23 June 2018

Weekend Cooking: The Week's Winning Recipes

Weekend Cooking from Beth Fish ReadsHappy summer! Here's to the coming weeks of good weather, garden-fresh fruits and veggies, and lots of outdoor dining. Once the weather breaks in May, we don't eat inside again until cool October evenings force us back to the kitchen. We take full advantage of both porch and deck and, of course, the grill.

The other thing I love about summer is the switch from grocery store to farmer's market. My area has several outdoor markets each week, and we have our favorite vendors at each one. All summer, our meat, cheese, veggies, and fruit (and sometimes our beer too) are locally grown or produced. We're blessed.

In today's Weekend Cooking, I'm sharing the winning recipes of the week. As almost always, I forgot to take my own photos of the completed dishes, so the images shown here come from the websites, where you'll find the original recipes by clicking the links.

This Week's Winners

3 good dinners from Beth Fish ReadsAwesome Tacos: I've made a lot of tacos in my life, but these Hard-Shell Red-Eye Tacos from Rachael Ray were some of the best ever. I followed her recipe pretty much exactly except I had 1½ pounds of ground beef so I didn't use the mix of beef and sausage. The chili powder mix I use comes from Frontier (she suggests a different brand), and I used both jalapenos called for in the recipe. I put out an array of toppings, including pickled jalapenos, cherry tomatoes, red onions, green and red sauces, cheese, and lettuce. We loved the flavor of the meat, and I bet I return to Rachael's version often. If you click through to her site, you'll find a video of Rachael Ray making the tacos in front of a live audience.

3 good dinners from Beth Fish ReadsEasy, Versatile Salad: I love salads that can serve many roles: main dish, side, or lunch, and this Mediterranean Orzo Salad from Ree Drummond is a good example. I ran across this one when searching for a dressing recipe. I tend to make the same old vinaigrette over and over. Then I thought, why not just make her salad while I was at it. The only thing I did differently here was to add a small orange bell pepper that I wanted to use up. I didn't have one on hand, but I'd consider adding a cucumber next time too. We had this for dinner one night, for lunch the next day, and as a side the second night -- putting the salad through its paces all in one go.

3 good dinners from Beth Fish ReadsGrilled Pizza: I did something different for our grilled pizza last night. I started with my usual pizza dough and grilling method, but then decided against our usual red sauce and veggie toppings. Instead, I used homemade garlic scape pesto for the base (my photo from a few years ago). Then came Make-Ahead Grilled Paprika Chicken from Clean Eating. I followed the recipe exactly, using three boneless chicken thighs and grilling it at about 400F for 5 minutes on a side. I wasn't worried about the meat being cooked all the way through, since I was going to chop it and recook it with the pizza. Next came grilled yellow bell pepper strips, and finally fresh mozzarella cheese. This pizza was sooo good.

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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.

NOTE: Mr. Linky sometimes is mean and will give you an error message. He's usually wrong and your link went through just fine the first time. Grrrr.
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22 June 2018

5 Novels About Contemporary Life for Teens & Tweens

 Many adults dismiss novels geared to young adult and middle grade readers, thinking they're pretty much all either speculative fiction or full of teenage angst. It's too bad, because those adults are missing out on many excellent books that feature regular kids dealing with 21st-century life. Today's round-up highlights five contemporary stories that examine relationships, families, growing up, and a variety of social issues.

The Freshman, The Museum of Us, and Almost Impossible
  • The Freshmen by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison (Delacorte Press, June 12): A story of adjusting to college, told from two viewpoints. Although Phoebe and Luke went to the same high school, they didn’t get to know each other until college. Phoebe is all about new beginnings and completely shedding her old life. Luke doesn’t really have a plan except to play soccer. They make an unlikely pair, and just as they start to hook up, rumors and #metoo issues threaten their new relationship. This rom-com has been getting positive buzz.
  • The Museum of Us by Tara Wilson Redd (Wendy Lamb Books, June 26): A debut novel that explores the differences between our inner worlds and outer realities and what happens when the two collide. Sadie guards her secrets, even from herself, until she wakes up in a hospital with her fantasy world exposed. As the 16-year-old faces the demons of her past, she learns she isn’t alone. Booklist notes that the novel softens the stigma attached to mental illness.
  • Almost Impossible by Nicole Williams (Crown Books FYR, June 19): A modern-day romance tempered with deeper themes and set in California. Jade has grown up on the road with her mother’s rock ’n’ roll band, home schooled, well traveled, and street smart. She breaks ranks when, at 17, she tells her mom that she wants to spend the summer living a “normal” life with her aunt. A flirtation with the cute guy next door threatens to derail her secret plot to try to meet her father. The book features relatable characters and looks at families, parenthood, and different kinds of relationships.
Just Under the Clouds and Drum Roll, Please
  • Just under the Clouds by Melissa Sarno (Knopf Books FYR, June 5): An affecting debut focusing on what it’s like to be homeless in New York. After Cora’s father dies, her mother has trouble keeping the family safe and together, especially because Cora’s younger sister is “different.” Remembering her father’s horticultural lessons, Cora searches for solace in the trees and green spots of Brooklyn, all the while trying to take care of her sister and find security. A story about life for way too many youngsters in 21st-century America.
  • Drum Roll Please by Lisa Jenn Bigelow (HarperCollins, June 6): A summer camp story in which a young girl copes with change and self-discovery. Just as Melly, a budding drummer, heads off to music camp with her BFF, her parents announce they’re getting a divorce. Throwing more coals on the fire, Melly’s friend spends all her time with a cute guy, and Melly herself begins to question her passion for the drums. Stir in a new girl friend who just might be a girlfriend, and you have one transformative summer. A contemporary coming-of-age story that focuses on friendship, families, and LGBTQ themes and features a diverse cast.

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20 June 2018

Wordless Wednesday 502

Rose, 2018


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

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18 June 2018

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: A Quartet of Reviews

Four book reviews for June 2018June is usually a pretty easygoing month, but the last few weeks I've been juggling work deadlines with house and yard work. We're also in the final stages of planning my mother's 90th birthday celebration. I'm not complaining about being busy, but I haven't had much reading time.

The only exciting news is that my bird feeders were attacked by a bear. This is the third or fourth time this has happened over many years, but this time the bear totally destroyed the feeders. So we (actually, Mr. BFR), had to reset the poles and buy new feeders. We took the feeders in at night for a week, but the bear seems to have moved on. One of our neighbors saw a mother and cubs getting into his garbage; maybe they're the bears that were in our yard too.

Here's what I read and listened to over the past couple of weeks.

Review of A Stash of One's Own edited by Clara ParkesA Stash of One's Own edited by Clara Parkes (Abrams, 2017): You don't have to be a knitter to laugh, and cry, at the 21 essays collected in this book. Some of the knitting greats--teachers, designers, bloggers, and producers--reflect on their relationship to their yarn stash. If you're a hobbyist of any kind (or even an avid reader), you will be able to relate to the women and men who struggle with their yarn collection. Many ask themselves if they're borderline hoarders; some found joy in giving their stashes away. I nodded my head in agreement with many of the stories: "I have no idea what I'm going to do with that yarn, but I have to have it"; "I didn't bring yarn or needles on vacation but I really need to knit now" (and so go out and buy new supplies). Other essays brought tears, as knitters talked about the stashes they inherited from their mothers or when one man described how, when he was a kid, he had to hide his passion for "pretty string" from his parents. Whether you keep a stash of yarn (books, embroidery floss, tools, or fabrics) or buy only what you need when you need it, you'll be able to relate to many of these essays. I listened to the unabridged audiobook for a freelance assignment (Audible Studios, 5 hr, 1 min). The essays were read (in turn) by Kevin T. Collins, Kate Udall, and Eliza Foss. Each narrator captured the emotional heart of the essays: bringing out the humor or the poignancy, depending on the knitter's story. Recommended in either medium.

Review of Before They Are Hanged by Joe AbercombieBefore They Are Hanged by Joe Abercombie (Orbit, 2015):  The second entry in the First Law Trilogy is in some ways stronger than the initial installment because the action has started. The first book introduced the characters and set up the various factions: the royal court, the magi, the Northmen, the southern peoples, and the Eaters, to name just some. And, of course, the factions are made up of citizens, rulers, wannabe rules, fighters, trackers, and so forth. In this book, the battle lines have been drawn, and some countries are better at warfare than others. Back in the cities merchant classes are maneuvering for power and wealth, while the Inquisition is determined to stop any potential rebellion. Finally, in the wilderness an unlikely band of four men and one woman are a quest to find the one thing that will help humans fight the Eaters. I'm not going to spoil anything by telling you what happens, but I can assure your there are deaths, betrayals, surprising alliances, twists, and bloody battles. The characters in the First Law Trilogy are flawed and can make mistakes, but they can also learn and grow. Abercombie is a master at creating believable characters that easily draw your interest (whether you like them or not). The action, as I mentioned, takes place on several fronts, and even in audio (Hachette Audio; 22 hr, 39 min) I had no problem remembering the characters or their specific story arcs. Steven Pacey nails this series: he never falters with the accents and his timing pulled me along. I'm trying to wait a week or so before I finish the trilogy so I can make my visit to this universe last. (personal collection)

Review of Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott (Little, Brown, July 17, 2018). Oh boy can Abbott tell a good tale. This is the story of two women with PhDs doing research in human biology. Their relationship began when they met as seniors in high school, becoming best friends on the one hand and fierce competitors for a coveted scholarship on the other. Their friendship takes a dark turn when Diane confesses that she's done "something really bad." Once Kit learns Diane's secret she is haunted by it, and disassociates herself from Diane as soon as she can. Years later, Kit has a fairly secure position in a famous lab, hoping her boss will tap her for a spot in a new project. Just days before the boss is about to announce her new team, who should walk into the lab but Diane. This psychological thriller takes place in two time periods: Kit and Diane as teens and Kit and Diane in the present. The tension  is delicious, and the manipulative characters (all with secrets) will make you cringe (or cheer or boo, depending). An underlying theme is women against the system, and running questions are, How far would a woman go to get respect and power? Is Diane horrible? Is Kit an innocent? What about their boss, the secretary, the other researchers? I loved Chloe Cannon's well-paced performance (Hachette Audio; 11 hr, 2 min). She didn't give anything away, so every new piece of information, every slight twist or reveal came as a surprise. She kept the women's dialogue distinct, and the male voices were fine. Put this thriller on your list (print or audio) for next month. (review copy provided by the audio publisher)

Review of Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian LiNumber One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li (Henry Holt; June 19). This debut novel has two faces. On one level is the intergenerational drama of the Han family, owners of the Beijing Duck House in Rockville, Maryland, and the off-duty doings of two of their long-term staff. The two grown Han brothers have different ideas about the future of the restaurant founded by their late father; and their mother, newly widowed, is beginning to find her inner strength. The other level focuses on the personal issues faced by the characters, such as addiction, marriage, aging, and parenthood. Li does a good job contrasting life in the Duck House with life at home; for example, Jimmy Han competently oversees the restaurant with a paternal eye, but falls apart when it comes to romantic relationships. One of the plot lines revolves around a kind of Chinese godfather, with whom the Han family has a love-hate relationship. I was expecting a light, fun summer novel and so was surprised that Number One Chinese Restaurant offers more than a simple escape read. While this character-driven novel won't make my top-ten list for 2018, it shows Lillian Li's potential, and I've put her on my list of authors to watch. (review copy provided by the publisher)

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16 June 2018

Weekend Cooking: A Little of This and That

Join the Abrams Dinner PartyGood morning, friends. Today is a kitchen miscellany of links, some good classic cookbooks, and a review program. I was going to throw in a new TV show, but I ran out of steam. Another day for that. Let's get going!

Abrams Dinner Party As you know, I've been a member of the Abrams Dinner Party for the last year. Thanks to the program, I've shared recipes and photos and reviewed cookbooks and memoirs. I honestly loved so many of the cookbooks, I don't think I could pick a favorite, though I really liked The Dinner Plan, The Austin Cookbook, What's Gaby Cooking . . . Oh heck, I'm just going to end up listing almost every title.

If you would like to be a member of Abrams Dinner Party for 2018-19, head on over to the application website and fill out the form by July 20. If you visit the site, you'll even see an endorsement by me! I loved being part of this program and encourage all of you to apply. I got so much more out of the Abrams Dinner Party than new cookbooks: I was inspired to post more food photos, I discovered new food sites, and made some new friends too. Go forth and apply! Yes, you!

Picador Cookstr Classic CookbooksPicador Cookstr Classics When I learned that Picador Cookstr was reissuing some of the great cookbooks of the late twentieth century, I knew I had to have copies. I'm beyond thrilled that the publisher sent me the first three in the series.

  • Indian Cookery by Sameen Rushdie was originally published in 1988. (Side note: One of her primary taste testers was her brother Salman, whose first book came out at around the same time.) Some of the recipes came from Rushdie's family, but others she discovered as an adult. A couple things I love: she provides several variations on traditional dishes, tells us how and when to serve them (including menus), and gives us a little history too. I really enjoyed reading her personal reflections on her lifelong relationship with food and cooking.
  • I've long been a fan of Arthur Schwartz and somehow missed his 1979 Cooking in a Small Kitchen when it first came out. The title isn't a joke; Schwartz tells us how to pull off all kinds of dishes--and even dinner parties--within the confines of the types of tiny kitchens found in many city apartments and student digs. He goes through equipment and logistics and provides recipes for everything from casual weekday meals to fancy dinner parties for four or more. His recipes are always easy to follow, and I love the international scope.
  • Irena Chalmers's The Confident Cook sounds familiar to me, and I wonder if my mother bought it when it was published in 1975. The premise of the cookbook is this: if you learn the basic techniques (like roasting) and foundation recipes (like sauces) then you'll have the confidence to tackle any dish. For example, if you know how to make a crepe batter, you can make blintzes, pancakes, and clafouti. This is a wonderful reference to have in the kitchen, and I bet I turn to it often, even with my many years of nightly cooking.
5 Links to Explore Today's links cover food and drink, and I hope at least one catches your attention.
  1. Beth Fish Reads: Strawberry shortcakeI'm biscuit challenged. For some reason, mine never, ever rise. And, yes, I have followed every tip and piece of advice out there. So imagine my surprise when these buttermilk shortcakes / biscuits from Epicurious actually worked. (And, yes, that's whipped cream from a can shown in the photo. So sue me.)
  2. I love to bake bread, and these taralli from Food 52 with olives and white wine sound awesome. The comments on the recipe are mixed, though, so I may do more research before making them, but I'm intrigued. And, no, I had never heard of taralli before and had to do some digging. One site described them thusly: "almost like a cracker, bread stick and pretzel all rolled into one, but better."
  3. Eric Asimov at the New York Times is a trusted wine source. (You may remember I reviewed his book How to Love Wine a few years ago.) I bookmarked his latest Twenty Wines under $20 column because it looked like there were some good picks for summer sipping. Of course, here in Byzantine Pennsylvania I'll have to pay more than $20 for most of them, but them's the breaks. Sigh.
  4. Talking about wine, I discovered Strawberry and Peach Rose Sangria the other day when I was snooping around the What's Gaby Cooking site. It looks so pretty and so refreshing. Because strawberries and peaches don't show up at the farmer's market at the same time, I think I'll wait a month and make it with peaches and raspberries, plums, or nectarines. Cheers!
  5. Finally, I love all things lemon and have a particular weakness for lemon curd. Although it's really not difficult to make, I rarely bother. But the other day I saw this recipe for Microwave Lemon Curd from Skillet. This looks insanely easy and won't heat up my kitchen in the summer. I absolutely plan to give this a try. Then I'll have to bake some more of those buttermilk biscuits. Oh darn.
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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.

NOTE: Mr. Linky sometimes is mean and will give you an error message. He's usually wrong and your link went through just fine the first time. Grrrr.
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