigation firm has its headquarters. But a hunt for two criminals leads him to the city of sin--and to a murder ring that is more seductively threatening than anything he's witnessed before. Private Vegas brings James Patterson's Private series to a sensational new level.

Read as an audio book. My apologies if I've spelled names wrong.

To say this was set in Vegas would be a stretch at best. The reader is presented with four plots: the two ambassadors from Somlia, Arthur Hagg murdering his wife Toole, a series of car bombings - one of which took out Jack's Lamborghini, and the Delrio murder trial. The Toole murder is the only link to Vegas, and that didn't come until nearly 2/3 of the way through the book. Everything else is in LA.

In previous editions, Justine is portrayed as a woman who can hold her own, kick some butt, and solve mysteries. Now we're back to a woman who is jealous and peeved when Jack is called in to a crime scene (despite the fact that his JOB), comes across as a damsel in distress when Jack's car is blown up, behaves more like a sex kitten than a kick-ass private detective/psychologist, and has double standards when it comes to her being able to date but god forbid Jack has any relationship with another woman. Talk about a character giving people whiplash...

I also found it interesting that of the four plots, the least interesting and most easy to solve mystery was given to...Justine. It was like the authors felt a need to have her character in the book to justify her so-called romance with Jack, so give the woman the easy one.

What is *with* the women preening naked in front of mirrors in these books? Seriously?

If the astute reader can't see where the whole Delrio court trial is going (and who set it up), you should not be allowed to read anymore mysteries. That setup was so blatantly obvious I skipped any chapter with the trial.

The two plot that barely held my interest was the Somalian diplomats and the weak Vegas "Marry a Millionaire" scheme. IF the authors had been smart - they would have put those two plots completely in Vegas, dropped the rest for another time and then they would have had something.

I did have some issues with the Somlian's assaulting "chubby" blond women - a bit insulting to our curvy sisters in the world, especially since every other woman in the Private Series is tall, leggy, curvaceous, with flat tummys and tight butts. We know this because they preen in front of the mirrors and tell us so.

Ah well. Brain fodder for some long icy/snowy commutes. Can't recommend this one.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 9, 2017

Recipe Review from 1/1/2017

Ah, the start of a new year, the start of a new list!

The method behind the madness:  the Meal Plan reflects what I have for lunches and suppers.  I plan out the weekend meals in a bit more detail than the weekday meals.  Usually lunch is a soup for me and sandwiches for the Husband, with other things to get us through a day.  I'll plan in evening activities so I know when I need something the Husband can warm up or if I need to account for leftovers.

Why don't I plan breakfast?  Because we don't have too much variation there:  oatmeal with English muffin, oatmeal with grapefruit or fruit,  an English muffin with a poached egg and fruit, Sunday's might find us making pancakes or waffles with a side of bacon.

We have a local bread company - Zenith Bread Project - that makes the most amazing sourdough English muffins.  These things are huge and sharing one is enough for two of us.  l buy these because they use limited ingredients:  flour, water, sea salt,  honey,  milk, yeast, and cornmeal.  Nary a soybean in sight!  Yay!

The Meal Plan for week 1/1/2017
Sun (L) Pasty      (S)  Leftovers
Mon (Yoga)  Spicy Chicken and Chorizo Stew
Tues - leftovers
Wed - leftovers
Thurs (Yoga) leftovers
Fri (breakfast out) Chinese take-out
Sat (L) leftover Chinese   (S)  Chicken dinner with slow cooked squash and baked potatoes

Lunches - (me) Lentil Soup (H) leftover pork sandwiches

Spicy Chicken and Chorizo Stew  (modified from America's Test Kitchen, Slow Cooker Revolution)  gluten free!

A notable item about the ATK recipes in this book, is they use a microwave to soften the onions and veggies.  I don't have a microwave, so I do it the "old fashioned way" on the stove top.  Another advantage is I can get some caramelization on the onions, which I think adds some nice background flavors.

I did skip the corn and cilantro - corn because I was going to use up some edamame in my freezer (forgot), cilantro because I just didn't feel like buying a batch. 

This was a winner!  The chipolte definitely adds some nice background zing - if you have little taste buds in the family or someone who's heat sensitive, skip or just use some adobo sauce.  If you lean toward being a hot head, bump up the head accordingly.  I would make this again, perhaps adding some cornbread along side.  I did serve this over basmati rice for a couple of meals.  Recommended!

This made 8 servings.  Can be stretched with the addition of rice of choice.  

12 oz chorizo sausage, cut in to 1/2" slices  (I used Mexican style, like a brat)
2 cups onion, chopped
2 tbsp garlic, minced
1 tbsp chipolte chili, minced (about one chili)**
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
1 cup chicken broth
2 tbsp instant tapioca
4 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 cup frozen corn
1/4 cup minced cilantro

1. My method: Heat oil a medium saute pan over medium high heat. Add onion, stirring occasionally and cook for 1-2 minutes.  Add garlic and chipolte, and cook for 1-2 minutes.  Add chipolte, stirring to incorporate, about 1 minute.   Transfer to a slow cooker.  Stir in tomatoes, broth and tapioca.  Season chicken with salt and pepper and nestle into tomato mixture.   Cook 4-5 hours on low. 

2.  Using a large spoon, skim excess fat from surface of stew.  Break chicken into pieces with tongs.  Stir in corn and let sit until heated through, about 5 minutes.  (Adjust stew consistency with extra hot broth as needed.)  Stir in cilantro and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cider Braised Squash Puree  (modified from America's Test Kitchen, Slow Cooker Revolution)  gluten free, vegetarian

Give me a big bowl of mashed squash and I am a very a happy person!  I'm still working my way through those 30 squash from the garden this Fall - tho I have given away at least 10 so making progress with the rest.  A chicken dinner called for a veggie and I found this to experiment with.

I like the simplicity of the chop and plop, cooking time listed was off (I had to adjust the heat and cook longer), and I think this could be a very versatile and easy side dish for a Holiday meal.  No oven required!  Could even make ahead and re-heat!

I did think 2 tbsp of brown sugar was a bit too much and next time I will try maple syrup instead. 

3 lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1" chunks (I went smaller)
1/2 cup apple cider plus more as needed
salt and pepper
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 tbsp heavy cream, warmed (I used 1/2 n 1/2)
2 tbsp brown sugar (honey, maple syrup, or sweetener of choice would also work; can omit too)

1. Combine squash, cider and 1/2 tsp salt and pepper in a slow cooker.   Cook 4-6 hours on low (I needed the full six.)

2.  Before serving, melt the butter, add the cream and brown sugar, and pour over squash.  Mash with a potato masher.  Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.  Can keep warm for up to two hours on "warm" setting. 

Curried Lentil Soup (modified from America's Test Kitchen, Slow Cooker Revolution Vol 2)  gluten free, vegetarian

This was a very tasty dish.  The curry flavors aren't overwhelming, the ginger adds a much needed brightness (especially when outside temps are sitting at 0*), and it's filling without being heavy.

My main modification was I used significantly less broth than called for - I wanted this a bit more stew-like in consistency than soup.   I started with four or five cups in the slow cooker, then added the remaining cup(s) toward the end of cooking. 

My lentils never did get "tender", but were more al dente, which I prefer.  I like having a little bit of "bite" or resistance to my beans.  That being said, the Husband thought it was a bit chewy for his taste. 

This made enough for 7-8 meals. 

2 cups onion, chopped
2 tbsp grated ginger, divided in half
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 tsp curry powder
8 cups chicken broth (I used 4-6 cups)
1 cup lentils  (I used French Green Lentils)
**ATK notes any lentil will work except red or yellow
2 tomatoes, cored and chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, minced 
salt and pepper

1. My method: Heat oil a medium saute pan over medium high heat. Add onion, stirring occasionally and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add ginger, tomato paste, and curry powder and cook for 1-2 minutes or until onions are just beginning to soften.  Transfer to a slow cooker.  Stir in lentils, broth and carrots.     Cover and cook until lentils are tender 6-7 hours on low or 4-5 hours on high.

2.  Stir in chopped tomatoes and remaining 1 tbsp ginger and let sit until heated trough, about 5 minutes.  Stir in cilantro (if using) and season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Escape Clause by John Sandford (Virgil Flowers #8)

Escape Clause (Virgil Flowers, #9)Escape Clause by John Sandford

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  Whenever you hear the sky rumble, that usually means a storm. In Virgil Flowers’ case, make that two. The exceptional new thriller from the writer whose books are “pure reading pleasure” (Booklist)

The first storm comes from, of all places, the Minnesota zoo. Two large, and very rare, Amur tigers have vanished from their cage, and authorities are worried sick that they’ve been stolen for their body parts. Traditional Chinese medicine prizes those parts for home remedies, and people will do extreme things to get what they need. Some of them are a great deal more extreme than others -- as Virgil is about to find out.

Then there’s the homefront. Virgil’s relationship wi th his girlfriend Frankie has been getting kind of serious, but when Frankie’s sister Sparkle moves in for the summer, the situation gets a lot more complicated. For one thing, her research into migrant workers is about to bring her up against some very violent people who emphatically do not want to be researched. For another…she thinks Virgil’s kind of cute.

“You mess around with Sparkle,” Frankie told Virgil, “you could get yourself stabbed.”
“She carries a knife?”
“No, but I do.”

Forget a storm – this one’s a tornado.

Read as an audio book.

This would have marked my last book of 2016. Review just falls in 2017.

Noooo! (Long drawn out wail from my car...) Not the tigers!!! I was admittedly perturbed for the rest of the book, which might have been the point - killing or threatening to kill an animal can be perceived as more abhorrent than the usual murder/mystery/thriller. Even as the body count rose, it wasn't as bothersome as the poor tigers.

Classic Sandford, perhaps a bit lighter topic than some of his other Virgil stories - like Bad Blood - with lots of snippets of humor sprinkled throughout - skinny dipping with Frankie and Sparkle and Bill show up, Bill, everyone asking Virgil if he brought his gun then saying "don't shoot me", yup, lots of classic Virgil humor. I really enjoyed that.

Premise of the book is two rare Amur tigers have been stolen from the Minnesota Zoo and the BCA is called in due to the high profile crime. Virgil Flowers is point man because everyone else is pulling security at the State Fair (read Extreme Prey, Davenport #26). Flowers starts poking around as only Flowers can, and pretty soon he's got everyone riled up. Even people folks who have nothing to do with the investigation are riled up. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking for getting the tigers back alive.

As I noted, this is classic Sandford writing. The reader knows what the antagonist is doing, will get to see the misdirection and mistakes both sides make, and watch as everything comes to a rather explosive ending. I continued to enjoy the humor - seriously, how could you not get a chuckle out of an RV full of Armenian hit men and everyone complimenting everyone else's shoes? Frankie's sister Sparkle and the bartender/priest Bill added an enjoyable subplot, and there are a handful of returning well liked characters.

This is light, enjoyable, bordering on brain candy. Recommended if you've read the first 5 in the series.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 2, 2017

Recipe Review from 12/26/2016

This post will wrap up the the new recipes for 2016.  All in all, I am very satisfied with the dishes tried this year - as usual, there are some I'd love to return to, but I've learned I generally don't go back.  An admittedly strange little quirk I have.

photo from

I already have the first dishes of 2017 picked out and I'm looking forward to another great year of tasty food!  Stay tuned for more reviews, comments, and pictures...

The Meal Plan:
Sun (Merry Christmas!)  (L) Leftovers  (S) Lasagna, Caesar salad, garlic bread
Mon (yoga/out)  leftover lasagna
Tues - leftover lasagna
Wed - Cuban-style slow cooked Pork
Thurs (yoga)  leftovers
Fri - leftovers
Sat, Dec 31!   (L) Hot wings  (S)  Marinated Artichoke Hearts for potluck

Lunches - leftovers from week previous;  butternut squash soup

Lasagna (modified from America's Test Kitchen TV Show Compilation) 
For a lasagna, this was remarkably easy to pull together and tasted fabulous.  I did do a couple of substitutions (when don't I?) - hot Italian sausage for the "meatloaf" mix, and dried Italian mix for the fresh basil (supermarket was out), and I used the full carton of ricotta (because I hate having leftover ricotta).

This uses no-boil noodles, and as I was doing final assembly, I was greatly concerned there wasn't enough liquid in the sauce.  My worry was for naught - it was perfect.  Now, if you like your lasagna a bit more "saucy" I would add a tich of liquid, OR, don't reduce the sauce as much. 

I would make this again, and I would make it for company.  Recommended!

1 lb hot Italian sausage  (I used1.33 lbs - was the smallest package I could find)
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup half n half
1 tbsp garlic, chopped
1 28oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1 28oz can tomato sauce
1 lb grated mozzarella
1 15oz tub whole milk or part skim ricotta
grated parmesan
2 tsp dried Italian herb mix
(OR, 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil)
1 box no-boil lasagna noodles

1. Saute onion until fragrant and starting to soften.  Add garlic, cook 1-2 minutes.  Add sausage, cook until just starting to brown but still a bit pink.  Add half and half, reduce.  Add tomatoes and tomato sauce, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer.

2.  Combine ricotta parmesan and 2 tsp dried herbs (or fresh basil).  Set aside.

3. Spray a 9x11 lasagna pan with cooking spray.  Coat bottom of pan with 1/2 cup of sauce - trying to avoid using the meat.  Layer in 3-4 noodles.  Spread 1/3 of ricotta mixture over noodles.  Spread 1/3 of mozzarella over ricotta.  Spread 1/3 sauce over cheese.  Repeat layers until ending with mozzarella.  Light spray sheet of aluminum foil with cooking spray, tightly seal.

4.  Bake covered for 30* at 375*.  Uncover and cook 15-20 minutes more, or until cheese is golden and bubbly.  Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Squash and Apple Soup (Ckng Lght, Oct 2016)  gluten free, vegetarian

I'll admit up front, I didn't assemble this.  Husband had some time off and he was able to make it during the day.  Reports are he didn't measure/weigh the squash, and everything else was the same.  We did drop the whole flavored pumpkin seed bit  and used plain toasted instead.

Husband thought this tasted like an Indian dish - reminiscent of the far east.  The cinnamon flavor is definitely subtle enough to give that impression.  I thought this turned out very tasty - recommended!

2 tablespoons olive oil
photo from
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
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
3 cups unsalted vegetable stock (such as Swanson)
2 tablespoons raw hulled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup apple cider

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, cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon 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. While soup cooks, combine pepitas, sugar, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook 7 minutes or until sugar melts and pepitas are toasted, stirring often. Transfer to a plate; cool completely, breaking up any clumps.

3. 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 apple cider, and reheat in pan if needed. Divide soup evenly among 8 bowls; sprinkle evenly with pepitas.

Slow cooked Hot Wings (ATK Slow Cooker Revolution)  gluten free!
This dish will become a repeat in our household.  We love wings, but I've struggled to find an easy, tasty make-at-home recipe that meets what we think is "great wings".  This fit the bill.  The sauce is easy to assemble, wings are tossed in the slow cooker with some of the sauce, and the long slow cooking allows the fat to melt out (I HATE fatty wings, bleh!).   Wings are pulled out, brushed with the remaining sauce, and broiled.  Easy peasey, great wings, perfect recipe.   An added bonus - these are gluten free!  No dried seasoning packets involved.

Just a couple of notable comments:  I used regular Franks Hot Sauce and I skipped the cayenne (I wasn't sure how "hot" this was going to end up).  This made for a mild wing.   I also only had about 3 lbs wings, and even a pound short, I didn't have a lot of extra sauce.  Don't worry about running short.


6 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup hot sauce (I used Franks Redhot, the original)
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp sweet paprika
2 tsp chili powder (I used Penzey's regular)
1 tsp cayenne pepper (skip if you want "mild" wings)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
3-4 lbs whole chicken wings, wingtips discarded and wings split

1. Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat.  Whisk in hot sauce, 4 tsp sugar, and vinegar.  Transfer 1/2 cup sauce to slow cooker; reserve remaining sauce separately.

2.  Mix paprika, chili powder, remaining 2 tsp sugar, cayenne, 1 tsp salt, and t tsp pepper together, then rub mixture evenly over chicken wings (I used ye ole shake n bake method - put chicken in large zip lock, sprinkle spice mixture over, shake well).  Put chicken into slow cooker, cover and cook about 4 hours on low.

3.  Position oven rack 10" from broiler element and preheat.  Place wire rack in aluminum foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and coat with vegetable spray. Transfer chicken to prepared sheet, discard braising liquid from slow cooker.

4.  Brush chicken with reserved hot sauce and broil until lightly charred and crisp, about 10-15 minutes.  Flip chicken over, brush with remaining sauce, and continue to broil until lightly crisp and charred on second side (about 10-15 minutes).  Watch closely at that 10 minute mark - chicken can go from lightly crisp to burnt very quickly.  Serve with your favorite wing toppings!

Marinated Artichoke Hearts with Olives and Feta  (ATK Slow Cooker Revolution Vol 2)  gluten free, vegetarian
I needed something for a potluck with a very diverse group of people and tastes.  This was PERFECT!  This can be assembled one to two hours ahead of time, then kept warm for a couple of hours.  I had some french bread to put the mixture on top of, but I noticed some folks were eating sans bread.  By the end of the evening, there was hardly any left.

One notable - I used three (9oz) boxes of frozen artichoke hearts, everything else stayed the same.  I did think 1 cup of olive oil was way to much (and that was with extra 'chokes), and would recommend cutting back.  I didn't waste money on fresh thyme this time of year, and sprinkled 1/2 tsp dried thyme over the top while everything cooked.

I have this book marked for future potlucks - this was repeat worthy.   If there are some lactose intolerant folks, or vegans, serve the feta on the side.  A very versatile dish.

18-27oz frozen artichoke hearts, thawed, patted dry, and halved if necessary
2/3-3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup pitted, halved kalmata olives
3/4 tsp lemon zest
2 tbsp lemon juice  (oops! I just realized I forgot this bit...)
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed (I used two, and microplane grated them)
1/2 tsp dried thyme (2 sprigs fresh, if handy)
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

1 (4oz)  feta cheese crumbles

1.  Combine all ingredients except feta in slow cooker.  Cover and cook until heated through, 1-2 hours on low.

2.  Discard thyme sprig if using.  Sprinkle with feta crumbles.  Serve. 

3.  Dish can be kept on warm for an additional hour (I had mine on "warm" setting for closer to two hours).  

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Year in Review 2016

Some highlights from 2016
Tucson, AZ

Sabino Canyon National Park

Kit Peak Observatory

Kansas City for MidAmericon (Worldcon)

Clear Lake, OR

Three Great Lakes/Around Michigan Tour
The ferry the Badger (background) USS Cobia (foreground)

view of the shoreline of Ludington, Michigan from the Big Sable Point lighthouse

Bradley's restaurant, Saginaw, MI 

Fort Mackinaw

New Books Finished  (Novels, Novellas, Novelettes, Short Stories)
2016 - 119 (32652 pages approximately)
2015 - 89 (25726 pages)
2014 - 89 (28442 pages)
2013 - 98    (28277 pages)
2012 - 129  (32617 pages)
2011 - 115  (30365 pages) 
2010 – 80   (21848 pages)
2009 – 45   (16094 pages)
2008 – 45   (14456 pages)

New Recipes Tried
photo from

2016 - 133
2015 - 98
2014 -  109
2013 -  125
2012 -100 
2011 - 95
2010 – 82
2009 - 92
2008 - 129
2007 - 120
2006 - 103
2005 - 137
2004 - 143
2003 - 154

Miles Biked:
2016 - 250  I just couldn't fit in those last 50 miles!  Still...better than 2015.  I did do the Mesabi Ride again this year. 
2015 - 50    Oh,  this was just dismal...

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

Miles Hiked:
2016 - 11  Just the Telephone Pole Hike in Sabino Canyon. 
2015 - 15  (just two hikes this summer)

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

Knitting Projects completed (Ravlery Links)

Shawl (picture, left):  Samen by Stephen West
Fingerless Mitts: Chevron Gauntlets
Hats:  Elephant Park (pair)
Shawl: Sewanee
Fingerless Mitts: Laura's Ribbed Mitts
Fingerless Mitts: Flowform
one cowl whose pattern I can't remember and I didn't link to...

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