Review: Sons of Cain

Hey, Mackerelsnapperites!  I have a review of Sons of Cain by Catholic author Val Bianco over on my author page.

Go check it out, then check out Sons of Cain for yourselves!

Review: The King’s Gambit by John McNichol

The King's Gambit

Check out my author blog for a review of the Catholic YA novel The King’s Gambit by John McNichol.  Good stuff!

Lent 2013 Challenge Day 36-37: Nothing to see here, people.

Really, there isn’t.  Late Thursday afternoon I had all the kids out for haircuts, so Mr. M made pizzas for us using the par-baked crusts spoken of in last weekend’s food prep post.

Last night, I had to use up the rest of that monster bag of bargain kale before it went south, so I made sauteed kale with mushrooms (bought on sale last week, also going south) and garlic.  I deglazed the pan with a bit of white wine, having forgotten to take out a container of vegetable stock to thaw.  Meanwhile I had angel hair cooking in our microwave pasta cooker… and I’m starting to give up on that thing.  I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, but all but the first two batches of pasta I’ve made in that thing have been just this side of inedible.  They’re gummy and mushy and gross.  So, we had food last night, and it was all by the book, but it wasn’t very tasty.  Alas.  There wasn’t enough Parmesan cheese in the world to save it.

At last, a black bean burger worth blogging about!

You may have wondered (probably not, but maybe you have) why I have been blogging meatless Fridays (not to mention a nearly meatless Lent) for over a year now, and yet I still have not shared a recipe for that vegan/vegetarian staple, the black bean burger.  That is because every black bean burger recipe I’ve tried has tasted more like a breadcrumb burger with the token bean thrown in for legal purposes.  Alas, wonder no more.  We have, somewhat accidentally, discovered black bean millet burgers .

This coming Monday, we are hosting an International Lunch in celebration of International Education Week.  Middle dumpling wanted to make something with millet–not because of a country that fascinates her, mind you, but because our pet cockatiel’s favorite snack is millet.  So she picked Egypt based on our bird’s version of crack cocaine.  So now I have this five pound sack of millet sitting around my kitchen.  Thus we had slow cooker millet porridge for breakfast (meh–it’s okay).  I’ll be making food processor millet flour this weekend, which will then become millet bread on Monday.  So that leaves us with about 4.5 pounds of millet remaining, hurrah.  Google came through again this morning with the recipe linked above, couretsy of No Meat Athlete.

The only changes I made to the recipe was using a blend of olive and corn oil because, come on, grapeseed oil?  I’m not made of money here.  Also, I used less oil than the recipe seems to suggest.  Shocking, I know.  I’m like a Catholic Paula Deen over here.  I fried the patties on a cast iron skillet and I think that got them crispy enough without the extra oil.  Next time I make them, I’ll actually do them the same way I make our baked falafel.

We served these with a recipe for baked sweet potato fries that I found on Pinterest a few weeks ago.  This is the second time we made this recipe, and it’s the first time I pre-soaked the sweet potato slices for ten hours, changing the water once.  I think that made a good difference. The first time, with a soak of about 2 hours, they were crisp and tasty.  This time, with the longer soak and the changing of the water, they were “ohmygoodness, I have to sit down, oh wait, I’m already sitting down” good.

Overall, this was one of the more wonderful Friday night meals we’ve had in a very, very, very long time.  The one drawback:  this was very, very, very labor intensive.  There was a lot more slicing and mixing and mashing and shaking and standing and standing and standing and flipping things than I will usually subject myself to.  The only reason this worked for us tonight is that Second Shift took a later nap than usual and Mr. Mackerelsnapper came home about an hour early.  I’d like to make the burgers again, but I do think next time I’ll bake up the first half of the batch then freeze the second half for another, busier day.

Because of all the work involved in dinner, we did not get to make a dessert in honor of The Feast of St. John Lateran.  So, go make yourself some Golden City Marshmallows, appreciate the Church as people and value the beauty of the churches we share as people.

Two for Others Tuesday…. oh. Oops.

Serve others in Christ's name

I’m already late.   No sense wasting time with banter.

Happy Catholic:  When I went to CMN in August, I met a lot of people I’d never met before.  Since I spend most of my very limited blog-reading time on cooking blogs rather than Catholic blogs, I have read very few of the latter.  So when I met a bunch of Catholic bloggers at CMN, there were admittedly few to whom I could say, “Oh, yeah, I’ve read your blog!”  Julie from Happy Catholic is one of those, well, two, (the other being Jennifer F. at Conversion Diary).  She’s happy.  She’s Catholic.  She’s a Firefly fan.  She’s one of those people I kind of want to sidle up to and, all big-eyed, say, “Will you be my best friend?”

Catholic Cuisine: I don’t think I met anyone from Catholic Cuisine at CMN, but if I did, I apologize for not putting your real face with your virtual one. I’ve been reading Catholic Cuisine for years, because every time I search for ideas on how to cook something that is related to a Catholic feast day, they are the first hit. Their stuff looks lovely. I have to admit, though, that I read CC much in the same way I read Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age etc etc, homemaking magazines, or 97% of Pinterest: I think, “Wow, that looks awesome.  But we all know nothing like that is ever going to happen.”  And then, voila!  Somebody makes it happen.  That somebody, when it comes to fancy spiritual confections, is Catholic Cuisine.

Two for Others Tuesday: Spinning Book-shaped Plates

Wait, before I forget, please take 4.2 seconds to vote in my Lent 2013 Challenge Poll?  Should the challenge be…


Thankee.  And now, on with the show.

I ❤ free clip art!

Right now I’m in the process of reading not one but two books of fiction.  Impressive, no?  Actually, I probably should’ve written, “Impressive, eh?” in honor of both books being from Canadian house Full Quiver Publishing.  The first book of theirs I’m reading is Emily’s Hope by Ellen Gable Hrkach.  I’m not far into Emily’s Hope quite yet, but what I’ve read is keeping me looking forward to the moment I get back to it. I met Ellen at the Catholic Writers Guild conference last month.  I love her mission of illustrating Church teaching through story rather than just arguing about it.  I heard someone on Catholic radio recently say that we’re not going to win anybody with arguments; we’re going to win them with love.  Wait… was that Catholic radio or Father Barron on Catholicism?  I’m confused.  I guess that’s what I get for spinning plates.  But don’t let that stop me!

I’m also about one-third of the way through Angela’s Song, the debut of author AnneMarie Creedon.  “But Mrs. Mackerelsnapper,” you say, “Angela’s Song doesn’t come out until next month!  How can you possibly be one-third through it already?” Ah, my dear, you see, when you go to the CWG conference, you come home with SWAG.  And by SWAG, I mean “stolen without a gun,” not anything of the gangsta realm.  Think pirate booty, not the other kind.  Anyway, loving Angela, especially since the author took a chance and wrote it in first person, present tense.  “Oh, the horror!” cry all the publishing gods.  The publishing gods are silly and have silly hang-ups.  This works for Angela.  Again, I can’t wait to get back to it.

Before I got sidetracked on my plate-spinning reality…

… I was trying to get to the mission of Full Quiver Publishing.  Outwardly, it’s about “Catholic teachings on sexuality and marriage.”  Really, though, all that means is that it’s about love–charitable love, selfless love, love that lasts beyond the present moment.  And if that doesn’t conquer hearts for God, then what possibly could?

Two for Others Tuesday: Sorority Girls, Cupcakes, and the Zombie Apocolypse

Here it is, our second….

Serve others in Christ's name

First up is Exposed:  Inexcusable Me… Irreplacable Him.  I met the author, Shannon Dietz, at the CMN conference last month when I stopped by the Ask Seek Knock booth (a ministry to survivors of domestic abuse… and believe me, ASK deserves their own Two for Others Tuesday, but one thing at a time, people).  She’s a generous soul in person.  Her book is generous as well, and I feel like it was a generous gift to me personally.  Both of us had difficult childhoods and abusive relationships, and both of us came to Christ through the Catholic faith while in college.  The main difference being I was a pasty-faced theatre nerd and she was a sorority sister.  Exposed reminded me on a new level that surface appearances are just that:  surface.  Underneath it all we all have that God-shaped hole, even those who look like they have it all together and don’t need things like Eucharist or obedience.  I needed this reminder, especially during this political season, when going on Facebook can amount to emotional abuse most days.  Besides that, I totally love a memoir that doesn’t blame everybody else for the author’s shorcomings.  I love her message that, it doesn’t matter how much you’ve been abused, you still have to take responsibility for your own actions.  It’s a brave message, and she’s a brave woman.

Second:  Ora Et Labora Et Zombies.  Ryan Trusell is one of those people I kind of want to smack.  Just a little.  Not enough to hurt or anything.  He has written an “epistolatory novel” (you know, the kind Pride and Prejudice actually started out as) and is mailing it out piece by piece.  The cruel tease handed out the first one for free at CMN.  Now I have to actually waiiiiiiiiit for the next one.  Cruel, cruel author.  Anyway, so far, Ora et Labora et Zombies is worth your time.  It’s got a love story–gasp!–within an already established marriage.  And a toddler.  And monks.  And cupcakes.  And Mardi Gras.  I am hooked.  I want you to be hooked.  These letters just might eat your brains.

Spaghetti & S’meat Sauce

Also known as…

Vegan Spaghetti Bolognese

Approximately 1 lb of seitan, already cooked in broth
1 T olive oil
1 T palm shortening (confession:  I used butter, which made ours less than vegan)
1 sm onion, finely chopped
1 large green or red bell pepper, chopped
1 T minced garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1 24oz jar of spaghetti sauce (use your own if you’re a better person than I am)
1 tsp each of dried parsley, basil, oregano & thyme
pinch of black pepper
1/2 tsp sugar

In a food processor, finely chop the seitan until it resembles ground beef, and set aside.  Combine oil and shortening in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and sautee onion and pepper until softened.  Add seitan, garlic, and salt, and sautee over medium high heat approximately 2-3 minutes.  Add remaining ingredients and bring to a low boil.  Reduce heat to lowest setting and let simmer at least 20 minutes or until you are ready to serve.  Serve over spaghetti. 

I think this is my favorite seitan meal so far, and it seemed to go over with the family as well.  Seconds were provided and we didn’t have leftovers.  This was our meal before heading out to Holy Thursday Mass.  First Shift of Kids is preparing for First Eucharist, and in our parish those are the kids who get their feet washed.  It was pretty amazing to see our children experience that part of the liturgy first hand.  It was also a long, long night for a passle of second graders to power through, but power through they did. 

And now it’s time to prepare for the home stretch!

Creamy Slow Cooker Polenta

This is one of my favorite ways of cooking:  cooking in installments.  I’ve come to the realization that I really need to get this blog organized into a more sensible format.  During the Easter season, I’m hoping to go through all the posts and recategorize them so that they are easier to find:  by cooking method, by vegan vs. seafood, etc. 

 Anyway, I guess I got off track.  Cooking in Installments is my newest category.  Here’s the first, um, installment.  Given the long stretches of time between steps, I’m not going to list the ingredients until just before the steps involving them. 

 Creamy Slow cooker Polenta

 Step 1:
2 c cornmeal
2 c tomato or vegetable juice
2 c water
½ t salt 

Combine the above in your slow cooker and heat on low for 4 hours.  Please note that Second Shift of Kid and I had this and this alone for lunch today (with the exception of adding some parmesan cheese & black pepper, and it was perfectly tasty thus).  Then we kept the rest of it on warm until about half an hour before we were expecting to eat.   

Step 2:
1 small onion, finely chopped
½ t Kosher salt
1 T butter
1 T olive oil
40 fresh sage leaves, cut into thin strips
2 T flour or cornstarch
2 c milk
Bleu cheese crumbles for garnish 

Place onion and salt in saucepan over medium-high heat and stir until onion starts to brown around the edges.  Add in butter, olive oil, and sage, stirring over medium-high heat until golden brown throughout.  Sprinkle with flour/cornstarch and stir until evenly coated.  Slowly whisk in milk and bring to a low boil, simmering 3-5 minutes or until slightly thickened.  Stir Step 2 sauce into the slow cooker polenta.  Serve topped with optional bleu cheese crumbles. 

If you skip the “eating some for lunch” step, please take into consideration that your end result will be thicker than ours, but you can always add more milk, water, or vegetable juice if you’d like your polenta looser.  To veganize, just use rice milk, skip the cheese, and use some other shortening in place of the butter.  On an unrelated note, one of my kids said about this dish that “It tastes like Buca di Beppo!”  That then led to a conversation of, “How can it taste like a building?” “I don’t think it tastes like bricks!” etc. etc.

 Basically I’ve spent the day eating little else but polenta, and I can’t complain.  I’m even kicking around the idea of putting some sweet maple polenta in the crock before I go to bed, so we have a nice warm puddingy breakfast waiting for us in the morning. 

 By the by, I’m participating in the Catholic Writers Guild “30KforChrist” this month.  More on my overall writing goals in another post, but just thought I’d share that here.  I just finished reading The Hunger Games trilogy (haven’t seen the movies yet), and the idea of being there to sing or talk someone through their death came up repeatedly.  As we head into Holy Week, I’m thinking of our words “being there” for Jesus as He heads into His passion.  They may not make it easier, but maybe we can give Him something to hold on to.

Boxty on the Griddle…

Boxty on the griddle
Boxty in the pan
Learn to make the boxty
Or you’ll never get a man.

I found that rhyme years ago. Boxty is an Irish potato pancake. I first tried boxty at an Irish restaurant and became an immediate fan. Hoping to recreate the taste at home, I thought, “It’s a latke. How hard can it be?” I searched and searched (this was a few years before blogging became the phenomenon it is today) and all I came up with was: boxty is spelled a million ways, cooked a million more ways, and it’s really easy to mess up boxty. You have to have the right balance of cooked, mashed potato to raw, shredded potato. And then you have to have the right level of heat in the pan, the right level of fat in the pan, and your timing has to be impeccable, your rent had better be all paid up, and the humidity can’t be over 73%… you get the idea. The usual result of a first-time boxty attempt is burnt on the outside, raw on the inside, and most of it stuck to the scorched pan.

Fast forward to St. Patrick’s Day 2012. Cooking blogs abound, as do suggestions for how to make one’s first boxty less of a disaster. I wrote up a game plan, and here it is. If you don’t have a microwave steamer, you might need to modify this. You can even use instant mashed. Your secret is safe with me.

Boxty (Irish Potato Pancakes)

They’re not greasy. They just have halos.

5 medium potatoes
1/4 c buttermilk
1 T butter
1 egg, beaten
1/4 c milk
1/4 c flour
2 t minced onion
1/4 t Jane’s Crazy Mixed-up Salt or other favorite savory seasoning blend
oil/fat for frying

Peel 2 potatoes and cut into cubes. Steam in a microwave steamer on high power for 5 minutes, then mash with 1/4 c buttermilk and 1 T butter. Set aside to cool. Peel and shred the remaining potatoes and steam in a microwave steamer on high power for 3 minutes. Combine mashed potatoes, shredded potatoes, egg, milk, flour and minced onion and seasonings. Heat oil (we used olive oil and some–gulp–bacon fat) in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Once a drop of water in the fat sizzles but doesn’t spatter, drop tablespoons of the potato mixture into the pan and flatten slightly. Once these patties start to brown around the edges, flip and fry until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Repeat until all batter is used. Serve warm. Makes about 20 boxty.

We topped ours with some homemade chive butter (using up the last of last year’s frozen chives before the new ones are ready to harvest). The kids ate their boxty either plain, with ketchup, or with HP Sauce, depending on the kid. I have no idea how legit these condiments are for boxty, but what can you do? This recipe was a little labor-intensive to make just any old morning, but I am interested in making boxty again. The par-steaming of the shredded potatoes really seemed to keep them from burning on the outside before they cooked all the way through.

Yes, bacon fat on a Lenten Saturday. Not very Vatican II, is it? Well, in our archdiocese, the tradition is that the Lenten rules are suspended for St. Patrick’s Day and St. Joseph’s Day (March 19), so we are holding to that tradition here with our Lent 2012 Challenge. I’m grateful to be Irish, and I’m grateful to be Catholic. I probably would not be both simultaneously if it weren’t for the sufferings and perseverance of Glorious St. Patrick. All hail! He’s the patron of the Irish, and I like to think of him as the patron of people who don’t like where God sends them. If you’re having trouble blooming where you’re planted, get to know St. Patrick. He’s worth a little celebration, at least.

PS: I made a recipe without beer for a beer-related holiday! Aren’t you proud?