Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cookish: What's for Dinner?

I have watched many episodes of Rachael Ray where she has used anchovies to flavor pasta and every time she says they just add a nutty, salty quality, and they don't taste fishy. I'll be honest--I didn't believe her, and I was afraid to try it out.

But, when I recently went to visit a friend, he made us pasta with anchovies, and WOW, it was delicious! So, when I came home I had to replicate it.

I was cooking just for myself, but the quantities below will feed at least 2, and it can easily be doubled. Serve with a salad and some crusty bread--yum!

Anchovy pasta

1/2 tin of anchovies, chopped
Olive Oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and cut into thick matchsticks
sun-dried tomatoes and/or black olives, chopped
italian seasoning
salt & Pepper
1/3 box of multi-grain or whole wheat thin spaghetti
1 chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
Fresh parsley, chopped (optional)
lemon juice (optional)

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet--this is a large component of the sauce, so use some more than if you were just going to saute onions. Add the chopped anchovies and onions to the pan and caramelize the onions--this will take a while, so be patient. Put your water on to boil for the pasta, and in a separate skillet, add the chicken and season with salt, pepper, and italian seasoning. Go easy on the salt because the anchovies are pretty salty. (But don't skip salting the pasta water! Please tell me you always liberally salt your pasta water--it really does make a difference in flavor.) Once your onions have sauteed for a couple of minutes, add the carrots, garlic, italian seasoning, and pepper. Continue to saute until the onions are caramelized and carrots are tender. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and/or olives. When the pasta is done, the onions are caramellized, and the chicken is cooked, toss it all together, add parsely and a squeeze of lemon juice. Taste for salt and add if needed. Enjoy! (A little bit of feta cheese might be tasty in this, too...)

Bookish Review: Wicked Lovely

Wicked Lovely is a YA novel by Melissa Marr that was much lauded by the major trade reviewers when it came out. Focusing on Aislinn, a teen gifted with the Sight (the ability to see faeries and other fey folk), the book is about fear, courage, love, and sacrifice. Aislinn has spent her entire life pretending she can't see the fey and what they do. To do anything else would be risking blindness, torment, or death. So she must force herself to ignore winged and fanged creatures that roam among us and play tricks on humans. Luckily, she can take refuge at her friend Seth's. Seth lives within steel walls, and steel is poison to the fey. She feels safe there, though the temptation to make Seth more than a friend is intense. Her life is difficult, but good...until she notices that she has captured the attention of two faeries, who will not leave her alone. It turns out that one of these faeries, Keenan, is the Summer King, and he wants to make Aislinn his queen--whether she wants it or not.

The book has sweet, tender moments, but also has a dark side, with themes of violence and sex, what to do when none of the choices available to you are what you want, showing courage in a dangerous situation, and love. The good reviews were well-recieved, and in preparation for the release of the sequel, Fragile Eternity, HarperTeen made the full text of the book available online for free. You can learn more and see the book trailer at the book site. Click on "About the Books" and then the "Browse Inside" link under Wicked Lovely to start reading.

Bookish Review: The Killing Tree

Okay, I have to confess: I am not a huge fan of Southern literature. Faulkner is a genius and all, but given the choice, I am not going to pick up The Sound and the Fury for leisure reading. Or any kind of reading, unless forced. (Yes, I've read it. Yes, it was an assignment.) So, I was a bit wary when I received the ARC* for The Killing Tree by Rachel Keener.

But, I read it anyway. And I enjoyed it, for the most part. The book is really Appalachian literature, set on Crooktop Mountain, and the portrayal of the small mountain community rings true. Mercy Heron does not have an easy life. Raised by a controlling and violent deacon grandfather and an at least half-crazy, but loving, grandmother, she doesn't see a way out of her life. When she falls in love with a migrant worker named Trout, she's knows she's in dangerous territory. If her grandfather found out, she can only imagine what he might do to her or to Trout. She can't resist being loved by someone who sees her as glorious and graceful and for who she truly is, not just as Father Heron's graddaughter. She runs off with Trout, secretly gets married, and gets pregnant. Her major mistake was returning to Crooktop to rescue her best friend so they can all run off together. When she goes to retrieve her friend, Trout disappears, and the truth of how and why he left remains hidden from Mercy for a while. In the meantime, she must hide her pregnancy, and then her baby, from Father Heron for fear of what he may do. As you read, you can feel tragedy looming, but just how or why it will appear is uncertain.

The ending is not fully happy or fully sad, which is to be expected. An interesting and powerful read.

*ARC=Advance Reading Copy. It means you get to scope out the book before it is for sale to the general public. This is how advance reviews happen. Not every book gets ARCs because they are expensive, but they can be effective marketing tools for generating advance buzz for a book.

Bookish Review: The Spellman Files

I had been wanting to read The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz for a while, so when I saw the paperback in the airport the other day, I snatched it up. The Spellmans are a disfunctional-with-a-capital-D family of private investigators. Oldest son David is the perfect child, and the only one who escaped the family business, though he still employs his parents occassionally to investigate things for him in his job as a lawyer. Middle daughter Isabel is the wild child who had to rebel against David's perfection. She was never as good-looking, athletic, or smart, but she had a talent for trouble...and for investigating. She started working in the family business as a young teen and still does, living in a converted apartment in her parents' house. Youngest sister Rae is only 14 (Both David and Isabel were nearly grown when Rae was born), but she is already involved in the business and perhaps the most skilled blackmailer and manipulator in the bunch. Add in drunken Uncle Ray and you have a great recipe for disaster.

The book is funny and compelling. We get everything from Isabel's point of view. When you live in a family of PI's, privacy is a rare commodity, but that doesn't stop everyone from trying to keep secrets--and bribing other family members to help them. When Rae goes missing, the whole family has to pull together to try to find her.

Lutz is off to a great start with a quirly cast of characters that are perfect for series fiction. Also available: Curse of the Spellmans and Revenge of the Spellmans.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Cookish: What's for Dinner?

Buffalo Turkey Chili

1 tbs olive oil

1 lb. ground turkey

2 carrots

2 ribs of celery

1/4-1/2 onion

1 bay leaf

1 tbs paprika

1 cup chicken stock

1 8 oz can of tomato sauce

1 15 oz can stewed tomatoes, drained, juices reserved

1/4 cup hot sauce (I like Frank's for this)

salt & pepper

Recipe inspired by Rachael Ray.

Put the olive oil in a pot and heat over medium-high heat. Add the turkey, and brown, breaking up the turkey as it cooks. When the turkey is browned, add the bay leaf, paprika, salt, pepper, onion, carrot, and celery, and saute for 7-8 minutes. Add the cup of chicken stock to deglaze the pan. Add the tomato sauce and hot sauce. My stewed tomatoes came sliced, so I broke them up with my hands as I added them to the pot; feel free to chop or puree them, depending upon how chunky you like your tomatoes. Stir. If the mixture seems too thick, add some of the liquid from the stewed tomatoes. Bring up to a bubble and simmer for about 8 minutes to let the flavors meld.

Serving suggestion: make some Jiffy corn muffins. Crumble a muffin into a bowl, top with chili, and add some shredded cheese. Instead of shredded cheese, you could use bleu cheese crumbles, or a little bleu cheese or ranch dressing. Enjoy!

Bookish Movie: Slumdog Millionaire

As you may or may not know, Slumdog Millionaire is based on the novel Q&A (which I have not read). The movie has gotten a ton of hype, accolades, and awards, so I cannot imagine that if you live in America, the UK, or India, you are not aware of it. Hearing all the hype made me a bit wary of the movie. I couldn't believe it would live up to it.

But, it did. It was great. Touching, heart-wrenching, hopeful--fabulous. I really don't think it is a stretch to call it the feel-good movie of the year (So far), and I can absolutely see why everyone if going nuts for it.

The main character is from a slum in Mumbai, and he gets the opportunity to go on India's version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and he doesn't miss a question. Noone believes that he could actually know the answers, so they take him into police custody and try to get him to admit he is a cheater by torturing him. Through this process, he explains how he learned each answer and we get to see the hellish life he has grown up with and learn his true motivation for going on the show.

Make sure you stay for the credits and the Bollywood style dance number.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Cookish Blog: Smitten Kitchen

What do you do when life hands you lemons, but you don't want lemonade? A friend's in-laws sent her and her husband a styrofoam cooler of lemons from their tree in AZ. That's a lot of lemons, and said friend is not that into lemons. So, I ended up with a bag of lemons. What to do? I turned to my favorite food blog, Smitten Kitchen, and Deb came to the rescue.

1. Whole Lemon Tart: This tart uses a whole lemon. Peel, pith, and all (except the seeds). This creates a powerful lemon flavor with a backslap of bitterness. This is not a bad thing, as far as I'm concerned, but you should be warned. Deb has a great tart crust recipe as well, which I multiplied by 1.5 to fit my 11-in tart pan, since the original recipe is for a 9-in tart. I don't roll out the crust, just push it in to the tart pan. This provides a nice, thick crust. I did not increase the filling for the tart, so the crust-to-filling ratio was very nice, in my opinion.

2. Lemon Pound Cake: This is an Ina Garten recipe, and made two lovely loaves; one was a gift for a friend's birthday, and the other...well, I had to taste-test it, right? This uses up a lot of lemon, so it was just the right recipe. The resulting cake is moist and packs quite a lemon punch. Next time, I think I would use a toothpick or skewer to poke some holes in the cake to help it soak up the lemon syrup. It didn't quite drain all the way through the cake, so it wasn't as evenly distributed as it could be. Tasty, though.

Smitten Kitchen has great recipes and awesome pictures. Check it out!