20 June 2018

Wordless Wednesday: Bear!

A black bear at our bay window earlier this week.
Took the window feeder right off & ate all the yummy seeds inside.

14 June 2018

#ImprovCooking: Red, White, & Blue

June's Improv Cooking Challenge theme was red, white, and blue. This would have been the perfect opportunity to trot out a patriotic Battenberg cake, but I just didn't have that kind of time. (Do you know how many years a Battenberg has sat at the top of my "to bake" list? Too. Darn. Many. Someday, Battenberg, someday.) So here's a bright, seasonal salad full of fresh berries and all the right colors. It is simply dressed to taste with a mixture of olive oil and lemon-infused white balsamic vinegar, as I didn't want to overwhelm the berries.

Red: Strawberries
Reddish: Red Onions
White: Jicama
Whitish: Chicken
Blue: Blueberries
Blueish: Blue Cheese


I used canapé cutters to stamp out blossom-shaped pieces of jicama for the "white" in this salad, because I was trying for maximum pretty. Small cubes would work, too, and a Granny Smith apple or Asian pear would be fine substitute if you can't find jicama at your local market. My local grocery stores keeps jicama in two places -- either (already peeled and chopped) next to diced cantaloupe and watermelon or (whole) next to the plantains and coconut.

But what is jicama, you ask? Jicama is as squat roundish root vegetable covered in a rough, bark-like brown skin which should be peeled before eating or cooking. The flesh is white and crunchy with a slightly sweet flavor -- it's kind-of like eating water chestnut or an under ripe pear.


Red, White, & Blue Spinach Salad

Yield: 2

Ingredients

  • 4 oz sliced strawberries
  • 3 oz blueberries
  • 1 oz thinly sliced red onion
  • 4 oz jicama cut into blossoms or small cubes
  • 4 oz chopped cooked chicken
  • 3 oz baby spinach
  • 3 Tbsp lemon-infused white balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp crumbled blue cheese
  • Salt and pepper, as desired

Instructions

  1. For the salad: in a large bowl, toss together strawberries, blueberries, onion, jicama, chicken, and spinach. Set aside.
  2. For the dressing: in a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, and cheese. Season, as desired, with salt and ground black pepper. Drizzle dressing over salad and gently toss until well distributed.
  3. To serve: Arrange salad on a large serving platter. Garnish with extra cheese, if desired.


The #ImprovCookingChallenge is a monthly blogging event where two ingredients are assigned to a month. Bloggers can make any recipe they like as long as it features the two ingredients. If you are a blogger and would like to join us, please visit our Facebook page.You can also read more about the event on our our home page.

If you’d like to see previous creations, check out our Pinterest board.




11 June 2018

River of Teeth


Set in an alternate 1890s America, where feral hippos run rampant in the Louisiana bayous, a band of hippo wranglers have been hired by the federal government to clear them out ... by blowing up a very big dam. The wranglers are a motley bunch, the feral hippos are violent, and there’s a Very Shady Man mixed up in everything. Also, one of the hippo wranglers may be a no good double-crosser.

River of Teeth is a gritty, dark story of violence, mistrust, passion, and revenge. Seriously, the feral hippos are magnificent toothy killing machines and the Bad Man in the bayou is pretty darn Bad. Our gang of wranglers are clearly no heroes themselves, but they’re going to do the job they were hired to do (plus, maybe, get some personal revenge) whatever that takes.

Perhaps to balance out the darkness, a tender, non-binary love story springs up between two of the wranglers and, delightfully, no-one in-story acts like that relationship is unusual in anyway. I do not think I have the words to express quite how pleased I was to encounter an alternate history that actually embraces all its possibilities and doesn’t just default to white, cisgender heterosexual people as the norm.

Overall, I found River of Teeth an enjoyable read. I do wish the novella had been fleshed out into a full-length novel, because sometimes the story felt a bit choppy and under-developed -- continuously promising though, so I never felt tempted to put it down. There is another novella in the series, Taste of Marrow, which appears to continue the story several months on and I may pursue that through my library system. (Both novellas have also been bound together into the collection American Hippo which came out in late May).

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey. Tor, 2017.

10 June 2018

Sunday in the Garden



This spring has been a weird one -- frequently cold and wet with abrupt moments of summer heat and humidity. But, mostly cold and wet. Unsurprisingly, my vegetable beds are not liking this weather. Even what I think of as the cool weather crops -- the spinach and peas, for example -- are growing very slowly.

My peas, which I had already harvested a few times by now last year, are barely a foot tall. The poor spinach took a knocking during the hail storm we had a few weeks ago, but sprang back and has put on some growth. As for the chard and brussels sprouts ... meh.


Of course, what's going to happen is the weather will abruptly turn hot and sunny, everything in the garden will go into overdrive, and I'll have produce coming out of my ears.

Especially after 29 June when my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) partial share becomes available. Yes, I know I complained last summer about being feeling I was a slave to my CSA share and that I wasn't going to do it again. But, oh, we know I am weak.

The share is through a different farm this year -- Gresczyk Farms out of New Hartford. My friend, Kelly, had bought a full share from Gresczyk last year and, frankly, her shares always looked great. Only a partial share for us this summer (eggs and enough produce for a "household [that] likes to eat vegetables"), but I still pick it up at the Friday farmer's market down from the library so I can still pick up other items like bread and pickles at the same time.


All subscribers receive a weekly email listing our CSA share for the week as well as a weekly handout with recipes and preparation tips. And, really, the weekly email is what sold me. No more being surprised by produce. I mean, I want to try new vegetables -- that is very much the reason I belong to a CSA -- but there was always that moment of panic on Friday afternoons last summer, when I'd find myself staring down at a basket of fennel bulbs wondering if I had the time or wherewithal to deal with them. Now I can menu plan well ahead of time and be ready to cook.

This is all presuming that the commercial farms are doing better than my own backyard garden, of course!

07 June 2018

Creamy Cucumber & Tomato Salad

This creamy cucumber and tomato salad is one of those panicky "oh, my god, why do I have so many X in my fridge?" throw-together recipes. I honestly don't know how I managed to end up with so many cucumbers in my house -- we like cucumbers, certainly, and eat them nearly every day on sandwiches or in salads or just as snacks with a little fancy salt -- but still. I blame the general cuteness of mini cucumbers. They look so small, so twee that it's easy to not think about just how much cucumber is crammed in one of those handy grab-and-go sacks.


Happily, this throw-together recipe worked out really well! But then how can you go wrong with cucumbers, dill, and sour cream? It's a classic combination.

I cut the sour cream with a little mayonnaise, because that seemed like a good idea at the time, but you could omit it if you are not a mayonnaise-lover -- the salad will just be a bit more tart, of course. I used Hellmann's Majonez Babuni ("Granma's Mayonnaise"), which is I buy from one of the Polish grocers. It's a little sweeter and more velvety than regular Hellmann's, but not nearly as sweet or cloying as Miracle Whip. In retrospect I think, maybe, I was unconsciously trying to make a sauce that was texturally similar to salad cream?


Creamy Cucumber & Tomato Salad

Yield: 2

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp sour cream
  • 1 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 Tbsp dried dill weed
  • 1 cup seeded, chopped tomato
  • ½ shallot, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups halved sliced cucumber
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. In a serving bowl, whisk together sour cream, mayonnaise, red wine vinegar, garlic powder, onion powder, and dried dill.
  2. Add cucumbers, tomatoes, and shallot to bowl. Toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Adjust other seasonings as necessary. Serve.

04 June 2018

Let It Shine


Since the untimely death of her mother, Sofie has tried very hard to be a good girl. A church-going, law-abiding young lady. Nice. Quiet. Docile. Decidedly not someone who participates in sit-ins or falls in love with a white Jewish boxer. But there’s a fire burning deep inside Sofie and nice isn’t enough, anymore.

Let It Shine was as much a coming of age story as it was a romance. Sure, it was delightful to see Ivan and Sofie reconnect after years apart, discovering a love so tender and true that it made me a bit goofy. But, even better was watching Sofie come out of her "good girl" shell, fighting through others expectations to become the woman she was meant to be. Yes, Sofie was frequently scared of what might happen to her given the dangers of the era, but she kept going.

Let It Shine was not always an easy book to read -- there's simply no way a Civil Rights era romance wasn't going to make me cry or chew my thumb -- but it was a very rewarding, satisfying one.

Let It Shine by Alyssa Cole. CreateSpace, 2016.

30 May 2018

Wordless Wednesday: A Cat Does Not Share

Ms. Grumpy Boots does not understand why the humans want to sleep in her bed.

28 May 2018

The Marsh King’s Daughter


After a traumatic childhood, Helena moved away from her family, changed her surname, and created a new life that (she thought) kept her safely under the radar. Helena was content.

Then Helena’s father escapes from prison and she has no doubt he will come looking for her. A murderous psychopath, kidnapper, and rapist -- the man is definitely not someone Helena wants anywhere near her husband and daughters. So, using all the tracking skills he taught her, Helena hunts her father.

The Marsh King’s Daughter is an atmospheric and mesmerizing psychological thriller about a woman whose secret past catches up with her and threatens to destroy the life she has built for herself. The book alternates between the past and the present, steadily ratcheting up the nail-biting dramatic tension as the parallel story-lines progress. Child Helena, ignorant of many truths, adores her father intensely. Adult Helena, knowing the truth about her parents’ relationship and recognizing that her childhood was completely fucked-up, still longs for her father’s approbation ... even as she understands she’s going to have to kill him.

With The Marsh King’s Daughter Dionne has crafted an absolutely riveting story -- the characters and the plot are very well developed and the marsh feels like a very real, very familiar place. Rankin’s narration is also spot-on and I cannot tell you how many times I willingly considered being late for work so I could listen to “just a little bit more.”

Be warned, though, that there’s a lot of violence in The Marsh King’s Daughter -- both the constant, oppressive shadow of it and the fully-realized bloody kind. However, this is no torture porn. Violence is there, because it is the way of things in the marsh, but there’s no glorification or sensualization of it. I’m just saying that, if you’re sitting in a parking lot listening to this with your car windows down on your lunch break, you might get some curious looks!

The Marsh King’s Daughter written by Karen Dionne & read by Emily Rankin. Penguin Audio: 2017.

24 May 2018

Exploring Mexican Made Easy for Cookbook Club


For May's library cookbook club, I made "Maria Cookie & Lime Cream Trifle" from Marcela Valladolid's Mexican Made Easy. When I hear "trifle" I think of the English dessert made with fruit, sherry-soaked sponge, and custard. Well, this trifle is nothing like that, but it's still fabulous -- a creamy, sweet-tart no-bake treat that goes together in minutes, keeps well, and can go straight from fridge to table.

Maria cookies are a very mild, slightly sweetened cookie more similar to a British rich tea biscuit than a traditional American "cookie." They're usually easy to find in the "ethnic" aisle of most grocery stores although Valladolid writes graham crackers can be substituted for the Maria biscuits, if you prefer. I stuck with Maria cookies, because the recipe only uses four ingredients and so substituting one just seemed wrong.

I tried my best to make the recipe exactly as instructed, but ended up doubling the number of layers as I still had a lot of biscuit and cream left after following the instructions (it was either that or make two trifles ... which, in hindsight, I realize might have been a grand idea as I would have had my own private trifle). Proportionally, to get the number of layers Valladolid calls for, I think you'd need to halve the amount of ingredients.

The recipe says it makes six to eight servings, but I would say closer to ten to twelve. No-one stinted in their servings, but there was still plenty left for my coworkers. Honestly, it's a very bright, zesty pud -- rather like deconstructed key lime pie -- and I'm not going to complain about having had too much of it!

When I whizzed the milks and lime juice in my stand mixer, the liquids did thicken up a bit but were still worryingly soupy. However, when I went to serve the trifle seven hours later, the liquid had set into a thick pudding. The biscuits had softened up considerably, but still retained their shape and enough firmness to add a pleasing texture to the trifle.

In addition to the trifle, I've made two other recipes from Mexican Made Easy -- "Red and White Kidney Salad" and "Corn and Zucchini Sauté" -- and they were both easy and flavorful. While I imagine the sauté will be even better with in-season ingredients, it was still very satisfying as it was. The crunchy bacon added a delicious smoky savoriness to the dish that pushed the salad from very nice to "I'm going to eat the whole pan on my own."

The bean salad was also pretty wow. Bright and refreshing with just the right about of zip. A lot of bean salads I've made go the "more ingredients are better" route, but this simple combination of ingredients reminded me that more isn't always better. While I made a significant attempt to eat all the tasty beans the first night, there were leftovers and they kept very nicely in the fridge until the next day when I let them come to room temperature before tossing them with baby spinach and eating them as a main.


Overall, I'm very pleased with my experience cooking from Marcela Valladolid's Mexican Made Easy and look forward to trying out her other cookbooks soon.

21 May 2018

The Murders of Molly Southbourne


The Murders of Molly Southbourne is a strange little novella, at once compelling and also surprisingly unsatisfying. I read it in one sitting, frequently wanting to put it down and disliking it intensely at points, but could not stop reading. Yet, after I finished, I found myself skimming back through The Murders of Molly Southbourne, feeling certain I'd missed something.

Oh, I enjoyed the premise -- whenever Molly bleeds, her spilt blood grows into other mollys who must be dealt with before they turn all murder-y -- but, ultimately, the novella felt unfinished and I was left with SO. MANY. QUESTIONS.

My questions are more than a bit spoilery, so you might want to stop here with "The world-building in The Murders of Molly Southbourne is vague and unsatisfying, but I'm pretty sure I'd watch a season of it were it to be adapted by Netflix or Amazon."

  • Why did Molly's blood generate mollys?
  • Where did the mollys come from when she wasn't bleeding -- I understand one was alive, zombie-like, down a hole for years -- but what of the others?
  • Why did the other mollys want to kill her?
  • Why was the "last" molly different?

Evolutionary drive seemed a hand-wavy answer to these questions.

And then there were what I think of as the "menstrual questions:"

  • Why did Molly's mother not explain menstruation to her long before it happened? If Molly's blood births monsters, than surely menarche should be a time of extra concern?
  • Why is Molly burying the evidence of her monthlies? Why not burn them in the furnace with the mollys? I'm imagining a diaper pail full of diluted bleach in the bathroom, that she adds bloody stuff to & then takes to the furnace? Rather than burying it in the back garden, which is just a big NOPE.
  • Why isn't Molly using a continuous birth control pill to keep from menstruating? Molly's world suffers from an extremely low birthrate and I can see where that might mean birth control would be frowned upon or difficult to obtain, but she's a also registered hemophiliac. Certainly, there's no mention of contraception when she discusses sex, but what do I know?

See, I told you -- SO. MANY. QUESTIONS.

The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson. Tor: 2017.

17 May 2018

Cookbook Club: The Flavors of Mexico

May's cookbook club theme was "The Flavors of Mexico" -- a fun opportunity to try out a new Mexican or Mexican-inspired recipe. It might have been smarter to save the theme for summer when tomatoes, chiles, cilantro, and corn are in season here, but I didn't really think about that when I planned out my calendar. Anyway, participating cooks did not disappoint, bringing in a impressive range of tasty dishes:

  • "Creamy Chicken Chipotle Salad" from Simply Mexican by Lourdes Castro. Fresh, bright take on the traditional Cobb salad. The creamy, smoky chipotle sauce was just fab.

  • "Cubiletes de Requeson (Individual Cheese Pies)" from My Sweet Mexico by Fany Gerson.
    Light, slightly sweet cheese filling with lots of nice citrus flavor nestled in a flaky, slightly sweet empanada dough crust. (The cook who made these could not find Requesón and so substituted ricotta, as the book described Requesón as falling being somewhere between ricotta and pot cheese in constancy and flavor).

  • "Dulce de Frijol (Bean Candy)" from My Sweet Mexico by Fany Gerson. These soft, pinto-based sweets had a consistency similar to marzipan, smelled strongly of cinnamon, and tasted mildly of orange. If we hadn't been told they were made of beans, I doubt any of us would have guessed. (It took much longer to make than the recipe indicated, the cook said, and there was a ridiculous amount of stirring needed).

  • "Pan de Elote (Corn Bread)" from My Sweet Mexico by Fany Gerson. This is not corn bread as we are used to seeing it. No, this was creamy and custard-like -- kind-of like a chess pie in consistency -- and tasted like the best of summer on a plate.

  • "Stacked Torte" from Quesadillas by Donna Meeks Kelly. A layered quesadilla made of ground turkey, red enchilada sauce, salsa, corn, black beans, flour tortillas, and cheese. Very Tex-Mex, very comforting and hearty.

  • "Tortilla Soup" from Simply Mexican by Lourdes Castro. Just ... see below.

  • "Maria Cookie & Lime Cream Trifle" from Mexican Made Easy by Marcela Valladolid. Marvelously zesty. Kind of like eating deconstructed key lime pie. It's my dish, so expect a post about it later.

¡Que delicioso!


Fany Gerson's My Sweet Mexico proved a popular recipe source and we were all really smitten with the dishes prepared from it. The creamy "Pan de Elote" was very morish, the "Cubiletes de Requeson" a nice balance of textures and flavors, and we just could not stop talking about the "Dulce de Frijol," because Bean. Candy. Just a fascinating (and delicious!) concept.

And now, a little weirdness: I am 99% sure the cook brought the "Tortilla Soup" passed off a completely different dish as Castro's. We certainly ate a soup, but it does not resemble the one in Castro's recipe. The one served was full of corn, beans, and shredded chicken while Castro's sounds much more vegetal with a thinned roasted vegetable puree base and lots of fresh toppings. It's not even as if she just added in extra ingredients -- it seems like a completely different soup. The one served was good, but I don't know why she tried to pass it off as Castro's. If she'd tried Castro's recipe and it failed ... well, why not say? We've all had failures before. No-one judges. Indeed, some of the failures people have shared have yielded the liveliest and most pleasant conversations.

All I know is, curiosity demands I make Castro's "Tortilla Soup" as soon as possible to see what it's like!

16 May 2018

Wordless Wednesday: Dwarf Iris After Rain

Dwarf bearded irises speckled with rain. Variety might be "Scruples," but I can't be certain. Transplanted from my mom's garden yonks ago.

14 May 2018

Murder on the Orient Express


Seeing Kenneth Branagh's production of Murder on the Orient Express last fall made me itch to read Christie's novel again, but copies were thin on the ground as every library patron seemed to have the same idea. I reckoned I'd pick it up again once the interest died down, but then simply forgot about it entirely (as one does when constantly surrounded by other equally tempting books).

Happily, The Husband was paying attention and gave me a copy of Audio Partners unabridged production read by David Suchet. Suchet was my formative Poirot -- Masterpiece Mystery! introduced me to the Belgian detective years before I read any of Christie's novels -- and will forever live in my heart as the only Poirot that matters. Whether I read the books or listen to Hugh Fraser narrate the audio books, David Suchet's Poirot is the detective I see in my head.

Unsurprisingly, this unabridged recording of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express is just superb. As always, David Suchet demonstrates an impressive range of vocal talent -- his voice for each character is distinct and appropriate to the character. Yes, some of the characters might be a little over the top, but I feel Christie might have meant them to be? To me, at least, Christie's characters tend to seem full of stereotypes and it seems like she's deliberately having fun with this in Murder on the Orient Express.

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed Suchet's reading and found myself always eager to know what the next scene would bring ... even though I've read Murder on the Orient Express twice and watched two adaptations now.

Murder on the Orient Express written by Agatha Christie & read by David Suchet. Audio Partners: 2001.

09 May 2018

Wordless Wednesday: Dicentra spectabilis

This pink bleeding heart is one of my garden favorites.

03 May 2018

Baked Tortilla-Crusted Tilapia

Often, when I buy a box of hard taco shells, one or two will be broken. I save these shells in a bag for "later" with the expectation I'll crush them up to top taco salad or a casserole or something, but what actually happens is that I just end up with a bag of broken taco shells rattling around the cupboards for months, getting in the way and annoying me to no end.

But no more! For I have finally used my bag of broken taco shells! I ground them up in the food processor and used them to coat tilapia fillets. This isn't a very original idea, I know, but it made for tasty fish. If you don't have a bag of broken taco shells on hand, tortilla chips would also work just fine.



Baked Tortilla-Crusted Tilapia

Yield:3-4

Ingredients

  • 1 lb whole tilapia fillets
  • 5 hard yellow corn taco shells
  • 1 tsp salt-free southwestern-style seasoning blend [Penzeys Arizona Dreaming]
  • 2 egg whites
  • Salsa, for serving
  • Guacamole, if desired, for serving

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Line a half sheet (13" x 18") pan with baking parchment.
  3. Pat fillets dry with a paper towel. Cut fillets in half, length-wise, and set aside.
  4. Pulverize taco shells in a food processor until finely ground. Pour into a shallow dish -- a soup bowl or pie plate works well. Stir in seasoning blend.
    Serve with salsa and guacamole, as desired.
  5. Place egg whites in another shallow dish.
  6. Dip fillets in egg and then in tortilla crumb mixture.
  7. Place fillets on the parchment-lined sheet pan and bake at 400°F for 15 minutes or until crispy and fish is 145°F.
  8. Serve with salsa and guacamole, as desired.

We ate this tilapia with cucumber salad and garlicky cilantro rice. The rice was the usual medium grain white cooked in low sodium chicken broth with dried garlic flakes, but I stirred a generous handful of minced cilantro into the finished rice just before serving. As a meal, it was light but filling with bright, clean, summery flavors.

Anyway, I've switched over to using corn tortillas, so I shouldn't have to deal with broken shells in the future. If we want them crispy, I follow Mexican Please's method for oven-baked shells.

26 April 2018

Slow Cooker Creamy Chicken & Mushrooms

I'd planned on making Pillsbury's "Slow-Cooker Creamy Tuscan Chicken" for Sunday dinner, but failed to notice I didn't have any sun-dried tomatoes left until it was too late. And by "too late" I mean it was Sunday morning and I was not getting out of my comfiest jim-jams to go to the store for anything. Rummaging around, I saw I had roasted peppers and mushrooms ... so I made this modified version, which was garlicky and good.


Yes, the original recipe calls for boneless chicken breasts and I clearly used boneless thighs. I was always going to use thighs. Thighs are dark meat and, therefore, more flavorful and "chicken-y." Also, unlike breasts, thighs don't go all dry and mealy in the slow cooker.


Slow Cooker Creamy Chicken & Mushrooms

Yield: 4

Ingredients

  • 6 boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 14.5 oz jar creamy cheese sauce
  • 8 oz sliced white button mushrooms
  • 5 oz jarred roasted red peppers, patted dry & sliced into thin strips
  • 1 tsp salt-free Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp dehydrated minced garlic
  • 2 tsp cornstarch plus cold water as needed
  • 4 oz baby spinach

Instructions

  1. Layer chicken, mushrooms, and roasted pepper strips in the slow cooker insert. Sprinkle with seasoning and garlic flakes.
  2. Cover; cook on low for 5 hours or until chicken is 165°F.
  3. Whisk together cornstarch and cold water until cornstarch is completely dissolved.
  4. Stir slurry into slow cooker. Add spinach and continue to cook on low for 20 minutes or until sauce is thickened and spinach is limp.
  5. Serve over pasta, rice, or more spinach.
I left the thighs whole when I made this, but I think it would be easier to serve if I had cut them into chunks to begin with.

20 April 2018

Cookbook Club: Brinner (Breakfast for Dinner)

April's library cookbook theme was brinner (breakfast for dinner). I thought this was a fun, quirky topic that would appeal to many different kinds of cooks. Apparently, I misjudged, because only seven cooks registered for the meeting ... of which, five turned up. I'm a little frustrated by the low turnout, because -- while there certainly seems to be a lot of interest in the club -- it is nearing its one year anniversary with attendance numbers lower than when it launched.

Anyway, the cooks who came were very excited to share their dishes:
  • "Amish Breakfast Casserole" from Taste of Home's Brunch Favorites: 201 Delicious Ideas to Start Your Day. So much cheesy potato goodness. Hearty, but not heavy. Very morish.

  • "Baked Cinnamon-Apple French Toast" from Gale Gand's Brunch! 100 Fantastic Recipes for the Weekend's Best Meal. Crunchy on the edges, moist and custardy in the middle, and so wonderfully redolent of cinnamon and apples. The honey butter topping sounded like too much, but paired wonderfully. Just thinking about this dish makes my mouth water.

  • "Breakfast Scramble" also from Taste of Home's Brunch Favorites: 201 Delicious Ideas to Start Your Day. The cook who made this used canned potatoes (to save herself 20 minutes), but there's no way we'd have been able to tell if she hadn't mentioned it. A nice, meaty hash.

  • "Syrupy Banana-Nut Overnight French Toast" from Good Housekeeping The Great Potluck Cookbook: Our Favorite Recipes for Carry-In Suppers, Brunch Buffets, Tailgate Parties & More. Creamy, custardy french toast a top a layer of gooey caramelized banana goodness. Very reminiscent of bananas foster and totally yum.

  • "Three-Meat Quiche" from The Perfect Egg: A Fresh Take on Recipes for Morning, Noon, and Night by Teri Lyn Fisher & Jenny Park. A fluffy, creamy, cheesy quiche filled with smoked ham, bacon, and sausage. We ate it closer to room temperature than warm and it was still delish -- and the crust was still crisp!


Everyone enjoyed talking about the cookbooks they'd used and the recipes they'd made. We were all very complimentary about each others' dishes and seconds (quite possibly thirds) were taken. I'm pretty sure everyone left with the intent of making their own dish of "Baked Cinnamon-Apple French Toast" as soon as possible.

And what did I make? I made "Chili and Cheese Crustless Quiche" from Taste of Home's Casseroles, Slow Cooker & Soups: 515 Hot & Hearty Dishes Your Family Will Love. As this was a quick-cooking slow cooker dish, I assembled and cooked it at the library before the club met. I'd fully intended to try the recipe at home over the weekend -- to make sure it worked -- but didn't have the time. Happily, cooking the quiche at work turned out fine and everyone seemed to enjoy it.


Some of the cooks that come to cookbook club aren't keen on very spicy foods, so I only used two cans of chiles rather than the three called for. Both cans were diced, as well, as I couldn't find whole canned chiles that weren't pickled. I didn't know what brand of chili con carne was best, so just went with Hormel's turkey chili without beans as it had fewer calories and less fat that other chilis on the shelf at the grocery store. The finished quiche did have a little kick, but the cheese and egg helped balance that. Overall, I feel it's something I'd make for myself.

This is not the first time I used Taste of Home's Casseroles, Slow Cooker & Soups for cookbook club -- I made the "Slow-Cooked Shepherd's Pie" back in February, when the theme was "Pies: Sweet & Savory." I've also made a few recipes from this cookbook just for myself -- the "Mexican Beef Stuffed Peppers" and "Chicken Merlot With Mushrooms" -- with good results. This is not the most exciting, cutting-edge cookbook out there, but its recipes are reliable and family-friendly (and almost always accompanied by very attractive photographs).

18 April 2018

Wordless Wednesday: Succulents

Euphorbia obesa, a succulent also known as "baseball plant," on display at the
Connecticut Cactus & Succulent Society's annual show.

12 April 2018

#ImprovCooking: Asparagus & Cream

I've made Betty Crocker's "Baked Vegetable Risotto" several times now and it is always uniformly delicious. Pairs really well with grilled salmon or chicken -- just add a green salad and a bottle of wine and you have a meal that seems rather fancy without being a giant time-sink.

Of course, being me, I couldn't leave well enough alone, and decided to try it with asparagus and cream for this month's Improv Cooking Challenge. I used very thin stalks of tender young asparagus in order to keep the cooking time the same as the original recipe. If you have thicker stalks, you might want to blanch the asparagus first -- much depends on how firm you prefer cooked asparagus. The Husband likes very tender asparagus, so that's what I aimed for.



Asparagus & Mushroom Oven-Baked Risotto

Yield: 4-6 as a side dish

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 oz chopped sweet onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 8 oz sliced mushrooms
  • 1 tsp salt-free Italian seasoning blend
  • 1 cup uncooked Arborio rice
  • 14.5 oz low-sodium fat-free chicken broth
  • ½ pint container heavy cream
  • 10 oz very thin stalks tender young asparagus, trimmed & chopped into ⅓-inch pieces (leave tips whole for max prettiness)
  • 10 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 4 oz shredded Italian cheese blend

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 400°F. Heat olive oil in 2 1/2-quart French/Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, mushrooms, and seasoning bend. Cook 3 to 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently, until mushrooms start to soften.
  2. Add rice. Cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add broth and cream; heat to boiling.
  3. Cover pan. Transfer to oven. Bake 15 minutes.
  4. Stir in asparagus, cherry tomatoes, and half of the cheese. Cover; bake 10 to 15 minutes longer or until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender. Stir in remaining half of cheese and serve.


The #ImprovCookingChallenge is a monthly blogging event where two ingredients are assigned to a month. Bloggers can make any recipe they like as long as it features the two ingredients. If you are a blogger and would like to join us, please visit our Facebook page.You can also read more about the event on our our home page.

If you’d like to see previous creations, check out our Pinterest board.



11 April 2018

Wordless Wednesday: Stray Iris

The chipmunks have been rearranging my spring bulbs, again. This stray dwarf iris, 'Katharine Hodgkin,' has popped up under a blueberry bush.

05 April 2018

Baked Pesto Tilapia With Tomatoes

This is an fast and easy dish, perfect for when you've been too busy reading to think about supper, then lost track of time, and now its very late, and you are absolutely famished.

I used tilapia, because tilapia is what I had in the freezer, but any mild, white fish fillets will do. While I usually thaw frozen fish overnight in the refrigerator, I obviously needed thawed fish pretty immediately so I used the Food52 quick thaw method which worked very well.


Baked Pesto Tilapia With Tomatoes

Yield: 4

Ingredients

  • 5 oz grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1½ tsp chopped parsley
  • 1½ tsp olive oil
  • 1½ tsp garlic-infused white balsamic vinegar
  • Coarsely ground black pepper, as desired
  • 4 tilapia fillets (6 oz each)
  • 2 oz prepared pesto

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Combine tomatoes, parsley, olive oil, and vinegar in a small bowl. Season with pepper to taste. Set aside until needed.
  3. Line a half sheet pan with baking parchment.
  4. Pat fillets dry with a paper towel. Place fillets on the parchment-lined sheet pan and brush with pesto.
  5. Bake at 400°F for 15 minutes or until tilapia is 145°F and flakes easily with a fork.
  6. Serve tilapia topped with the tomato mixture.
I served the tilapia over rice -- prepared, as usual, with low-sodium chicken broth -- with steam-in-bag green beans I doctored with olive oil and lots of seasonings. The Husband

04 April 2018

Wordless Wednesday: Crocuses in Snow

Purple crocuses undaunted by a little April snow.

26 March 2018

The Queen of Ieflaria


Princess Esofi has made the long journey to Ieflaria to wed Crown Prince Albion, someone she has been betrothed to since childhood. Although they have never met, they have exchanged many letters, and Esofi is looking forward to her marriage … or, rather, was. The prince has died, leaving Esofi and Ieflaria in precarious positions. Esofi does not want to return to her homeland (from my reading it seemed almost as if she couldn't) and Ieflaria doesn't want her to go, as they really need the magic she brought to fight off the dragons pillaging the countryside.

Esofi needs to marry someone royal to stay in Ieflaria. Someone like Adale, Albion's sister. And that would be an excellent solution to everyone's problems ... except Adale never expected to be the heir, is completely freaked out by the idea, and is pretty set on doing a runner. As an alternative to Adele, there are always the Terrible Cousins ... except, well, they're terrible.

Let me just be honest with your here -- I preordered The Queen of Ieflaria because Twitter promised me poofy dresses, fire-breathing dragons, adorable kittens, and girls kissing girls.

It did not disappoint.

I liked Adale and Esofi -- both very different characters, but each interesting and compellingly-written. Their romance grew slowly from an initial tentative liking into something tender and sweet and rooted. They were so cute together. Every scene with just the two of them getting to know each other left me grinning like a goof and wishing for more. Indeed, I would have been perfectly content if the entire novel had just been a series of scenes in which Adale and Esofi exchange amusing banter while wearing fabulous clothes.

I do wish the secondary characters were a bit more fleshed out. Most were very one-note -- for example, Lady Mireille was very snotty, "Lady Lisette" was very sneaky, and Adele's friends simply seemed like a mass of drunken puppies. I also felt the world-building was a bit uneven -- sometimes Esofi's interior monologue felt very infodump-y and other times I felt I was being tortured with hints of Things That Might Be Important. But, hey, The Queen of Ieflaria is both a debut novel and the first in a series -- I expect the world-building will improve as Calvin goes on and concepts/subplots that are unclear will become crystal.

Ultimately, while I feel The Queen of Ieflaria does need just a little more polish, it was still an extremely enjoyable read. I look forward to reading the rest of the series, Tales of Inthya, when they are released. The second book, Daughter of the Sun, will be out in November and I hope it contains more floofy dresses and even more kissing. Hooray for pansexual princesses!

The Queen of Ieflaria by Effie Calvin. NineStar Press, 2018. Kindle edition.

24 March 2018

Special Delivery From Taste of Home: Winter 2018

The Winter 2018 Special Delivery From Taste of Home subscription box arrived around the holidays and I was just too busy to deal with it so I did what I always do -- stuffed it in the back of the coat closet until there was time to appreciate it properly!


Excuses, excuses. What's in the box?

Now Designs Planta Bowl Cover (Not shown in photo, because in use) -- Eco-friendly cotton shower cap for your bowls. I scoffed when I first saw this -- my storage bowls all have lids. Why would I need this? And then, the very same day, I made a cookie dough that needed to be chilled for three hours and this cotton cap covered my KitchenAid stand mixer's bowl perfectly and I've been using it ever since. These appear to be sold in sets of two ($15.00 from Now and $14.95 from Amazon), so I'm a little sore I only received one.

Oxo Good Grips Vegetable Brush -- I will confess I've never owned a vegetable brush before. When I've need to scrub a particularly dirty vegetable, I've just broken out the nail brush and gone to town. This brush has very firm bristles and is about the size of a computer mouse. I like that the body is nonslip and that the entire thing is dishwasher safe. I would never have bought it for myself, but now that I have it I will retire the nailbrush to the bathroom where it belongs. Retails for $4.99 on the OXO site and Amazon.

Chef'n Looseleaf Kale & Greens Stripper -- Okay. So. My mom gave me one of these for Christmas and it's excellent at what it does. I know it looks gimmicky as all get out, but it works. I've used it on kale, turnip greens, and basil. Retails for $7.99 on the Chef'n site and $7.95 on Amazon.

Cherchies Pasta e Fagioli Soup Mix -- This seems to be the older version of the soup currently offered on Cherchies' site. This soup requires I rinse and soak the beans first, whereas the new quick-cooking version for sale does not. The ingredients seem pretty standard and I will make this soup because cold weather = soup, but I really wish it had slow cooker instructions.

Lodge Mini Magnetic Trivet -- Dishwasher safe, silicone and rare-earth round magnetic trivet that can protect countertops and tables from pot bottoms heated up to 450°F. This trivet fits all my Le Creuset cookware, including my oval 3⅓ quart Dutch oven, round 7¼ quart Dutch oven, and Signature 10¼" skillet. It works well and I would buy another. Retails for $10 on the Lodge site and $6.51 on Amazon.

DollarDays Inspirational Wall Plaque -- Small (8.625" x 2.75") painted wooden plaque that says "FAMILY, may this home be filled with love and laughter." I have no strong feeling for or against this time. It's just ... ehh. Price per unit, according to DollarDays, is $1.40.

Taste of Home Comfort Food Makeovers -- A collection of lightened-up "family favorite" recipes, including appetizers and sweets as well as main dishes. I haven't made anything from it yet, but I have (as usual) studded the book with sticky notes and I'll probably end up making the "Pineapple Oatmeal" before the month is out. This is a 2015 cookbook currently retailing on Amazon for $12.23 and on the Shop Taste of Home Store for $12.99.

$10 Coupon for the Shop Taste of Home Store -- I ended up purchasing Taste of Home 100 Family Meals and Taste of Home Bake Shop Favorites for $13.83, including shipping. These are cookbooks I've borrowed from my library in the past and felt it was worth having copies of my own. So, yes, the coupon is good value.

Special Delivery from Taste of Home Recipe Cards -- Six cards, all focused on winter comfort foods. So far, I've made the "Warm Tasty Greens With Garlic" (used my Chef'n greens stripper, yo) and the "Pinwheel Steak Pot Pie." I enjoyed making both recipes and The Husband definitely enjoyed eating the pot pie.

While I have been impressed by the quality of the revamped TOH subscription box service and enjoyed finding a new box of surprises on my doorstep every few months, I've decided it's time to call it quits. I have, frankly, too much stuff and don't need more. Cancelling was very easy -- I exchanged a few emails with Reader's Digest Customer Service and that was it. The end.

Read about my experiences with Special Delivery and its precursor, Taste the Seasons.

21 March 2018

Wordless Wednesday: Orchids



Two of the thousand orchids on display at the Nutmeg State Orchid Society's annual show and sale last weekend.

17 March 2018

Cookbook Club: Mediterranean Flavors

March's library cookbook theme was Mediterranean flavors -- dishes from Italy, Spain, Turkey, Greece, and such. I thought this was a broad enough topic that cooks who wanted to push the boat out and try something new -- like a Turkish dish -- could, while those who wanted to play it "safe" with more "common" cuisines like Greek and Italian, could as well. And that's pretty much what happened! In addition to a slew of delicious Italian dishes, we also had succulent buttered apricots with walnuts from Turkey and savory pan-fried chorizo in cider from Spain.


And what did I make? "Classic Hummus" from America's Test Kitchen's Complete Mediterranean Cookbook! Hummus is one of those things I disliked for years and then, abruptly, changed my mind about and now can't get enough of. I've often thought about making my own hummus, but 1) tahini is expensive and 2) I am lazy.

But I actually had tahini in the fridge (leftover from September's beet hummus) and there are always chickpeas in the cupboard so ... hummus! Who knew it could be so easy? The most persnickety part was during prep when I had to mix the lemon juice with water in one bowl and the olive oil with tahini in another. I don't understand why I couldn't just whack everything into the food processor and give it a whirl, but who am I to question the gods? Anyway, this is really good hummus -- smooth, creamy, and garlicky with a subtle lemon tang -- that I wouldn't want to mess with it.

I like this hummus so much that I've made it twice since the March meeting! It's so easy & inexpensive (yes, tahini is $$ upfront, but a jar lasts a long time) and there are enough recipe variations provided that I think I shall be happy making it for quite a long time.


Mind you, I did not intend to bring hummus! I intended to bring the lemony "Olive Oil-Yogurt Cake!" Tuesday was a snow day, so I thought I'd try the bundt cake out on The Husband and, if it worked well, I'd bring it to the meeting. Alas, it worked too well! The cake was so delicious, there was no way The Husband was going to let me part with it (admittedly, I was also loathe to give it up), but I didn't have quite enough time to bake another. So ... hummus!

But this cake. So tender. So moist. So lemony. And easy! Definitely going to bake another one soon. This was the first time I'd ever baked with olive oil and I so pleased with the experience that I went and borrowed Lisa Sheldon's Olive Oil Baking: Heart-Healthy Recipes That Increase Good cholesterol & Reduce Saturated Fats through my library system.


While I've told myself I ought to dial it back on Amazon purchases this year (Prime is the devil), I must admit I ended up purchasing a copy of America's Test Kitchen's Complete Mediterranean Cookbook. In addition to the hummus and the bundt cake, there were simply so many other recipes I wanted to try ("Braised Oxtails with White Beans, Tomatoes, and Aleppo Pepper," you're next!) that it seemed better to own a copy than keep the library's out on near permanent loan.

Unsurprisingly, I own quite a few ATK cookbooks and am very well aware there tends to be overlap between books, but I did not find the "Classic Hummus" recipe repeated in any other books. There are hummus recipes, certainly, but not that one. The recipe for "Olive Oil-Yogurt Cake," however, can also be found in The Perfect Cake (which I don't own, but my library does and I am, of course, on hold for).

12 March 2018

The Lark


Furrowed Middlebrow, a new imprint for Dean Street Press, as reprinted a slew of fabulous works by neglected, now lesser-known British women novelists and memoirists. These books largely describe women's lives and culture in early 20th century Britain and probably feel out of fashion for being too "domestic," but as this is exactly the kind of fiction I eat up with a spoon, I am over the moon.

After downloading five Furrowed Middlebrow releases to my Kindle, I decided to start with Nesbit's The Lark. I mean? How could I not? 1919, two capable young women recently from the school room discover their guardian has lost all their money and then done a bunk, leaving them with a country cottage and a wee bit of money to get buy on... it sounded completely charming and fun. A lark, indeed.

And it was. Jane and Lucilla Quested were charming, embraceable characters who had a grand little adventure as genteel business women before finding love and settling down to become good wives and mothers. They engaged with a patchwork of interesting characters taken from varied classes and backgrounds and the entire thing read as a cheerful, "can do" slice of life.

Be warned -- The Lark was by no means a realistic treatment of the economic difficulties faced by single, genteelly impoverished young women in the aftermath of WWI. However, it was a kind, optimistic book in which even the meanest characters were not so very mean and everything worked out well in the end. In other words, precisely what I needed to reading on a dreary March day in 2018.

If you enjoy Montgomery's The Blue Castle or Lovelace's later Betsy-Tacy books, I think The Lark will appeal to you as they all share a similar spirit and time.

I always thought of Edith Nesbit as a children's author -- Five Children & It, The Railway Children, etc -- but it turns out she wrote quite a few novels for adults and I look forward to reading more of them. Middlebrow has only reprinted this one, but others (The Red House, for example) are available for Kindle.

The Lark by Edith Nesbit. Dean Street Press, 2017.

08 March 2018

Baking With Coffee Flour

When last I ordered from Nuts.com, I threw a bag off coffee flour in my cart because ... I don't know ... it sounded interesting. I'd been doing a lot of baking with chocolate and wondered if adding coffee flour to a chocolate cake or whathaveyou recipe would enhance the chocolate flavor the way adding brewed coffee would. But then I stopped baking -- my culinary life is all fits and starts these days -- and the flour languished in the baking cupboard.

I know. You're wondering what the heck coffee flour is, right? What would you do with it? Why would you want it?

Coffee flour is a food with a mission. Every year, billions of pounds of coffee fruit are discarded as a byproduct of coffee production. Instead of leaving the fruit to rot as waste, coffee flour was created to convert the leftover fruit into a tasty, nutritious flour that can be used for baking, cooking and making beverages. High in fiber, protein, and antioxidants, coffee flour is a non-GMO food that is naturally gluten-free. Not only is our coffee flour a perfectly versatile ingredient, it also helps create jobs for farmers and protect the environment.

It's feel-good flour.

But, how do you bake with it? Nuts.com says you can use 30% coffee flour in place of all-purpose or gluten-free flours in your recipes, but other sources say 10, 15, or 25%. I would guess start with the smallest amount and increase if successful?

I have not yet been brave enough to try using it in any of my favorite chocolaty recipes (I just feel, since it's a coffee byproduct, it should be paired with chocolate even though I know it doesn't need to be), but I have tried a two recipes specifically formulated to use coffee flour and had good results.


The first recipe I tried was "Coffee-Flour Chocolate Chip Cookies" from the February 2017 issue of the print magazine Rodale's Organic Life. I made the recipe exactly as written, going with weighted measures where provided, and ended up with 41 extremely yumptious cookies. Neither The Husband nor I enjoy coffee or coffee-flavored things, but these cookies do not taste at all coffee-like!

They are dark cookies, yes, with a hint of dates and a slight bitterness that put me more in mind of black tea tannins than coffee. That dark, slight bitterness worked well, though, balancing the general sweetness of the cookie and the insipidness of the milk chocolate morsels I used (forgot I was out of semisweet).

They have crisp-but-yielding exteriors with soft, almost cake-like interiors, and melt in the mouth. Definitely a cookie I'd make again. (I brought a third of the batch to work and everyone liked the cookies so much that I brought in another third the next day ... and The Husband was very unhappy about that so, yeah, it's a good cookie).


For my second attempt at baking with coffee flour, I used Nuts.com gluten-free "Chocolate Coffee Flour Muffins Recipe" recipe one snowy afternoon as I had all the ingredients on hand already. While this was my first time baking gluten-free, the Nuts.com recipe was simple with straight-forward instructions and I had no trouble preparing it. The only change I made to the recipe was to use Hersheys Special Dark chocolate cocoa, because that's all I had on hand.

The muffins baked up beautifully -- light and fluffy with a delicate crumb (perhaps more cupcake than muffin?). Perhaps a little dry, but I've certainly had much worse. The Husband enjoyed his muffins with a cup of tea and, frankly, that's always a good pairing. Flavor-wise, the muffins are a very dark chocolate with that slight, bitter coffee flour edge.


When I portioned the batter out into the muffin cups, I thought the batter smelled a lot like a Bounty/Mounds bar and, if I made this recipe again, I would top the muffins with shredded coconut instead of hazelnuts and, maybe, also add a little coconut extract to the batter.

I'll probably bake the CoffeeFlour® "Coffee Cherry Flour Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars" next, because everyone likes chocolate chip cookie bars. I really want to bake the "Coffee Cherry Flour Chocolate Zucchini Bread," but zucchini season is months away and it seems wrong to buy out-of-season zucchini!

07 March 2018

Wordless Wednesday: Snowy Kitty

A very snowy Catzilla has had enough of this cold, wet nonsense & would like to come inside & get toweled off (after a good chase around the living room).

05 March 2018

Binti


Binti, a young Himba woman of prodigious mathematical talents, has been admitted on full scholarship to the most prestigious university in the galaxy. But the Himba people do not leave home. Nor do they question not leaving it. It is simply the way of things. But Binti is so talented and full of dreams, drive, desire that she cannot help but sneak away at night, breaking with her people forever. This is not a decision Binti makes lightly and the novel deftly portrays -- in ways that felt very real to this reader -- the the emotional and physical pain she experiences throughout her adventure because of this decision.

Aboard the living, organic starship taking students to the university, Binti manages to find her footing and even begins to form friendships ... and then the ship is attacked by angry, jellyfish-like aliens and massive amounts of carnage ensues. What originally seems like a compelling story about a plucky “backwater” girl out to follow her dreams becomes a rollicking young adult space adventure full of feels.

Indeed, I have so many feelings about Binti -- both the novella and the titular character -- but I don’t know how to write about either without spoiling the novella for you. Suffice to say, I found Binti to be an extremely enjoyable and thought-provoking read. I can easily see why Binti won both the 2016 Hugo and 2015 Nebula for Best Novella and I cannot wait to read the rest of the books in the trilogy.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. Tor, 2015.

01 March 2018

Green Bean "Shakshouka"

I've been enamored with the idea of shakshouka (also spelled shakshuka) -- eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, peppers, onions, and spices -- for a while now and so here is my completely off the cuff "oh my cake, why did I buy so many green beans?!" take on it. I ate this as a late breakfast, but it would be equally delicious any time of the day.


Green Bean "Shakshouka"

Yield: 2

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces green beans, trimmed & chopped small
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • Sea salt & coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
  • Cracked rosemary, to taste
  • 14.5 oz can fire-roasted tomatoes (used crushed tomatoes for a saucier dish)
  • 2 large eggs
  • Crumbled goat or feta cheese, as desired for topping

Instructions

  1. Heat olive oil in heavy skillet over medium heat. Add sliced onions and cook until tender and fragrant. Stir in green beans and tomatoes. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until green beans are tender, approximately 8 minutes. Season, stir, and then make a well in the middle.
  2. Crack eggs into the well, cover, turn heat down to low, and let cook until egg whites are set and egg yolks are as you like them -- I went with 5 minute for firm whites and runny yolks.
  3. Adjust seasonings, if needed. Sprinkle with crumbled goat cheese and serve.
This was really easy to throw together and quite delicious -- very savory, rich with tomato and yolk. Admittedly, green beans and tomatoes are one of my favorite combinations, so I'm probably a bit biased. I might try for a spicy version next time, by eliminating the rosemary and stirring in a dollop of Thai chili paste.

22 February 2018

Sick Day Slow Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup

Various winter-time illnesses have been rampaging through work and it is no surprise that I have finally succumbed to one of them. I blame my compromised immune system on a dip in my generally high stress/anxiety level -- my body took a risk and unbent a little from its constant state of vigilance against everything that could go wrong and **BAM** sickness came upon me.

So I made soup. Nothing as comforting as a bowl of chicken noodle soup when I'm feeling sick, after all. While I had no energy for anything fancy, I've made soups similar to this before -- they're very dump and go (in this case, "go" meant back to bed) and do the job of filling my tummy with something hot and nourishing.


I used boneless thighs in this soup, because they were already in the fridge and it was either shift them to the freezer or cook them. You could use boneless breasts, although I don't find them as flavorful as thighs and they tend to be more expensive, anyway. Also, obviously, you could use fresh aromatics -- using dried simply saved me time and energy.


Slow Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup

Yield:4 generous bowlfuls

Ingredients

  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 cup chopped peeled carrots
  • 1 Tbsp onion flakes
  • 2 Tbsp celery flakes
  • 1 Tbsp dehydrated garlic
  • 2 tsp salt-free Italian seasoning blend
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (1 wax carton)
  • 6 oz egg noodles
  • Sea salt & coarsely ground pepper, as desird

Instructions

  1. Add the chicken, carrots, onion, celery, seasonings, broth, salt, and pepper to slow cooker insert. Cover.
  2. Cook on Low heat setting 4 to 5 hours or until chicken is tender.
  3. Shred chicken. Add egg noodles to slow cooker and stir well.
    Cook 1 hour longer.
  4. Stir well. Adjust seasonings as necessary and serve.

21 February 2018

Wordless Wednesday: Pay Attention to Me, Human

Little enjoys wrapping himself around my writing hand, thereby monopolizing my attention.

16 February 2018

Cookbook Club: Sweet & Savory Pies

February's cookbook club theme was all things pie -- berry, cream, whoopie, hand, slab, cottage, you name it. I didn't doubt my club members would bring a fabulous assortment of sweet pies to our meeting, so I decided to go savory with "Slow-Cooked Shepherd's Pie" (let us not get into the cottage vs shepherd or gravy vs tomato sauce debates) from Taste of Home Casseroles, Slow Cooker, & Soups.


It's a very straight forward recipe and I followed it exactly as written both times I made it. Yes, both. First I tried it out on The Husband last weekend -- being British, he thinks he knows a thing or two about shepherd's pie -- and we both enjoyed it very much. I'll definitely be adding this cozy and comforting dish to my cold weather slow cooker repertoire.

The second time I made this shepherd's pie, I treated it as a make ahead dish. I prepared it through Step 3 the day before cookbook club, assembled the meat and potato layers in the slow cooker insert and refrigerated it overnight, then took it to work and plugged it in the next afternoon. And, as expected, the pie worked out really well as a make ahead dish.

Assembled through Step 3 & ready to go, with parsley and cheese for the finishing touch.

Luckily, my 3½ quart Cuisinart slow cooker fits perfectly in my old canvas tote bag.

I will revisit Taste of Home Casseroles, Slower Cooker, & Soups in April when I make the slow cooker "Chili & Cheese Crustless Quiche." (April's cookbook club theme is brinner and chili quiche seems very brinner-ish).