The Month in Books & Year End Review

December 2016:

I read, or attempted, 67 books this year. Subtracting the six I didn’t finish, that’s a little more than a book and a quarter a week, though of course it’s not evenly distributed in reality.

Eight books got five-star reviews this year: All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr; The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters; A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara; Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, Matthew Desmond; The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman; Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, illustrated by Valentine De Landro and Robert Wilson IV; Welcome to Nightvale, Joseph Fink; Kitchens of the Great Midwest, Ryan J. Stradal. There are some very different books on that list! I think The Paying Guests and All the Light We Cannot See are the most widely appealing, though I cannnot recommend A Little Life enough, if you think you can handle both the length and the fact that this book is heartbreaking – it made me cry more than once. I do still intend to re-read it, though.

After we moved in the fall, I started reading more on my iPad, in addition to my Kindle. This came about initially because I had a couple of library ebooks in a row that turned out to not have a kindle edition available, so I decided to read them in the Overdrive app. I then started doing the same thing with kindle books sometimes, mainly when my kindle wasn’t handy (read: because it was up two flights of stairs). I don’t mind reading on my iPad, but I definitely prefer the kindle, especially for reading in bed.

Stats (excluding the six unfinished books):

  • 53 ebooks, 39 from DCPL
  • 52 works of fiction, 5 nonfiction
  • 30 books by female authors
  • 3 volumes of comics
  • 7 books for book club
  • 2 books of short stories
  • 1 re-read book
  • 1 audiobook

Thanksgiving 2016

This year, we spent Thanksgiving in Baltimore at the home of some close friends who have hosted us before. They always put on a delicious spread, and this year we we contributed several dishes to the meal.

Hashed Brussels Sprouts with Lemon – Our hosts had identified this as a possible side, and since it was going to allow me to use the slicer blade on my food processor, which I hadn’t used yet, we chose this as one of our dishes. With the food processor to do the slicing, this was a very quick and easy dish to prepare. It’s important to note, though, that while three pounds of brussels sprouts may not look like a lot in your basket at the grocery store, it turns into quite a bit once shredded. I did four pounds, which was too much (almost 4 quarts once prepared). Note also that you’ll need a huge skillet to cook these, and it’s probably worth doing a couple of batches (I did, and it worked well). These were a tasty addition to the plate, and one nice thing about them is that they’re good served room temp or slightly warmed – no need to fight for oven or burner space at the last moment.

Cranberry Parker House Rolls – I chose to make these because it’d been a while since I’d made bread, and I knew I’d have the time to devote to fussing with something that needed to rise – especially since I could prep them and then allow them to sit overnight before baking. I was very careful in making these – made sure the eggs, butter and milk were all at room temperature – and used my stand mixer, which makes things a snap. The dough was pliable and easy to work with, and the rolls turned out delicious! There are a couple of important things to know about this recipe, though, and had I read the comments ahead of time instead of mid-stream, I would have made some adjustments. 

First, as written, it makes way too much cranberry butter – I had two cups left over. You can easily halve that. Second, this recipe has you make sandwiches with little rounds of dough and the cranberry butter, which was easy enough, but messy. Luckily, not so much that I have a pool of burned butter in my oven, but a fair amount of the cranberry butter oozed out of the rolls. 

As it was, I altered the construction method and did something I spotted in the comments – weigh the dough and then portion it out by weight – which worked pretty well. But next time, I’d like to try an entirely different method. Traditionally, Parker House Rolls are folded in half, baked all together in a pan, and then pulled apart to serve. I think I will try either following the traditional construction method, brushing with cranberry butter instead of regular melted butter, or perhaps try making individual rolls in muffin tins, but instead of the sandwhich method, do one larger piece of dough twisted into a balloon type shape with the cranberry butter in the middle. 

Pecan Pie – Last but not least, Handsome made this pecan pie recipe. This was absolutely delicious and I am sad there are no more leftovers. If you make the dough and toast the nuts ahead of time, it seems like it’d be pretty quick to prep on baking day. 

Soup Season

Two great soups for the cold nights, both from Simple Recipes: 

White Bean Soup with Ham, Pumpkin hand Chard: If, like me, you have a pie pumpkin in your possession and don’t want to make pie, this soup is a great option. (Or substitute your preferred hard winter squash.) I used a little package of ham chips in place of the ham hock the recipe calls for, as all of the ham hocks at the grocery store were smoked, and this just seemed easier. Pancetta cubes would also work here. I’m not a big fan of chard, so I used kale, and I used the entire small bunch instead of the few leaves called for. And last, I used crushed tomatoes in place of whole, as it turned out I didn’t have any whole. I think I might like that better. You could easily adapt this for the crock pot – Cook’s Illustrated has a technique where you microwave the onion and garlic to soften them for crock pot recipes, and that’d work just fine here. Add the beans and kale 30 minutes or so before you want to eat and that should do the trick. 

Kale and Roasted Vegetable Soup: This shares a similar flavor profile to the soup above, but is vegetarian – the flavor boost comes in from roasting the veggies and pureeing some of them into the stock. As previously discussed, this is really good and you can do some of the prep a couple days ahead. 

Dinner Tonight: Roasted Balsamic Vegetable Pasta

I came across this recipe for Roasted Balsamic Vegetable Pasta while looking for something to do with one of the many eggplants we have from our farmshare. Neither of us is big on eggplant, but this was a hit. The eggplant disappears into the dish. 

Plus, it was super easy to make – a great weeknight dinner, or good to make when you’re cooking more than one meal at a time. This was three servings for us, with nothing on the side. If you want to stretch it to four, you could add more veggies, or serve it with a green salad.
I did make a couple of changes, swapping the mint for basil and the yogurt for ricotta. (And probably twice what was called for, at that.) 

Dinner Tonight: Tilapia Tacos with Mango Salsa

Tonight we enjoyed yet another wonderful meal from Sheet Pan Suppers, by Molly Gilbert, which I cannot recommend highly enough. This recipe for Tilapia Tacos with Mango Salsa (scroll way down) was a great light dinner, very flavorful, and since it uses the broiler it didn’t heat up the kitchen much at all. (I can also vouch for the second recipe on that page, which I’ve made using the same substitution of broccoli crowns instead of broccolini.)

I played with the proportions on this one. Instead of the 6 fillets of tilapia called for, I just got two. I used three eight ball zucchini (they look just like you’d think, so cute!), which is probably slightly more than the recipe calls for. I made about as much sauce as called for, with the exception of using probably half the cilantro (though only because that’s all I could get at the grocery store) and just a splash of olive oil.

You could really do a lot of this ahead of time – the tilapia could marinate in the sauce, and the salsa will hold up just fine. Preheat the broiler while you prep the zucchini and you’re good to go. 

You could also prep the tilapia using this sauce and serve it on its own with whatever veggies you like, or use it as the protein in a taco salad. The sauce would also be great with tofu or chicken.