25 March 2017

Weekend Cooking: 3 Great Kitchen Hacks

3 great kicken hacksSpring is in the air around here and my cooking mojo is out of wack. It doesn't feel quite like stew weather, but we're not into light salad time either. I've made pizza, pasta dishes, and risotto, which are all easy and act like good season spanners.

I don't have any new recipes to share this week but I did learn three good hacks that I'd like to share. They were new to me in the last couple of weeks, and they're going in my permanent bag of kitchen tricks. The first one comes from a recent issue of Eating Well, the second from a random web search to see if my crazy idea was even possible, and the third was from the Budget Bytes website (I reviewed the cookbook here).

Note: The first and third photos come from the sites mentioned. The middle photo is mine.

One-Pot Pasta Dishes

3 great kicken hacksWho doesn't like pasta night? Perhaps the person who has to wash all the pots and pans. This month Eating Well provides readers with a formula for one-pot pasta dishes. I'm all for cooking pasta, protein, veggies, and seasonings in a single pot for a quick weeknight dinner and easy cleanup. I tried the lamb and spinach dish, and the technique worked very well. But, of course, I didn't follow directions exactly.

The method is great, except for one point. Boiled meat just doesn't have the same flavor as browned meat. So I decided to saute my ground lamb in the pot and then deglaze the pan with a little wine. After that, I followed the recipe, except I added additional seasonings to give it a stronger Mideast flavor profile. In addition, I stirred in the feta cheese at the end instead of passing it at the table.

The point, however, is not the specific recipe, it's the method. I loved getting a hearty pasta meal on the table in short order and using only one pot. If you like to follow recipes, check out Eating Well; they published four or five one-pot pasta recipes this month. I will be trying this with other meats or beans in the future.

Crunchy Granola in the Slow Cooker

3 great kicken hacksI love making my own granola (my recipe is here), but I hate spending all that time hovering over the oven, stirring trays of cereal every 10 or 15 minutes for a couple of hours. There had to be an easier way! I originally thought that maybe someone figured out how to make granola in an electric roasting pan, and as I started searching for that solution, I stumbled on the slow cooker idea. Whoa!!!

My life just changed for the better. We were due for a new batch of cereal and I had been delaying because, well, I just didn't want to tie up a Saturday morning in front of the oven. I immediately gave the slow-cooker idea a try and love it. I will never make granola in the oven again.

Here's the easy trick: Mix your granola ingredients in a large bowl (don't add the dried fruit yet). Spray the inside of the slow-cooker crock with cooking spray (I just lightly oiled it). Pour in the granola. Set the slow cooker on high, and (very important) place the lid on an angle so the steam can escape. Now let it cook, stirring every half hour or so, for 2 to 2.5 hours, or until the oats take on color and look toasted. When you think the cereal looks right, pour it back in the mixing bowl or spread it out on baking sheets to cool. It will crisp up as it cools. Once cool, stir in dried fruit, if you're using it.

Yes! Now I can make granola during the day, or even after work, without being glued to the kitchen!

Baked Tacos

3 great kicken hacksOkay, so I'm probably the last person on earth to discover this trick. We love tacos. Normally, I make the taco filling and leave it on the stove and then set out all the toppings on the table. Taco nights are punctuated by frequent trips to the stovetop to fill more shells. I was wandering around the Budget Bytes website not too long ago and discovered this recipe for baked beef tacos.  What? I could have a batch of tacos ready all at once? Who knew?

Like with the lamb recipe, my interest wasn't in reproducing the Budget Bytes dish. Instead I wanted to try the technique. I had chicken tacos on the menu last week and gave oven baking a try. We were sold. We had all the taco goodness right at the table; no more getting up and down.

I'm so happy to have discovered this method. I will be baking tacos, especially if serving a crowd, from now on.

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Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.
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24 March 2017

Review: Jackie (Movie)

Review: Jackie (Movie)The 2016 film Jackie starring Natalie Portman and directed by Pablo LarraĆ­n has a narrow focus, concentrating on the week or so after President John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson) was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

The movie is framed around an interview Jackie Kennedy grants to a nameless jouralist, just days after the funeral when the widow has already moved out of the White House. She tells the reporter what she wants the world to know about her husband, while we see what it was like for her to travel from radiant First Lady to blood-stained widow, to single mother, and to the unknown future.

I'm not sure what stood out for me more: the sets and costuming or Portman's astounding performance. Anyone old enough to remember the Kennedys in the White House and the heart-breaking funeral procession will be amazed at how believably the film captures the details of the era: the hair, the dresses and suits, the everyday objects (phones, TVs, record players), and the general atmosphere.

The White House sets are gorgeous and I loved the way the film shows how Jackie transformed the "people's house" into an icon of history and a beacon of grace, beauty, art, and music.

Review: Jackie (Movie)Jackie does a good job showing what Jackie was up against in those last days in the White House and her determination to create a particular legacy for her husband. It wasn't just her fight to stand up to the men who wanted to control everything and move their energies on to the Johnsons but also her desire to not be protected from the truth while planning the perfect funeral for JFK and the nation.

Portman is absolutely mesmerizing as she works through a wide range of emotions, including a kind of dazed PTSD, periods of frenzied activity, an air of calm research and planning, and the palpable fear and grief over having to tell her children they were fatherless. We clearly see the complexities of Jackie's personality. She wasn't too naive to know her husband for who he really was, yet she was smart enough to craft the image she wanted history to remember.

Natalie Portman's acting alone is enough for you to put Jackie on your watch list, but I'm also recommending the movie for brilliantly capturing a pivotal historic moment in American history. It's also interesting to contrast the Kennedys with the current administration, especially in terms of understanding the importance of the arts.

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22 March 2017

Wordless Wednesday 438

Crocus, 2017


Click image to enlarge. For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

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21 March 2017

Today's Read: A Climate of Fear by Fred Vargas

Imagine a series of murders with at least two tenuous connections, how would you go about deciding which avenue to pursue? Paris Commissioner of Police Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, relies on his instincts, much to the chagrin of his detective team.

Only another twenty metres, twenty little metres to reach the postbox, it was harder than she had expected. That's ridiculous, she told herself, there aren't little metres and big metres. There are just metres, that's all. How curious that at death's door, even from that privileged position, you should go on having such futile thoughts, when anyone might think you would come up with some important pronouncement, one that would be branded with red-hot iron in the annals of human wisdom. A pronouncement that people would repeat now and then in days to come: 'Do you know what Alice Gauthier's last words were?'
A Climate of Fear by Fred Vargas (Penguin Books, 2017, p. 1 [originally published in French, 2015])

Quick Facts
  • Setting: modern times; Paris and surrounds and remote Iceland
  • Circumstances and why I want to read this novel: Although this is the 8th Commissioner Adamsberg book, it will be my first experience with the series, which is translated from the French. What caught my eye is that protagonist, commissioner of police in Paris, travels to rural Iceland, which provides a link between two murders that took place in France. A complicating element is another thread that ties several murders to a historical reenactment group that focuses on The Reign of Terror. I'm curious about the investigation in Iceland, which leads the police team down a dark path of local folklore and demon beasts.
  • Genre: police procedural, murder mystery
  • Other elements: Icelandic folklore, French history, quirky characters, good plotting
  • Thoughts gathered from reviews: Adamsberg's team includes a diverse cast with a range of unique personalities (though I'm not sure if they are diverse in gender or ethnicity). Most reviewers liked the Icelandic folk belief aspects and mentioned that the plot keeps you invested. In addition, a couple of reviews specifically noted that readers need not read the previous books to enjoy this one. At least one reviewer thought Climate of Fear is not Vargas's strongest installment in the series. 
  • About the author: Fred Vargas, a Paris native, has won several International Crime Writers' awards and is also a professional historian and archaeologist.

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20 March 2017

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 3 Reviews and Book News

3 short book reviewsHappy first day of spring (or fall)! Last week there were signs of daffodils and tulips in my yard, but the sprouts are currently buried under snow. I'm pretty sure these kinds of bulbs can handle the cold, but I'll have to wait a little longer before I see flowers in my gardens.

I finished three books this week and started three more. I love it when I'm in a good reading groove. I also managed to watch a couple of movies: Foodies, which I reviewed on Saturday and Jackie, which I'll talk about later in the week.

I hit a new stride with my (in)famous unified database. I have all my print books cataloged and I'm through the letter O for my eBooks. I may finish this project before the end of year.

Books I Read

Review: I Liked My Life by Abby FabiaschiI Liked My Life by Abby Fabiaschi (St. Martin's Press): Don't be put off by the publisher's summary, which mentions suicide. The novel, which is told from three points of view -- the dead mother, the teenage daughter, and the widowed husband -- is less about suicide than it is about sudden death, life after death, grief, finding a new path, unanswered questions, family, and women's choices. While I wouldn't call the book life affirming, it is not a downer, and I liked the ending. I'm recommending the unabridged audiobook (Macmillian Audio; 9 hr, 47 min). Therese Plummer, Susan Bennett, and Dan Bittner, each of whom performed a different narrating character, had age-appropriate voices, projected a range of emotions, and blended well with each other. My full audiobook review will be available from AudioFile magazine.

Review: One of the Boys by Daniel MagarielOne of the Boys by Daniel Magariel (Scribner): I was expecting a rough story but not a book that was so emotionally gripping that I ended up reading all in one go. The story involves a man who pits his sons against their mother and then, after removing them from her life and transporting them across state lines, sets the brothers against each other. The boys, especially the twelve-year-old, find their father hard to resist, until they are trapped in his downward-spiraling life and become the target of his abuse. The older boy sees the truth of their father first, and tries to blaze a trail to safety for himself and his brother. Tough subjects, but a not-to-be-missed debut.

Review: City of Saints & Thieves by Natalie C. AndersonCity of Saints & Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson (G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers): Confession: I started this audiobook a couple of months ago and decided it wasn't for me. Then I started it again this week and couldn't stop listening. The book takes place in Africa and explores white businessmen, the criminal underworld, the guerilla armies, and especially the hardships faced by African women, not only in war-torn Congo but in the cities as well. Tina, the sixteen-year-old daughter of a murdered maid, has lived on the streets for five years, joining a gang and becoming a thief to keep her younger sister safe in a convent school. As Tina plans her revenge on the man who killed her mother, we are shown just how hard life can be for women in dangerous places. The audiobook (Listening Library; 11 hr, 12 min) was narrated by Pascale Armand. I was impressed with her range of accents (Swahili-English, American, French), her emotional depth, and her pacing. Armand's performance transported me to Africa, and I am recommending this audiobook. According to the author's note, although the characters are fictional, the story itself is based on the true conditions and recollections of Congolese refugees.

Books I'm Reading Now

3 books to read in March

My next audiobook (starting soon after writing this post) is Sam Shepard's The One Inside (Random House Audio; 4 hr, 31 min) read mostly by Bill Pullman, though Patti Smith reads her foreword. My print book is My Husband's Wife by Jane Corry (Pamela Dorman Books), which is a psychological thriller. My ebook is Himself by Jess Kidd (Atria), which is set in Ireland, making is perfect for March.

Book News
  • Attention writers: SFK Press is hosting the 2017 Southern Fried Karma Novel Contest for authors who write about the American South. Details (including the application form and prizes) can be found on the publisher's contest page.
  • The National Book Critics Circle announced the winners of their 2016 awards. Louise Erdrich's LaRose won the fiction award, and the full list of award winners can be found on the NBCC website.
  • Finally, the Read It Forward editors (Penguin Random House) share six recommended debut novels in the following short video. Take a look.

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All content and photos (except where noted) copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads 2008-2017. All rights reserved.

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