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Review: The Pearl

The Pearl
The Pearl by John Steinbeck
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rereading a classic can be a double edged sword. You may have terrible memories of being forced to read it in school. I remember reading this book in middle school and I had a vague recollection of the story. Reading it now for my book group was a completely different experience. Reading it in muddle school, we focused on plot and pacing, climax and other literary elements. Reading it now, I was free to enjoy and notice the beauty in Steinbeck’s sparse but by no means simple prose. At just shy of 125 pages, this short novella or parable is retelling of a classic Mexican folktale that Steinbeck wrote and published first in a Women’s magazine. He is rumored to have written it specifically to turn into a screenplay. I have not seen the movie and am not sure if I want to. I’m not sure that a movie can capture the simplicity of the life that Kino and his wife Juana led, nor can it capture the fleeting moment when their lives change as the scorpion bites baby Coyotito.

As with most parables, the characters are not fully fleshed three dimensional characters, they are carefully placed embodiments of base traits such as good and evil. There is little room for middle ground, unless you read and see beyond the page, to the subtleness that flows from the character’s actions. Of course, as a parable there is a moral to the story. What is the moral? Be careful of what you wish for? Don’t try to rise above your station in life? What is the point of trying to achieve success when there will be horrific repercussions? I’m not entirely sure what Steinbeck’s moral was, I’m not a literature professor, just a reader who enjoyed the book for what it was.

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Valentine’s Day Dinner

Pistachio Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb

I adore rack of lamb.  It is one of my favorites.  This was my first time making it at home.  It turned out so good!  I will definitely be doing it again, with some tweaks of course.  One note – it is essential to have a meat thermometer on hand to determine doneness.  I ended up having to put some of the chops back in the oven for a few more minutes.  Not a big deal.

photo (1)

Ingredients

  • 2 racks of lamb (remove some of the fat cap if there is a large amount, but you need some fat to sear it)
  • Salt and pepper

For crust –

  • ¾ cup pistachios (shelled)
  • ½ – 1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • Coriander seeds (I put a small amount in the middle of my palm, maybe ½ tsp, then did it again)
  • Rosemary – maybe ½ – 1 tsp
  • Green Peppercorns ( ½ tsp)
  • Salt
  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard

To Prepare

  • Mix all except the mustard in a food processor until it forms a coarse paste.  I added a tiny bit of olive oil to help it come together.  (I made the mistake of adding the mustard to the food processor.  I should have spread the mustard on the lamb and then added the spices as a crust.  My crust while delicious fell off when the lamb was sliced)
  • Heat a cast iron or heavy bottom skillet to very very hot.  Sear the lamb fat side down for 4 – 5 minutes until nicely browned.  Flip and sear another 2 -3 minutes.  Remove to a baking sheet.
  • Coat the meaty side of the lamb with the mustard.  Then pat ½ the spice paste onto each rack of lamb. 
  • Roast the racks of lamb in the preheated oven crusted side up for 15 – 20 minutes.  The internal temperature should be:

¨       Rare:  120-130

¨       Medium Rare:  130-140

¨       Medium:  140-150

  • Loosely tent the racks with foil and let rest for 10 minutes.
  • Slice chops (single or double, your choice) and serve on a warmed platter.  They cool very quickly.

 

Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Radicchio, and Fried Capers
(Taken from Anne Burrell, with modifications)

I would definitely make this again but I would substitute maybe endive or red cabbage for the radichio.  Or use more cauliflower and less radicchio.  I like the bitterness of radicchio but it was a bit much for the family.  The original recipe called for adding Perorino but I was making this with lamb so I omitted the cheese and instead added a bit of honey to mellow out the dressing and ease the bitterness of the radicchio.

photo

Ingredients

  • 1 large or 2 small heads cauliflower, cut into bite size florets
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup capers, patted dry
  • 2 radicchio, cut into chiffonade
  • ½ – 1 tsp Rosemary
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

To Prepare

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Add the cauliflower florets to a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and toss. Transfer to a baking sheet and roast until the cauliflower is very brown and crispy, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven to a large bowl and reserve.
  • Coat a large saute pan generously with olive oil. The oil should be about 1/8-inch deep. Heat the pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the capers. As the capers cook they will open up and start to look like little flowers (very cute). Fry the capers until they are crispy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the capers from the pan, dry them on paper towels and season with salt immediately. (Go LIGHTLY on the salt, capers are already a bit salty but you did rinse them so a bit of salt is needed)
  • Toss together the cauliflower, capers, and radicchio. Dress the salad with lemon juice, honey, olive oil, and rosemary.  

 

It was also served with a simple quinoa that had some red chili flakes, salt, pepper and a little rosemary to tie it all together.  Oh, and a really nice red wine.

I photocopied this out of a cookbook but sadly forgot to write down what book it was.  My apologies to the creator of this delicious dip.  The way that it is listed here is how I altered it.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cans (14oz) white beans (I used one can of butter beans and one can of small white beans)
  • 2 – 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • dash salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin (I used a small mound of cumin seeds in my hand)
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 small handful cilantro
  • Cracked black pepper to taste

Directions

  • Drain and rinse beans under cool water several times until the water runs clear.
  • In the bowl of a food processor pour the beans, lemon juice, olive oil, spices and most of the cilantro.
  • Process on high until smooth.  If it appears dry, you can add more olive oil, lemon juice or even a tiny bit of water to loosen it up.  It should be the same consistency as hummus.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste
  • Garnish with paprika and chopped cilantro.

Serve with chips, pita bread or veggies.

We try to plan our menus for the week on Sundays.  This week my daughter asked for Spaghetti Bolognese.  I’m not sure where she had it before or heard of it but she wanted it.  Fine by me.  I looked up a few recipes and was dismayed to find that not only did they contain pancetta but that they also contained butter and cream.  Since we keep kosher that was a big problem.  Luckily I stumbled on a version that touted itself as the Perfect, Authentic Italian Bolognese Sauce.  That is quite a claim!  Not sure it if is the perfect sauce or not but it was s big hit at our house.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 6 or so slices pancetta (I used turkey bacon)
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • stick of celery, chopped
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb ground veal or lamb (I used sweet Italian Veal sausage that I took out of the casings)
  • 2 cans (400g) diced or chopped tomatoes
  • 2 large glasses Red Wine (nice precise measurement, maybe that is why I love this recipe! I used a Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Pasta (enough for 4 people, cooked.  Recipe suggested tagliatelle, but we used spaghetti)

Directions:

  • Heat the oil in a large, heavy based saucepan and fry the bacon until golden brown over medium heat.
  • Add the onions and the garlic, sauteing until slightly browned and softened.
  • Increase the heat to high and add the ground beef. Saute until the beef is browned.  Remove from pan to a bowl.
  • Add the veal or lamb and saute until browned.
  • Add the onions, garlic and beef back to the pan.  Pour in the wine and boil until it has reduced in volume by about a third.
  • Reduce temperature to medium-low and add in the tomatoes, celery and carrot.
  • Allow to simmer for 1 – 1 1/2 hours until the sauce has reduced considerably.  Stirring now and then.
  • Pour sauce over the cooked pasta.  Enjoy!

Review: The Undead Pool

The Undead Pool
The Undead Pool by Kim Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sad to think that there is only one book left to be written in the series. This book is a game-changer. Multiple plot lines come together and weave a complicated tapestry of destruction, magic and revelations. Demons, elves, pixies, vampires and weres must work as a team to bring down one of the baddest enemies, no, not really an enemy, an entity that Rachel has ever faced. Watching Rachel grow as a character has been frustrating at times but in this book, she truly shows that she is more than the sum of her experiences and that she has grown tremendously over the course of the series. Then there is also the Trent dilemma. Fans of the series have been waiting with baited breath for something to happen since Ms. Harrison teased us with the ending of Ever After. She more than makes up for the teasing. Cannot wait for the next book.

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Pumpkin Mole Chili

No photo to go along with this.  Sorry.  Despite that it was delicious.  Inspiration found here at the BrokeAssGourmet.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound or so of ground beef.
  • 1 shallot, minced (didn’t have any onions, not sure how that happened)
  • 2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 poblano pepper, chopped (remove seeds and membranes)
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cans (15 oz) diced tomatoes
  • 1 can (6 oz) tomato paste mixed with equal amount water
  • 2 cans (15 oz) beans (your choice – black, kidney, white)
  • ** Mexican Mole Seasoning blend (from Savory Spices) – to taste.  I think I ended up with about 1 – 2 tsp
  • Chili Powder  - to taste.  Start out with 1/2 tsp and work your way up.
  • 1 small pie pumpkin roasted and mashed OR 1 small can (15oz) pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup (+/- might need more, might need less) water
  • juice of one orange
  • Handful chopped cilantro

Directions

  • Heat olive oil in medium stockpot
  • Add shallots and garlic.  Cook until translucent and golden.
  • Add carrots and poblano pepper.  Cook until softened.
  • Add beef and cook until no longer pink.
  • At this point, add in the diced tomatoes, the tomato paste, the beans and the seasonings.  Salt to taste.  Let simmer about 30 – 45 minutes.
  • TASTE
  • Add pumpkin and orange juice.  Add some chopped cilantro.  If needed, add water
  • TASTE
  • Let cook another 15 minutes or so.  Stir now and then.  If too dry, add some water.
  • Taste and adjust seasonings.  

Serve with diced avocados and some corn chips over rice!

** If you don’t have Mole seasonings, you can substitute 1 – 2tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder.  Dark chocolate powder is better.

Review: Jersey Angel

Jersey Angel
Jersey Angel by Beth Ann Bauman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not your typical teen romance. Not entirely sure it is a romance. It is more of a coming of age story than a romance. There is a love story sort of but it certainly doesn’t end up with a happily ever after. It is a realistic portrayal of a teen who sees her friends going places and realizes that she isn’t going anywhere. Next September when her friends go away to college, she will be enrolling in the local community college, living in the same NJ shore town, working the same crappy job at her Dad’s marina, sleeping with the same boys who are also staying behind.

Angel is no angel…she’s a teen with an on again off again boyfriend who admittedly sleeps with her best friend’s boyfriend. She does feel guilty but that doesn’t stop her. She is a restless spirit, much like her mother who floats from boyfriend to boyfriend as well. This novel shows a side of teenage girls that is not often shown in novels. Angel and her friends drink, smoke pot, get high, flirt, sleep around and get knocked up. They don’t apologize for it or try to hide it. This is who they are.

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