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Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Technician by Neal Asher

The TechnicianThe Technician by Neal Asher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars




Jacket Blurb:  The Theocracy has been dead for twenty years, and the Polity rules on Masada. But the Tidy Squad consists of rebels who cannot accept the new order. Their hate for surviving theocrats is undiminished, and the iconic Jeremiah Tombs is at the top of their hitlist.

Escaping his sanatorium Tombs is pushed into painful confrontation with reality he has avoided since the rebellion. His insanity must cured, because the near mythical hooder called the Technician that attacked him all those years ago, did something to his mind even the AIs fail to understand. Tombs might possess information about the suicide of an entire alien race.

The war drone Amistad, whose job it is to bring this information to light, recruits Lief Grant, an ex-rebel Commander, to protect Tombs, along with the black AI Penny Royal, who everyone thought was dead. The amphidapt Chanter, who has studied the bone sculptures the Technician makes with the remains of its prey, might be useful too.

Meanwhile, in deep space, the mechanism the Atheter used to reduce themselves to animals, stirs from slumber and begins to power-up its weapons.

 
Read for March scifi book group meeting.

LOVED this installment. Goodreads notes it's part of the stand alone books in Asher's universe, but I'd have to disagree. I would definitely recommend reading Prador Moon and Shadow of the Scorpion before The Technician because there is some background that is handy to know.

Premise of the book is one Jem Tombs, former Proctor of the fallen Theocracy on Mesada, is the only known survivor of a Hooder attack, and the only known survivor of an hooder attack by the massive Hooder known as the Technician. For 20 years he's resided in seclusion, in some kind of state of denial, watched by Jerval Sanders.

Until Tombs starts to wake up, murders Jerval, and flees the island he's been isolated to. Amistad, Polity War drone, starts to nudge Tombs this way and that, assigning Leif Grant as protector and reluctantly letting Shree Enkara along to record Tombs story for Earthnet.

If you've read any Asher, then you know that I'm greatly simplifying. If you haven't read any Asher - what are you waiting for?!? And, fyi, I'm greatly simplifying the plot. Asher's plots are hard to summarize without giving too much information away.

Asher's books are so rich in detail and characters, the world building is amazing, and the plots just pull me in. What was different about The Technician from some of the rest that I've read, is I was hooked from chapter one. Not infrequently, it takes me a while to get into the plot, then I find I'm flying down the proverbial slide. Not so here.

I'm totally fan-girlling. Go. Read. Enjoy.



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Monday, March 27, 2017

Recipe Review from 3/19/2017

Oh, be still my gurgling tummy!  A new cook book acquisition has me running down the proverbial rabbit hole of new recipes and much to my delight, there's a website!  The website actually came first, cook book second, but I didn't know that.

The Food Lab Cookbook is ahh-mazing!  I've made a couple things out of it and reviewed them in the last couple of weeks (the mac and cheese being the most notable).   Then I checked out the website and immediately found three recipes I wanted to make AND I had the ingredients for.  I'm also thrilled that the recipe includes weights for everything.   I don't know how many times I've stood and wondered what someone meant by "one large onion" or "two medium zucchini".    A large onion from my garden or one of the softball sized things I get from the grocery store?  So weights - yay! 

The Salmon Chowder kicks off of my newest recipe obsession...  Enjoy!

The Meal Plan from the week of 3/19:
Sat (L) leftovers   (S)  Chinese take out and March Madness
Sun (L)  leftover chicken and stew  (S) Salmon Chowder
Mon (yoga) leftover chowder
Tues - leftover chowder
Wed - Pasta with Butnut squash and sage
Thurs - leftovers
Fri - leftovers

Lunches - leftover Beefless Stew then Squash Soup



Salmon Chowder (The Food Lab/Serious Eats)
This is easy enough to make on a weeknight - the longest bits are waiting for the bacon to render and simmering the potatoes.  During which kitchen can be cleaned up, table set and sides prepped.  Granted, this assumes you assembled and chopped all your ingredients ahead of time, but there's plenty of time to cook bacon and chop veggies too.

I was also contemplating the ways I could switch this up - by adding shrimp instead of salmon, or toss in some fresh corn... can't wait to explore!  

photo from SeriousEats.com
1/2 pound salt pork or bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (225g)
2 tablespoons water (30ml)
1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 8 ounces; 225g)2 large ribs celery, finely chopped (about 6 ounces; 170g)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (about 20g)
1 cup bottled clam juice (235ml)
1 quart whole milk (900ml)   (I used goat milk)
1 pound russet or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (450g)
1 bay leaf
3/4 to 1 pound boneless, skinless fish scraps, such as salmon, cod, or halibut, cut into 3/4-inch chunks (350-450g)
Minced fresh herbs such as parsley, dill, or chives, for serving
Hot sauce, for serving
Crackers, for serving


Combine salt pork or bacon and water in a heavy-bottomed stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until water has evaporated and pork has begun to brown and crisp in spots, about 8 minutes. Add onion, and celery. Season gently with salt and pepper and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened but not browned, about 4 minutes longer. Add flour and cook, stirring, until no pockets of raw flour remain. Stir in clam juice, followed by milk. Add potatoes and bay leaf and bring to a simmer.

Simmer chowder, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are fully tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in fish chunks and simmer just until cooked through, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve immediately, garnished with minced fresh herbs, hot sauce, and crackers.


Pasta with Butnut Squash, Browned Butter and Sage (Food Lab/Serious Eats)  vegetarian
If you can find the "good" pasta (ie, not Creamette, Barrillo, etc), do so.  It will definitely elevate the dish (and make it look like the picture below).  I found the "good" pasta at a specialty store in town, but by then I had already purchased regular shell pasta and didn't want more stuff in the pantry.

This does come together fairly quickly - however, we had pre-diced our squash several days prior and that makes a big difference on meal assembly.  Flavor wise, pretty good.  I think if I had the "good" pasta, it would have been better.  I would make this again because it's a great way to use that fall butternut squash.

Daniel Gritzer on Serious Eats notes (and this is actually from the recipe below), and this is SO true and why I love butnut:  

"Butternut squash has just enough personality to make it interesting in its own right, 
but is still enough of a blank slate to make it a good base for all sorts of flavor ideas. 
If butternut squash brought home an elementary school report card, 
the note from the teacher would say,  
Has a strong sense of self yet always cooperates well with others."

photo from SeriouslyEats.com

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (30ml)
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (450g; about 1/2 large squash)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (30g)
1 small shallot, finely minced (about 1 ounce; 30g)
1 handful fresh sage leaves, finely minced (about 1/2 ounce; 15g)
1 tablespoon juice from 1 lemon (15ml)
1 pound small cupped, tubular, or ridged pasta such as orecchiette, penne, farfalle, or rotini (450g)
1 ounce grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (30g)

Heat olive oil in a large stainless steel or cast-iron skillet over high heat until very lightly smoking. Immediately add squash, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring and tossing occasionally, until well-browned and squash is tender, about 5 minutes. Add butter and shallots and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until butter is lightly browned and smells nutty, about 1 minute longer. Add sage and stir to combine (sage should crackle and let off a great aroma). Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine pasta with enough room temperature or hot water to cover by about 2 inches. Season with salt. Set over high heat and bring to a boil while stirring frequently. Cook, stirring frequently, until pasta is just shy of al dente, about 2 minutes less than the package directions. Drain pasta, reserving a couple cups of the starchy cooking liquid.

Add pasta to skillet with squash along with a splash of pasta water. Bring to a simmer over high heat and cook until the pasta is perfectly al dente, stirring and tossing constantly and adding a splash of water as needed to keep the sauce loose and shiny. Off heat, stir in Parmigiano-Reggiano. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and texture with more pasta water as needed. Serve immediately, topped with more cheese at the ta

 Mexican Butternut Squash (Food Lab/Serious Eats)  vegetarian option
I'm not sure if I massively misread the recipe, or if my inexperience with ancho chili's played a part (Northern girl here - almost speak Canadian, eh?), but I looked for fresh ancho's because the recipe didn't say dried.  From the picture on the website, it appears to be dried.  Confused!  Ultimately, not being able to find either, I went with poblano chili's, charred them under the broiler, steamed and peeled them, then added to the rest. 

I still want to make the ancho version - I suspect I'm supposed to use dried and those I think I can find in the other grocery store in town. 

2 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
Kosher salt
photo from SeriouslyEats.com
2 ancho chilies, stemmed (see authors note below)
I used two poblano chilies, charred and skins removed. 
2 medium onions, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 medium cloves garlic, crushed
1 quart chicken stock or low-sodium broth (see note above)
1 cup water
Sugar, to taste

Note: If you want a less spicy soup with a less intense chili flavor, feel free to discard the ancho chili seeds or scale down to 1 ancho chili pepper. Otherwise, go for the big flavor and spoon in plenty of crema or sour cream to tame the intensity. You can make this soup vegetarian by substituting with vegetable stock.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Toss squash with 2 tablespoons oil, season with salt, and spread in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast squash, stirring occasionally, until browned and tender, about 35 minutes.

In a dry skillet, toast ancho chilies over high heat, turning once, until fragrant. Let cool, then tear into pieces

Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, carrot, and garlic, and cook until softened and just starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Add ancho chilies, chicken stock, and water and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to maintain simmer. Stir in butternut squash.

Using a blender or stick blender, blend soup until completely smooth. Season with salt and add sugar 1 teaspoon at a time to balance the flavor, if needed.

Spoon soup into bowls and garnish with crema or sour cream, cilantro, and pepitas. Serve with lime wedges.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Zozobra Incident and the Bisti Business by Don Travis

Two book reviews in one post!

The Zozobra Incident (BJ Vinson Mystery #1)  four stars

The jacket blurb:
B J Vinson, a former Albuquerque police detective turned confidential investigator, hesitates when ex-lover and now prominent attorney Del Dahlman appeals to him for help in recovering some incriminating photographs of him and the hustler who broke up their relationship. BJ reluctantly agrees to find Emilio Prada, the handsome gigolo who's been using the photographs to impress his clientele-men and women from all strata of Albuquerque society-thinking he'll put the case to rest in a matter of days. However, things turn deadly with a high-profile murder at the Burning of Zozobra on the opening night of the Santa Fe Fiesta, and B J becomes embroiled in a search for missing negatives, a ruthless murderer, and a way to save himself from being next on the killer's list.

This was a very enjoyable first book, introducing a handful of well rounded supporting characters from Hazel, his no-nonsense office assistant; Del, his ex for reasons that are well explained; Paul, the new love interest; and Emilio, the hustler who started it all. 

The mystery builds quite nicely - Emilio has/had pictures that Del wants back to keep his reputation win tack with his law firm and the potential partnership that's on the line.  But the negatives have disappeared.  For BJ, getting those pictures becomes a matter of hunting down who saw them, and when, and the stakes in retrieving them steadily rise with the body count.  When the attempts on BJ's life start to get serious, BJ knows he's close to figuring it all out.  But only if he can keep himself, Del and Paul alive to do so. 

Several things I enjoyed about this: 
a)  BJ has no problems working with the local police, and the police don't have a problem helping him.  There is a bit of keeping things close to the chest, but much of the animosity that I find between detectives and PI's (oh heck, between detectives and their own men in blue) wasn't there.  I really appreciated reading about that level cooperation - very refreshing. 

b) Not your typical love interest/romance.  Our protagonist is not trying to get between the sheets of the female love interest.  In fact, BJ's interest in Paul is completely separate from the murder mystery up to a point - which made for a nice counterpoint to the mystery and helped build BJ's character.  

c) I really enjoyed the setting in New Mexico.  

d) I already mentioned this, but I liked the cast of characters, even BJ's neighbor lady.  Nobody fell into stereotypical molds.  Nicely done! 

Lots of positives.  There were a few small loose ends not quite tidied up, but I'll put that down as my quirk more so than a downside of the story.  Overall, a solid and engaging read. 



The Bisti Business by Don Travis  (BJ Vinson Mystery #2)  five stars


The jacket blurb:  
Although repulsed by his client, an overbearing, homophobic California wine mogul, confidential investigator B. J. Vinson agrees to search for Anthony Alfano’s missing son, Lando, and his traveling companion—strictly for the benefit of the young men. As BJ chases an orange Porsche Boxster all over New Mexico, he soon becomes aware he is not the only one looking for the distinctive car. Every time BJ finds a clue, someone has been there before him. He arrives in Taos just in time to see the car plunge into the 650-foot-deep Rio Grande Gorge. Has he failed in his mission?

Lando’s brother, Aggie, arrives to help with BJ’s investigation, but BJ isn’t sure he trusts Aggie’s motives. He seems to hold power in his father’s business and has a personal stake in his brother’s fate that goes beyond familial bonds. Together they follow the clues scattered across the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness area and learn the bloodshed didn’t end with the car crash. As they get closer to solving the mystery, BJ must decide whether finding Lando will rescue the young man or place him directly in the path of those who want to harm him.


This could be read as a standalone, but I recommend reading the first in the series to establish the main character’s background.

I will also state I did not realize this was a 2nd Edition until I started this review and thus do not know how it compares to the original and any changes the author/publisher may have made.

Lastly, the book does reference and clearly describes a male rape scene as part of the investigation, which may be objectionable to some.

The disclaimers out of the way, I can get down to the nitty gritty – if you enjoy Tony Hillerman mysteries, you will probably enjoy this series and The Bisti Business in particular. While not as in depth with the Navajo and Hopi cultures, these touch on more of the northwest New Mexico area and I love how the author draws the reader into this vast and formidable landscape.

Premise of the book is BJ reluctantly accepts a missing person’s case – a wealthy California wine mogul’s son has disappeared in the Shiprock area of New Mexico with his boyfriend. As BJ digs into the case and the bodies start piling up in gullies, arroyo’s and car trunks, BJ begins to suspect this issue isn’t so cut and dried and the missing son may be in greater peril if he’s found.

This is not a romance book – there are romantic elements (so sweet too!)- but the theme of the book is a missing person murder mystery with gay elements. I thought this was well executed by the author and a very welcome change of pace from the majority of gay romance books in publication AND a VERY refreshing change of pace from the run of the mill mystery books. .

As a reader who reads a lot of mysteries, I would also like to commend Mr. Travis with his portrayal of the inter-agency cooperation. Way too many mysteries have agencies butting heads or being obtuse and difficult with the leading investigator, refusing to cooperate, not wanting to share information, threatening the investigator – you know the books. So it was incredibly refreshing to read about local police working with the BLM and the FBI and including (with a few grumbles) the private investigator. I’m not saying it was a perfect relationship, there was enough chaffing to keep the plot interesting, but it wasn’t the dripping animosity I’m used to reading. Bravo!

The mystery itself was straight forward and has enough red herrings that it wasn’t immediately obvious “who done it”. This kept me happily engaged all the way to the end to have my guesses and suspicions answered. I won’t tell you if I was right tho…

And if I haven’t convinced you yet to read this series, I will that I greatly enjoy the cast of characters the author has developed. We meet Paul, Hazel, and Charlie in book one, and they make an appearance here. In San Juan County we add Aggie, Joe, Dix, and the intriguing and flirtatious Jazz. A diverse and interesting cast of characters that helped to round out a solidly written book.


(The review for A Bisti Business has been cross posted at Goodreads and Gay Book Reviews).  


Picture from Bing.com = Shiprock, New Mexico

Monday, March 20, 2017

Recipe Review from 3/13/2017

A weird week both both weather and meal wise - temps continue to stay below 20*, until Thursday when the "forecast" and "reality" didn't match and we ended up with 1-3" of snow depending on how close to the Lake you were.  Which made for a less than fun Friday morning commute.

Because last week was silly-busy and I didn't get grocery shopping until Tuesday (yes, Tuesday!), meals were super simple incorporated stuff in the pantry - kraut for the rubens, dried soup mix for the soup, potatoes downstairs, celery/carrots/potatoes for the beefless stew.  So, kinda a win-win!


The Meal Plan:
Sat (Out and About)
Sun (L)  leftovers   (S)  Pork chops, mashed pot, kraut
Mon (yoga) leftovers
Tues   Tempeh rubens
Wed   soup and grilled cheese
Thur  (yoga) leftover rubens
Fri - beefless stew

Lunches:  leftover 15 bean soup from week previous.


Beefless Stew (Straight Up Food via Pinterest)  vegetarian, gluten free
For a weeknight dinner (and I made this on a Friday) this wasn't too bad for assembly.  The chopping took the longest, but I did a mise en place (everything in place) and when it came time to cook, it was plop and saute.  I had plenty of time for clean-up while it simmered.

This is flavorful, veggie rich, and honestly, you really don't even notice the meat is missing.  Or most wouldn't.  :D  I did use two cups of chicken stock instead of water, but only because I needed to use it up.  Stock of any kind isn't necessary - there's enough flavor going on.  The only thing I would do different next time (and this will make it back into my rotation), is I would bloom the spices/seasonings and the tomato paste after adding the mushrooms and garlic.  Then, proceed with the water. 

This makes a nice big batch so good for a crowd, or eat some now and freeze in batches for a later date.  I served with some French rolls from the co-op and that was a very satisfactory meal.

Recommended!

Author notes: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6 to 8 to 10 (makes about 10 cups)

1½ large yellow or white onions, chopped into ¾-inch pieces
3 ribs celery, chopped into ¾-inch pieces
3 medium carrots, sliced lengthwise and cut into ¾-inch pieces
2 portabella mushrooms (about ½ pound), cut into ¾-inch pieces
1½ tablespoon finely chopped garlic (5 to 6 cloves)
5 cups water  (I used 2 cups chicken stock because I needed to use it up, the rest water)
2 pounds white potatoes, cut into ¾-inch pieces (author used Yukon Golds, I used baby reds)
¼ cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon dried Italian herb blend
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary (I used 1/2 tsp dried)
1½ cups green peas (if frozen, thaw first - I didn't bother thawing)
½ cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped
Ground black pepper to taste

Heat a large soup pot on high with 1 tablespoon of water. When the water begins to sputter, Spray bottom of stock pot with cooking oil, heat over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, celery, and carrot, and cook for 7 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently as the edges of the onion browns slightly, and adding a little water as needed to prevent sticking.

Stir in the mushrooms and garlic, and continue to cook while stirring for an additional 5 minutes, adding water as needed.

Add the 5 cups of water, potatoes, tomato paste, dried Italian herbs, and paprika. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a low boil. Stir in the rosemary and cook covered for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the peas, and cook for 5 minutes more, or until the carrots and potatoes are tender.

Place 2 cups of the stew (broth and vegetables) into a blender, and blend under very smooth. Stir this back into the pot to thicken the stew, and stir in the parsley. Serve with a few twists of ground black pepper and, if you like, add a small sprig of rosemary as garnish.


Tempeh Rubens  (Ckng Lght/All Recipes)  vegetarian, gluten free option**
I've made these before, and they are worth repeating.  Especially if you are looking for ways to use up some of that homemade sauerkraut.  These are quick enough for a weeknight, and filling!  This makes enough for four sandwiches - the leftover tempeh and onion mix is easily reheated and just as tasty.

My one alteration is I don't bother with the broiler (me + broiler = burned food).  I toast the bread and assemble from there.


1/3 cup 2% reduced-fat Greek yogurt (I just use the whole little tub without measuring)
1 1/2 tablespoons ketchup
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons refrigerated sauerkraut (such as Bubbies), drained and divided
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
photo from allrecipes.com

8 ounces tempeh
1 tablespoon olive oil 1 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon lower-sodium soy sauce** (skip for GF)
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 1/4 cups water
8 (1-ounce) slices whole-grain rye bread, toasted** (GF option)
 2 ounces Swiss cheese, shredded (about 1/2 cup)


Place Greek yogurt, ketchup, 2 tablespoons sauerkraut, and mustard in a mini food processor; process until smooth.
Cut tempeh in half horizontally; cut each half into 4 slices, forming 8 pieces. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion; cook 5 minutes or until tender. Add garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add vinegar, soy sauce, dill, and caraway, stirring constantly. Add tempeh; cook 1 minute on each side. Add 1 1/4 cups water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes or until water evaporates, turning tempeh occasionally.
Preheat broiler to high. Place 4 bread slices in a single layer on a heavy baking sheet. Divide cheese evenly among bread slices. Broil 1 minute or until cheese melts. Top cheese with about 1 tablespoon yogurt mixture, 1 1/2 tablespoons onion mixture, 2 pieces tempeh, and about 3 tablespoons sauerkraut. Spread remaining yogurt mixture evenly over 1 side of remaining 4 bread slices. Place bread, yogurt side down, on top of sauerkraut.
 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Escape by Baldacchi (John Puller #3)

The Escape (John Puller, #3)The Escape by David Baldacci

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Jacket Blurb: It's a prison unlike any other. Military discipline rules. Its security systems are unmatched. None of its prisoners dream of escaping. They know it's impossible.

Until now.

John Puller's older brother, Robert, was convicted of treason and national security crimes. His inexplicable escape from prison makes him the most wanted criminal in the country. Some in the government believe that John Puller represents their best chance at capturing Robert alive, and so Puller takes on the burden of bringing his brother in to face justice.
But Puller quickly discovers that there are others pursuing his brother, who only see Robert as a traitor and are unconcerned if he survives. Puller is in turn pushed into an uneasy, fraught partnership with another agent, who may have an agenda of her own.

They dig more deeply into the case together, and Puller finds that not only are her allegiances unclear, but that there are troubling details about his brother's conviction....and that someone is out there who doesn't want the truth to ever come to light. As the nation-wide manhunt for Robert grows more urgent, Puller's masterful skills as an investigator and strength as a fighter may not be enough to save his brother-or himself.


Read as an audio book. I really enjoy the narrator for these books, plus I appreciate the publishing company useing a female narrator for the female voices. It just adds a bit extra to the overall reading experience.

Premise of the book is Robert Puller, convicted of treason against the US and incarcerated at the facility known as "DB", has escaped. Which by all accounts should have been impossible. John Puller, investigator for the CID, decides to look into his brother's escape on his own despite being ordered not to because Family trumps Military. When he's picked up in Kansas City outside of DB by the Army, John's given an ultimatum, work for the Generals and the "Suit", or go investigate a murder in South Korea. Puller chooses the generals and the Suit, and shortly after is assigned a "babysitter" known as Veronica Knox. When the two start digging, and the bodies start piling up, they discover a spy plot that rivals anything either one of them have known previously.

This started out engaging, became a tiny bogged down a bit a third/half way through, then began to pick up speed as everything roared toward the conclusion.

There is so much that I like about this book and series
  • Interesting tidbits of military historyEngaging characters
  • Cheesy fun. Yes, cheesy. Like Puller is always "pulling out his M11 pistol", which makes me laugh. I don't need to have said weapon described as "his M11 service pistol" every. single. time. But there it is.
  • Overall plots are a bit over the top. But that's one of the things I enjoy about these political/military thrillers. A little over the top can be quite enjoyable.
  • Numerous curveballs in this one - I suspected there would be some curve balls, spitballs and knuckleballs, and I wasn't disappointed. It was a matter of who, what and when it would show up in the plot.
  • Thank you Mr. Baldacci for not having our main character hop into bed with the lead woman in every book. I totally stood up and applauded your ending!

Downside - I didn't like that poor Awol got left in Kansas. But at least the author remembered to go back for the cat. Nicely done tying up that loose end.

Of the three books in the series, I thought this book was the strongest (I haven't read #4 yet). Yes, it has it's issues, but for shear entertainment and engagement, it had me hooked from Chapter One.

Highly recommended if you've read one and two, and doubly so as an audio book.



View all my reviews
 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Recipe Review from 3/6/2017

Whoops!  I forgot to hit "publish" on last weeks meals!

But that gave me the chance to add a hike review from Saturday.  We agreed to participate in the Superior Hiking Trails Guided Hike (I really dislike the term "guided", it's a "facilitated" hike, not "guided") on Saturday morning - an out and back from Oberg Mtn to Rollins Creek Campsite for a round trip of 3.5 miles.  It was a brisk 10*, sunny, with about 10 people total.  It was advertised as a snowshoe hike, but snowshoes were not necessary.  Mostly.  While the trail was well packed, it was slick and treacherous and some kind of yaktrax or cleats would have been really nice.  Which the Husband and I don't have.  So...there was a bit of slipping and sliding on our part.

Lunch on the way back to Duluth was in Beaver Bay at Camp 61 Restaurant

Drinks at Bock Fest at Fitgers followed, with a piece of apple kuchen to nosh on.

Later we met some of our co-hikers for a pizza dinner.

And that, was a wrap for the weekend. 


The Meal Plan:
Sun (L) leftovers  (S)  Chicken Wild Rice Casserole
Mon (yoga)  leftovers
Tues (yoga) leftovers
Wed - brats, baked beans and homemade kraut
Thurs (yoga) leftover wild rice
Fri (yoga) brats
Sat - out and about!

Lunches - 13 Bean Soup (me), Sandwiches (him)


Creamy Chicken Wild Rice Casserole  (Ckng Lght, March 2017)  gluten free option**
I will say upfront, this is NOT a good dish to make on a week night unless you got home about 3p in the afternoon.  I had pre-cooked my rice earlier in the day, the chicken came from a pot of stock we had in the slow cooker, and even with those 'short-cuts', this still took and hour and a half to assemble.  At least while it baked I could clean up the kitchen.

I'm thinking it would be possible to make this vegetarian - increase the carrot and celery, and perhaps add some chopped red pepper, turnip, rutabaga or similar root vegetable. 

End result? Very tasty, good for a crowd.  I would totally make this again - it stays creamy with a splash of water added during reheating and leftover were just as good as same day.  Recommended.


Add caption
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts
I used the meat from one 4lb chicken, slow cooked for broth
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 teaspoon black pepper, divided 
1/4 cup all-purpose flour**
5 cups 2% reduced-fat milk, divided
1 1/2 cups sliced leeks
1 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
I used 1 tsp dried thyme
2 (8-oz.) pkg. presliced cremini mushrooms
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 ounce 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
3 cups hot cooked wild rice
3 green onions, sliced
1/2 cup sliced almonds


Ckng Lght notes:  Simmer 1 1/2 cups rice in 6 cups water for 45 minutes and drain. You can also use 1 (13-ounce) package frozen cooked wild rice, such as Engine 2, which is sold at Whole Foods. 
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 
2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Sprinkle chicken with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Add chicken to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side. Divide chicken between 2 square (8-inch) baking dishes coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350°F for 10 minutes or until done. Cool and chop. 
3. Return skillet to medium-high. Combine flour and 1/2 cup milk in a bowl. Add leeks and next 4 ingredients (through mushrooms) to pan; cook 13 minutes or until browned and tender. Stir in flour mixture, remaining 4 1/2 cups milk, and parsley; cook 3 minutes. Stir in cream cheese until smooth; cook 2 minutes or until slightly thickened. Combine chicken, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper, mushroom mixture, rice, and green onions in a bowl. Coat baking dishes with cooking spray. Divide chicken mixture between dishes; top with almonds. Follow freezing directions, or bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes or until browned and bubbly.

How-To FREEZE: Cool mixture completely. Cover with heavy-duty foil or airtight lids. Freeze up to 2 months. THAW: Uncover and microwave at MEDIUM (50% power) 15 minutes or until thawed. REHEAT: Cover and bake at 450 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes or until thoroughly heated.
 Slow Cooked 15 Bean Soup (modified from ATK Slow Cooker Revolution) gluten free, vegetarian option**
I really enjoyed this dish!  So incredibly flavorful!  Hearty without being heavy.   EASY!  All that plus I forgot two major ingredients!  Yes indeedy.  I was rushing around because we had to get out the door, and I totally forgot the last two items and the soup didn't suffer a bit.

Again, I don't have a microwave, so I bloom my onion, garlic and spices on the stove and I've reflected that in the directions below.  

1 onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
12 ounces cremini mushroom2, de-stemmed, cleaned and quartered
8 oz 15-bean soup mix, flavoring packet discarded, beans picked over, and salt soaked
4 oz bacon (about 4 slices)**
1 oz dried shitake mushrooms, chopped (recipe called for porcini, my stores don't carry porcini so I subbed and used the whole package)
2 bay leaves

8 oz Swiss Chard, stemmed and leaves sliced
1 (14.5 Oz) can whole tomatoes, drained and chopped

1. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat.  Coat with cooking spray/oil of choice.  Add onion, garlic, and thyme and cook until onion is just softened.  Transfer to slow cooker.

2. Stir broth, mushrooms, soaked beans bacon, dried mushrooms and bay leaves into slow cooker.  Cover and cook until beans are tender 9-11 hours on low, or 5-7 hours on high.

3.  Let soup settle for 5 minutes, then remove fat from surface using a large spoon.  Remove bacon and bay leaves.

4. Stir in Chard and tomatoes, cover and cook on high until chard is tender, 20-30 minutes more.  Season to taste and serve. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Recipe Review from 2/27/2017

Huh.  This ended up being a robust new recipe week!   With the exception of the Chicken Wild Rice Casserole, everything else was super easy from prep to table.   I highly recommended the Saucy Eggs, Flatbread and Paella.  

The Meal Plan from week of 2/27:
Sun (L) Leftovers   (S)  Eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce
Mon (yoga/bkgrp/Legion)  leftovers
Tues -  Sausage flatbread
Wed - Easy paella   Out
Thurs (yoga) - leftovers
Fri - leftovers  Easy paella
Sat (L) leftovers  (S) chicken wild rice

Lunches - Pumpkin soup with toasted pumpkin seeds


Roasted Pumpkin [Squash] Soup (The Food Lab)  gluten free, vegetarian option
While this may seem time consuming, it's really not.  The bulk of the cooking is hands off while the squash does it's thing in the oven.  When the squash is done cooking and while it's cooling, the onions and spices are sauted in the butter, the chicken stock and squash are added to the pot, then it's maybe another 20 minutes of simmering?  I think I went a bit longer because one of my quarters wasn't quite fully cooked.  Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth, and DONE! 

This was a fantastic way to use up the last of the summer's butnut harvest. 

4 lb pumpkin, halved and seeded (variety recommended, I used 5lbs butnut)
1 onion, chopped
2 tbsp butter
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
4 cups chicken stock
2 tbsp maple suryp

Preheat oven to 350*.   Coat cut surface of squash halves with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Place cut side up on roasting pan and bake for one hour or until a knife can easily be inserted.  (I went for 1.5 hours).  Remove and let cool.  When cool, remove skins.

While squash cools, in a large dutch oven, sauté onion in butter until soft.  Add spices if using and saute 30 seconds or until fragrant.  Add chicken stock and squash, cover and bring to a boil.  Using an immersion blender,  blend until smooth, adding more chicken stock to acheive desired thickness.  (I like my soup thick, so I didn't add any).   Stir in maple syrup.

My note:  I also drizzled in a bit of heavy cream because I had some on hand and I like the taste/consistency it brings to a soup dish. 


Saucy-Skillet Poached Eggs (Ckng Lght, Mar 2017)  vegetarian, gluten free
This is super easy to assemble and very versatile.  I made this for supper instead of breakfast, served it over a sausage patty for the Husband, and had some toasted sourdough English muffins along side.  In hindsight, this would have been great over polenta, so I see a future opportunity here. 
I also forgot the feta, had a nice fresh tub in the fridge just ready for this dish. Argh!  Well...a future opportunity.
Recommended for its simplicity.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Photo from cookinglight.com
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar  (I used Franks Hot Sauce)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano  (I used dried)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 (28-oz.) can unsalted crushed tomatoes
1 ounce feta cheese, crumbled (about 1/4 cup)
4 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Heat oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium. Add onion and bell pepper; sauté 10 minutes. Add garlic; cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 1/4 cup water and next 4 ingredients (through tomatoes). Bring to a simmer; cook 10 minutes or until sauce is slightly thickened. Stir in feta.
Form 4 (2-inch) indentations in sauce with the back of a spoon. One at a time, crack eggs into a small custard cup, and gently slip 1 egg into each indentation. Sprinkle black pepper over eggs. Place pan in oven and bake at 375°F for 12 minutes or until whites are set.  I just finished on the stove top, covered.  Sprinkle with chives and oregano. Divide sauce and eggs among 4 shallow bowls.


Sausage and Broccoli Rabe Flatbreads (Ckng Lght, Mar 2017)  vegetarian option
I will say first thing, I managed to make this more complicated than it needed to be, because I have a tendency to do that.  My changes:
  • I made my own ricotta.  Which was a bit of an adventure all on it's own
  • I couldn't find broccoli rabe, so I subbed regular broccoli, sliced and steamed on the stove
  • I skipped anything to do with the broiler, and baked the pizzas (yes, these are basically little pizzas).  I tend to burn things under the broiler. 
Despite my complicating things, these were kinda tasty - not heavy like pizza, a nice size and flavorful.  The hot italian sausage added a nice zing! without being heat-heavy.  I didn't serve anything along side.  Recommended. 

4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
photo from cookinglight.com
12 ounces broccoli rabe, trimmed and coarsely chopped (I used regular broccoli)
1 (8.8-oz.) pkg. whole-grain naan (such as Stonefire)
5 ounces spicy turkey Italian sausage, casings removed (I used hot italian sausage)**  skip if vegetarian
1/3 cup pizza sauce (such as Rao's)
1/3 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat broiler to high.  (Which I skipped - preheat oven to 350*.  On a foil lined baking sheet, place two pieces of naan, and bake until warm.)

Combine 1 tablespoon oil and broccoli rabe on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil 5 minutes or until broccoli rabe begins to brown. Remove broccoli rabe from pan. Add naan to pan; broil 1 to 2 minutes on each side or until lightly browned.   (Which I skipped - I lightly steamed by broccoli.)

Heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add turkey sausage to pan; cook 5 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble.

Spread pizza sauce evenly on 1 side of each naan on baking sheet. Dollop ricotta evenly over top; top evenly with broccoli rabe, sausage, and pepper. Broil 2 to 3 minutes or until cheese melts and broccoli rabe is slightly charred.   (I baked at 350* for about 15 minutes.  Enough to warm everything up.) Cut each flatbread into 4 pieces.


Shortcut Shrimp Paella  (Ckng Lght Mar, 2016)  gluten free, vegetarian option
This is quick.  While rice cooks, assemble everything else, then into the pan it goes! 

A note on the rice - I have no idea what "precooked rice" is, if it's equivalent to the instant varieties I purchase, or something completely different. This has been noted in the comments to the editor of Ckng Lght magazine.   So I tend to use the Boil in a Bag option or, the instant you have to measure water/rice ratio.   I figure four servings (or however many servings the recipe makes). 
 
 End result, this was tasty, not a lot of heat (I would add some red pepper flakes next time), and could be changed up to use say, broccoli or cauliflower instead of shrimp.   I would totally make this again because of it's ease in prep to table.  Recommended.  
 
2 (8.8-oz.) pkg. precooked brown rice (such as Uncle Ben's) (I cooked up four servings of instant brown)
1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
Photo from cookinglight.com

1 cup sliced red bell pepper
1 cup frozen green peas
1/3 cup water
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and de-veined (vegetarian option: sub lightly steamed cauliflower, broccoli, or snowpeas
Cilantro leaves (optional)
Heat rice according to package directions.
 
Heat oil and turmeric in a medium skillet over medium; cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add rice, bell pepper, and next 4 ingredients (through black pepper); cook 3 minutes. Arrange shrimp over rice mixture; cover and cook 6 minutes or until shrimp are done and rice is slightly crisp. Top with cilantro, if desired.

 
Creamy Chicken Wild Rice Casserole (Ckng Lght, March 2017)  
This is a bit involved and best left for the weekend.  Recipe says active time is 35 minutes, and total 1:10, but I clocked it at 1:40 total and that was with pre-making the rice AND chicken, plus I had the Husbands help.  Ckng Lght, I think your time is wayyy off on this one.

My changes - I was making stock with a whole chicken and timed it so all I needed to so was shred the chicken.  Or have the Husband shred the chicken.  :D   Rice was pre-cooked earlier in the afternoon and ready to go.   I had the Husband saute while I did final prep, and he moved right into stirring when we added the flour/milk mix.  

This was the other place it took longer than the recipe noted to get the mixture to thicken.  You WILL need a HUGE skillet for this - you're adding 5 cups milk to a slew of veggies.   "Three minutes" isn't going to cut it (and I have a gas stove).

So, prep took longer that I anticipated even with pre-cooking the two main ingredients.    End result - a big pan of creamy goodness.   Yes, this one was worth it.  Lots of leftovers for us! 


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts
Photo from cookinglight.com

2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 teaspoon black pepper, divided
Cooking spray
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
5 cups 2% reduced-fat milk, divided
1 1/2 cups sliced leeks
1 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped   (I used 1 tsp dried thyme)
2 (8-oz.) pkg. presliced cremini mushrooms 
(I used 2 - 8oz whole cremini, and then quartered,  I can clean them better that way)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 ounce 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
3 cups hot cooked wild rice
3 green onions, sliced
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1. For the rice:  Simmer 11/2 cups rice in 6 cups water for 45 minutes and drain. You can also use 1 (13-ounce) package frozen cooked wild rice, such as Engine 2, which is sold at Whole Foods.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
 
3. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Sprinkle chicken with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Add chicken to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side. Divide chicken between 2 square (8-inch) baking dishes coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350°F for 10 minutes or until done. Cool and chop.
 
4. Return skillet to medium-high. Combine flour and 1/2 cup milk in a bowl. Add leeks and next 4 ingredients (through mushrooms) to pan; cook 13 minutes or until browned and tender. Stir in flour mixture, remaining 4 1/2 cups milk, and parsley; cook 3 minutes. Stir in cream cheese until smooth; cook 2 minutes or until slightly thickened. Combine chicken, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper, mushroom mixture, rice, and green onions in a bowl. Coat baking dishes with cooking spray. Divide chicken mixture between dishes; top with almonds. 
 
5. Follow freezing directions, or bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes or until browned and bubbly. 
 
How-To FREEZE: Cool mixture completely. Cover with heavy-duty foil or airtight lids. Freeze up to 2 months. THAW: Uncover and microwave at MEDIUM (50% power) 15 minutes or until thawed. REHEAT: Cover and bake at 450 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes or until thoroughly heated.
 

 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Water KnifeThe Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Jacket Blurb:  In the American Southwest, Nevada, Arizona, and California skirmish for dwindling shares of the Colorado River. Into the fray steps Angel Velasquez, detective, leg-breaker, assassin and spy. A Las Vegas water knife, Angel "cuts" water for his boss, Catherine Case, ensuring that her lush, luxurious arcology developments can bloom in the desert, so the rich can stay wet, while the poor get nothing but dust. When rumors of a game-changing water source surface in drought-ravaged Phoenix, Angel is sent to investigate. There, he encounters Lucy Monroe, a hardened journalist with no love for Vegas and every reason to hate Angel, and Maria Villarosa, a young Texas refugee who survives by her wits and street smarts in a city that despises everything that she represents.  With bodies piling up, bullets flying, and Phoenix teetering on collapse, it seems like California is making a power play to monopolize the life-giving flow of a river. For Angel, Lucy, and Maria time is running out and their only hope for survival rests in each other’s hands. But when water is more valuable than gold, alliances shift like sand, and the only thing for certain is that someone will have to bleed if anyone hopes to drink.

Read for February book group.

Premise of the book is water is at an all time low in the desert southwest. Reservoirs are tapped out, aquifers are tapped out, climate change has devastated Texas in the form of hurricanes and tornadoes and refugees are fleeing across New Mexico and Arizona with the hopes of making it to California. The US is fractured, martial law rules, and water rights are prized above all. The older the better.

Angel is a "water knife", an enforcer who cuts off water when Catherine Case says so. Caroline sent Angel to Phoenix because something strange was happening. Lucy is a well known reporter who starts poking around the death of her friend Jamie and finds he was dealing in far bigger than he was letting on - something that got him killed. Maria is a Texas refugee, scraping by in the projects and trying to save enough money to get out. When a scheme to sell water blows up because she forgot to pay off the local Gang Lord, in a desperate attempt to recoup the money she owes, her roommate Sarah provides a solution that leaves Sarah dead and Maria on the run.

Around these three characters is a city on the brink of upheaval, and rumors of water rights beyond anyone's wildest dreams.

I enjoyed this for multiple reasons - first and foremost, I love Bacigalupi's writing. If you haven't read Wind-up Girl or Shipbreaker, I strongly recommend them. His worlds while futuristic, are realistic and really come to life on the page. His characters are interesting and engaging, and his plots suck you in and keep you engaged right up to the last page.

Second, I've watched/read Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water (recommended), I've been to Vegas and Tucson numerous times, and I'm familiar with the water issues the southwest faces. Working in the natural resource field, hydrology, water rights, snow melt, rain water are all rather important things and integral to so much that it's mind boggling. So this book held some particular interest for me - what Bacigaluipi was proposing could happen. It's not that far fetched.

I liked the idea of the arcologies. These isolated domes of privilege while the masses swirled around the edges much like sand itself. Further, the arcologies provided and interesting link to Chinese financial influence.

Lastly, the whole plot revolving around water rights was just so well executed. The astute reader will pick up the moment everything clicks into place and it's just brilliant.

Despite my gushing, I will have to admit I found the lead-up a tich slow. You know our three main characters are going to come together at some point, I just thought it took a bit long to get there. And yeah, I fully admit I can get a bit impatient with plots.

When all is said and done, another brilliantly executed book by Mr. Bacigalupi.



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