Monday, March 28, 2011

Bookish Review: The Leopard's Prey

The Leopard's Prey is part of an interesting series featuring protagonist Jade del Cameron. The book is set in British East Africa (Kenya) in the 1920s. Jade is a photographer, writer, and animal wrangler, as well as an amateur detective. When a man is found murdered on her friends' property and her love interest is accused, she must get to the bottom of the murder. The book has an interesting setting (in terms of time and place) and an interesting protagonist--very independent and unusual for the 1920s, to say the least. It's definitely a book I was able to put down, but it was an enjoyable read nonetheless.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cookish: What's for Lenten dinner?

Continuing our theme, the next easy Lenten inspiration may be obvious: Tomato sauce! It is easy and cheap to make at home, and can really be delicious. Here are some ideas for what to do with it:
  • Easiest one: pasta and sauce. Jazz it up by using some different pasta shapes: spaghetti, rotini, penne, cavatappi, farfalle--anything you like! You can also jazz it up with some extra vefggies: sauteed mushrooms, peas, eggplant, or spinach (call it Florentine!). You can add some cream to make a rosa sauce or turn it into vodka cream sauce.
  • Pizza! Use refrigerated dough or make your own, and top it any way you like. You can also make individual bagel or English muffin pizzas.
  • You can poach eggs directly in tomato sauce and serve over toast (assuming no one in your family is allergic to eggs!)
  • Use it making rice (you need a little for the Mexican rice I posted the other day)
  • Eggplant Parmesan.
  • Lasagna!
  • Shrimp fra Diavolo--shrimp cooked in a spicy tomato sauce
Usually, I sauté some onion and garlic and add canned crushed tomatoes and/or whole canned tomatoes, basil, oregano, crushed red pepper, a little sugar, and let it cook down, but I recently tried a new recipe from Smitten Kitchen (one of my favorite blogs, as you know). Here's the original recipe:

It could not be easier and is so delicious! No chopping! Here's what I did:
Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onions

28 ounces whole peeled tomatoes from a can (I used generic San Marzano-style tomatoes with basil from my local grocery)

5 tablespoons butter

1 medium-sized yellow onion, peeled and halved

2 medium garlic cloves, peeled

red pepper flakes, to taste

Salt to taste

Put the tomatoes (do not drain), onion, garlic, red pepper, and butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Bring the sauce to a simmer then lower the heat to keep the sauce at a slow, steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free of the tomatoes. Stir occasionally, crushing the tomatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat, discard the onion, add salt to taste.

Serve with pasta, with or without grated parmesan cheese to pass.

*When cooking your pasta, PLEASE add more salt than you think you should. The pasta water should be salty like sea water--it is the only way to add flavor to the pasta itself and it does make a difference.

** if making this for pizza, add some oregano

***I simmered with the lid on and the sauce was pretty thin. Next time I will simmer with the lid off to let the sauce thicken.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Cookish: What's for Lenten dinner?

My friend, the Free Market Mommy, asked me for some Lenten meal ideas. My first thought was all of the possibilities of eggs for dinner, until she reminded me that such meals would be a recipe for death for her husband, who is allergic. Oops--I knew that.

So I am going to cover some more no-meat, no-eggs ideas for Lenten meals. You can check out the recipes tagged "Vegetarian" to see the ones already on the site.

The first meal I came up with is the one I made for myself tonight: fish tacos. This is less a recipe and more a method with suggestions, because the possibilities are really limitless. It occurs to me now that the FMM's husband may also be allergic to fish now (he wasn't always), so this may not be good either! But, you could certainly make bean tacos or cheese and veggie quesadillas instead. Mexican food can be made vegetarian in many ways.

To serve with the tacos: Mexican Rice and Easy "Refried" Beans--both vegetarian! (You could make a meal out of just those sides, if so inclined)

For the tacos (mix and match any of the below):
Flour or corn tortillas (Feeling ambitious? Make your own! It's not hard, just a little time-consuming. But, they are delicious!)
Cabbage or lettuce (Cabbage is pretty traditional on fish tacos--you can even buy the pre-shredded coleslaw mix at the store--it works great)
Shredded Carrots (already in your coleslaw mix!)
Chili-Lime Sour Cream or Mayo (just mix some lime juice and chili powder into your sour cream or mayo to give it a kick. Let it sit for at least a few minutes to let the chili powder really come to life. Or you can just use plain mayo or plain yogurt)
Salsa (make your own, or store-bought. I like Salsa verde or fruit salsas on fish tacos)
Taco sauce
diced mango or pineapple
diced avocado
Fresh chopped cilantro or parsley

Or anything else you want! Use your imagination.

To cook the fish:
sprinkle fish with cumin, chile powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. squeeze lemon or lime. juice over the top. Put in a skillet with a thin layer of oil. Cook for a few minutes on one side, then flip. At this point, I like to squeeze a little honey on the fish, because I like the lemon/lime and honey balance. Cook for a few more minutes, until the fish flakes easily and is opaque throughout. That is the best thing about this--you don't have to try to keep the fish in one piece because once it is done, you're just going to flake it up for the tacos anyway. Put the fish in a bowl and flake with a fork. Give an extra squeeze of lime/lemon or honey and an extra sprinkle of salt, if necessary.
Build your taco with any of the tasty ingredients above and enjoy! Does that really feel like a sacrifice?

*Talapia is a farm-raised fish, readily available frozen across the US, which is why I give it a shout-out here, but you can use any flaky white fish you like. It's a very mild fish, unlikely to offend even skeptical fish-eaters.

Stay tuned for more Lenten meal ideas!

Cookish: Side Dish

Easy "refried" beans

2 tbs trinity*
chile powder
1 can black beans or pinto beans
chicken stock

For an easy side dish to a Mexican meal, it is hard to beat these beans. Add a small amount of oil (or bacon grease, in you're feeling indulgent) to a skillet with the trinity and sweat the veggies. When soft, add salt, pepper, cumin, and chili powder to taste. (I usually do just a couple of shakes of the spices). Drain and rinse your beans and add to the skillet with a splash of chicken stock (or water). Smash about half of the beans to create a creamy consistency. Cover and simmer on low for 10-20 minutes to develop the flavors.

*Trinity is a New Orleans cooking staple consisting of green bell pepper, celery, and onion. The French have their version, mire poix, which substitutes carrot for the bell pepper. I make a big batch, chopping all of the veggies together, and then freeze the extra, so I can use it in recipes like this (In our grocery stores, you can also buy it pre-chopped in the refrigerated section or in the frozen section). If you don't have it on hand, you can just use a small amount of chopped onion or onion and celery, or onion and a jalepeno for some spice. It adds a lot of bang for your buck--you'd be surprised the flavor even a small amount can generate

Cookish: Side Dish

Mexican Rice
I in no way claim this is authentic, but it's pretty yummy and seems somewhat similar to the rice you'd get in a Mexican restaurant.

butter or oil
1 cup long-grain rice
1 packet Goya Sazon con achiote y cilantro
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp chili powder
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
3/4 cup chicken broth
3 tbs tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup frozen peas

Put enough oil/butter into a saucepan to coat the bottom. Add in the rice and seasonings and toast over medium-high heat for a few minutes Add the carrot, chicken broth, tomato, bay leaf and peas. Cover and bring to a boil. Turn down to low and simmer for 20 minutes. If it is still a little liquidy, put a dishtowel between the pot lid and the pot and let sit, covered, off the heat for 5 minutes or until ready to serve. Fluff with a fork.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cookish: What's for dinner?


This recipe is adapted from Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Cooking School CookbookIB
3 large baking potatoes
1/2 head of cabbage
2 garlic cloves, slightly crushed
1 cup milk*
salt and pepper

Peel potatoes and cut into quarters. Put in a large pot and cover with water. Add some salt. Cover, and while the water is coming to a boil, remove the core from the cabbage and shred thinly. When shredded, add to a steamer basket suspended over the boiling potatoes. If you do not have a steamer set-up like this, you can steam in the microwave in a covered bowl with a very small amount of water. In the meantime, put the milk in a small saucepan with the garlic and warm over medium-low heat. Keep an eye on the cabbage--it will likely be tender before the potatoes are done. When the cabbage is tender, toss with salt, pepper, and butter. When the potatoes are done, drain and mash with the warm milk. Add salt and pepper. Stir in the cabbage and add a little more butter. Yum!

*I only keep skim milk in the house, but I had a small amount of whipping cream, so I mixed the two. Use whatever milk you usually use for mashed potatoes.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bookish Review: The Kitchen Daughter

The Kitchen Daughter is the story of Ginny, who deals with the death of her parents and the pressure her sister puts on her by escaping through her cooking. Ginny has Asperger's Syndrome, so she has trouble dealing with other people, but in the kitchen, she finds peace--or at least, she used to, before her dead loved ones start appearing to her when she cooks their recipes. The book is a fairly quick read, enjoyable to those of us who like to escape in the kitchen. The book does include recipes (I've got the "Midnight Cry Brownies" in the oven right now--we'll see how they turn out) and Jael does a reasonably good job of getting inside the head of someone who has Asperger's (at the beginning of the book, Ginny doesn't realize she has Asperger's, though she knows she is different). The relationship between Ginny and her protective sister also rings true. Yes, there are ghosts, but their appearance is mostly Ginny trying to make sense of her life and who her parents really were. An enjoyable read, overall.

PS- How fun is the cover? Props to their production team--a very clever idea.

Disclaimer: I received an advance electronic copy of this book from the publisher for the purposes of review. Free access to the book did not affect my opinion. For more information on Simon & Schuster's eGalley program, please visit

Cookish: Something Sweet

Yum Yum Yum. This is a delightful St. Patrick's Day cupcake. Recipe courtesy of Smitten Kitchen. Find it here. A few notes on the recipe:
  • I added some green food dye to the frosting--festive! It's a pale green, which I am not sure shows up so well in the picture, but you can dye it as much as you want, and for any occasion.
  • As Deb warns, the frosting recipe does not make that much frosting, but it does make enough (barely). If you are a frosting fan, you'll want to double it, or at least make 1.5 x's as much
  • Do not taste the batter before the cupcakes are cooked--it tastes very strongly of Guinness, but once they bake, that is no longer the case--they are simply delicious.
  • I used 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate and 1 tsp of Jack Daniels for the ganache, which makes for a very powerful filling. Everyone enjoyed it, but I might try semisweet chocolate and maybe a little more whiskey next time.
  • Everyone raved about these, so make sure you make enough for your crowd!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Bookish Review: Sing You Home

Jodi Picoult likes to handle difficult and controversial topics in her fiction, and this one is no exception. She covers infertility, miscarriages, the dissolution of a marriage, in vitro fertilization, homosexuality, gay marriage, etc. A lot of controversy packed in one book! The book is a pretty quick read. She tells the story from varying perspectives: our protagonist, her husband (and then ex-husband), and her friend (and then wife). I doubt this book will change the mind of anyone who is against gay marriage or adoption by homosexual couples, but it does present both viewpoints on the topic. It also has a surprisingly happy ending. A nice read.

Disclaimer: I received an advance electronic copy of this book from the publisher for the purposes of review. Free access to the book did not affect my opinion. For more information on Simon & Schuster's eGalley program, please visit

Friday, March 11, 2011

Bookish Review: Ten Miles Past Normal

Ten Miles Past Normal is a fun read for tweens about a girl who (somewhat accidentally) convinces her family to move to a farm and then comes to regret her own persuasiveness as she starts high school and is quickly labelled "Farm Girl." It's a book about trying to fit in or stand out, dealing with friends (old and new), and discovering who you are and how to be comfortable in your own skin. It's a quick and enjoyable read, clean, with no overwhelming romance--a good one for young girls.

Disclaimer: I received an advance electronic copy of this book from the publisher for the purposes of review. Free access to the book did not affect my opinion. For more information on Simon & Schuster's eGalley program, please visit

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bookish Review: Zeitoun

Zeitoun was a hard read for me. I lived through Katrina and I remember what it was like returning to the city nearly a month after--it was like coming to a third world country. I know what a nightmare it was and how horrific the devastation was, but even so, I was shocked at the story recounted in the book. Abdulrahman Zeitoun stayed behind in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina, though his family left. He was arrested--in a house that HE OWNED--and wrongfully imprisoned and was not even allowed to call his wife. She assumed he had been killed. If you were not living in New Orleans before, during, and/or after the storm, you really can't imagine what it was like, but this story gives good insight. You will be horrified and shocked that such a thing happened on American soil. The book was not as enjoyable or hopeful read as Finn McCool's Football Club, another Katrina memoir, but it is an important and interesting one. It is always difficult for me to read about Katrina, and I think this story would be difficult to read for anyone to read this story, as we would like to believe that something like this could not happen here, but it did, and that is important for everyone to know.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Cookish: What's for dinner?

This recipe is adapted from Food Network Magazine.

Cantonese Chicken and Mushrooms
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into thin strips
1/2 cup oyster sauce
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons veg oil
1/2 inch ginger, grated
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or microplaned
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
1/2 head of cabbage, chopped into approx. 1-in squares
1 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 cup shelled edamame
cooked white, basmati, or jasmine rice.

Toss the chicken with the oyster sauce in a bowl. Mix the cornstarch with 3 tbs cold water in a separate bowl. Place both bowls near the stove with the other ingredients.
Heat a wok over high heat until hot. Add the oil, ginger, and garlic, and stir-fry about 20 seconds. Add the chicken and stir-fry until opaque, 2-3 mins. Stir in the mushrooms and bok choy.
Add the broth and sesame oil and bring to a boil. Add the cornstarch, return to a boil, and cook, tossing, until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is thick and glossy, 2-3 minutes. Add edamame and toss until warmed through. Serve over rice.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bookish Review: Alice I Have Been

Alice I Have Been is a very interesting read. The book is a fictionalized biography of the real woman who inspired Alice in Wonderland. Melanie Benjamin did a good bit of research into the life and times of Alice, but there are some holes in the truth that seem impossible to fill with certainty due to the destruction of documents by Alice's family. So, Melanie has filled in the blanks with what might have happened. The result is captivating, but also disturbing as she explores what the true nature of the relationship between the little girl and the author really was.