Monthly Archives: November 2017

5 for Friday: Hoopla Review + Agatha Christie


Because I currently don’t have a commute, I haven’t been listening to audiobooks as much as I’d like to. I’m not one of those people who can really concentrate on one when I’m cooking or cleaning, nor can I do it while I’m lying in bed. I find them best while I’m driving or riding in a car. That being said, I’ve been lucky that I’ve got my husband on the bandwagon to listen to audiobooks when we take a road trip to see family! So I’m still listening to them here and there.

Hoopla – What is it?

When we do these trips, I tend to check how long the audiobook is before I but it on hold at the library. I’ve also just started using our library’s digital media service – Hoopla. With Hoopla, I can check out something like 4 or 6 titles each month using my library card for free! This includes any digital media I can download to a device: ebooks, audiobooks, music and video. I always preferred using the physical CDs in my car, but here is my introduction to my first Hoopla experience.


Bon Appétempt:
A Coming-of-Age Story (with Recipes!)
by Amelia Morris (nonfiction) – worth a listen (must listen for foodies!)

I was searching for something else on my library’s website, when this book came up. I was intrigued! It was only offered, however, as a digital audiobook on Hoopla. I promptly signed up and decided I’d make the effort to figure out how to use it. At first, I started listening to it in the car, but I’d take such short trips around town, it was hardly worth the work of making sure I’d get the app open and pause it when getting out of the car. I also had to turn up the volume to the highest level to hear it.

I had to figure out when to listen to it. I did end up listening to it in bed when I was going through cookbooks doing some meal planning. I did listen to it on the treadmill. Finally, I listened to it at work when I was doing some data entry one day. The reason was that my audiobook was about to be returned. Hoopla will automatically return the book for you so you don’t have to bother. But I didn’t know how to renew it or if I checked it out again, if it would remember where it left off!

The other thing about listening to audiobooks digitally rather than on a CD is that you can change the speed of the reader. I do like being able to listen to an narrator at 1.25 or sometimes 1.5 times the speed of the reading. Rob says it sounds like chipmunks, but I think that is more if you get to 2x the speed. It sounds strange! But others say that they have become used to it.

In the end, Hoopla automatically returned my book while I was listening to it. I checked it out again right away and it remembered where I left off! It didn’t seem to count against the number of titles I check out each month because, essentially, it’s the same title.

All of that being said, I LOVED THIS BOOK! I am so glad I found it. Morris’s stories about recipes she’s cooked from magazines and how all of this came about it her life are fun. But this book also addresses the struggle we all have in learning how to cook. The attempt at cooking and learning what we like, don’t like and what is worth it. I started following her blog of the same name. I liked listening to this book and hearing the voice behind her story, but I missed having the printed recipes included in this book because they made my mouth water!


Behind Her Eyes
by Sarah Pinborough 
(fiction) – on the fence

There is a lot of wine-drinking in this book! This is a thriller of sorts, but not what I expected. It’s a little weird. I’m still not sure what I think about it. I think it might work as a movie, though.


Frost Bite:
everyday food fresh from the freezer

by Susan Austin (nonfiction, cookbook) – worth a flip

I’m conflicted by this cover! On one hand, you are a cookbook – shouldn’t you have something appetizing on the cover? On the other hand, the color is perfect for something frozen… and your freezer is closed – don’t you want to open it up and use what’s inside?

I discovered this book because it was recommended by Jules Clancy, author of 5 Ingredients, 10 Minutes. But a quick flip through, while interesting, didn’t send me swooning. I couldn’t find this book in my local library, so I ordered it on ThriftBooks (<–refer-a-friend link) for $5. I got a signed copy! You always know the condition of the used book you’ll be getting on Thrift Books, but you never know about those bonus surprises!


And Then There Were None
by Agatha Christie (fiction, radio broadcast dramatization) – worth a listen

Do you remember when in just the course of a few months I had read several books referring to Agatha Christie novels? It was all so strange and I thought it was probably time I checked out this classic mystery novelist. But out of all her books, where did one begin!? I googled for the best books to start with to get a taste of her writing. In the end, I decided to go with Murder on the Orient Express with the intention of reading it before the movie came out.

But then, Modern Mrs. Darcy highly recommended And Then There Were None on audio read by Dan Stevens, who played Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey. It was available on Hoopla, so I promptly downloaded it for our drive back to Green Bay. I also picked up a CD audio version of the book as a backup if for some reason we had trouble with the download in the car.

Unfortunately, even with the volume turned up all the way, we couldn’t hear the Dan Stevens version on Hoopla all that well. I was glad to have the backup. But even with the little we heard of the Dan Stevens version, the CD version was notably different. It was then I realized that we were not listening to a reading of Christie’s book, but a BBC radio dramatization of the novel! It was decidedly well-done; but the whole story was told in an hour and a half versus the 6 hours expected with the reading of the book.


Murder on the Orient Express
by Agatha Christie (fiction) – worth a read

This book took me a bit to get into and to learn all of the characters. That being said, I loved the ending. And guess what? I did see the movie! Just this past week. It’s a rare occasion, but I thought the movie was even better.

At the time of this writing, the movie is only getting 58% on Rotten Tomatoes; but I personally loved the movie adaptation. Although some of the characters were changed/combined, I felt like they were much more developed. Kenneth Branagh makes an excellent Poirot! He directed this film and I hope he decides to continue making more movies in her Hercules Poirot series. It felt like he was able to take Christie’s storyline and add more depth, more dramatization and even a bit of humor.

Something that was also captured in this movie was the time period. Rob and I wanted to ride that train! There was so much attention to detail to time and place, something that wasn’t really described in the book. But I highly believe that was because Christie was writing during the present! (The book was published in 1934.)

Rob noticed that the original movie version (1974) remains at 91% on Rotten Tomatoes. I am now on the waitlist for that DVD from the library. It will be fun to compare!


Do you use a digital service to download audiobooks?
If so, what’s been your experience?
Have you read Agatha Christie?
If so, what’s your favorite novel?





5 for Friday: Make Ahead/Easy Cookbooks!


I’ve noticed that I’ve been on a kick on reading cookbooks that either have make-ahead recipes or those that utilize just a few ingredients and get food on the table FAST! You’d think I was feeding a big family, had a long commute or lots of extracurricular activities to attend to… but none of those are the case! Some days are just draining enough that even though I love to cook, I just don’t want to think. You know what I mean?

Here are a few of those cookbooks and my thoughts…


Make It Ahead
by Ina Garten 
(nonfiction, cookbook) – worth a flip


I loved that Ina admitted that she finds cooking for dinner parties exhausting and that making something ahead saves the day! That being said, the fish dishes seemed to speak to me the most – Her Herb-Roasted Fish is going on my next Trout Recipe of the Week list, while the Coquille St. Jacques recipe has been saved so I can make up those scallops I got from Aldi – yes ALDI! I’ve only made scallops once, probably about 10 years ago. I remember being surprised that they turned out really well! But that was the error before my blogging days, so I have no notes anywhere about what recipe I used.


Make Ahead Paleo
by Tammy Credicott 
(nonfiction, cookbook) – worth a flip

My first impression of this book was that it was laid out all wrong. I felt like the tips and tricks I read at the beginning would be forgotten soon after and would be better suited within a recipe so that they could actually be used. Also, I felt like the author was a bit condescending about health choices at first, too. But maybe that was just the mood I was in reading it at the time.

In any case, all of that was soon forgotten after reading the recipes! Some of them were a bit daunting with their ingredient lists and their efforts to make them Paleo, but overall Credicott stayed true to her word about make-ahead meals. In fact, some of her recipes and ideas were utterly genius. {Yes, they are genius if it’s something I never heard of before! 😉 }

After the initial explanation of what “should” and “should not” be in your your kitchen to make it Paleo, along with tips and tricks, the book is split into six parts:

  • Make & Freeze
  • Low & Slow
  • On the Go
  • Room Service
  • Travel Treats
  • Week in a Day

I feel like I’ve mostly mastered the Make & Freeze idea of make-ahead meals. {My freezer can attest to that!} And I have a bunch of tried and true slow cooker recipes that help me with Low & Slow. On the Go is great for busy families or – a road trip! Travel Treats are just what you’d expect, while the Week in a Day section offers what many other chefs and cookbooks are doing these days – a grocery list to prep meals on Sunday and throw together meals quickly all through the week.

However, I found the Room Service section to be the most ingenious! When I travel, I prefer to try the local cuisine, so you’d think that I would have skipped over this section entirely. But this section can be helpful for many different scenarios:

  • If you travel for work and are constantly eating at the same places – there are some ideas from breakfast, lunch AND dinner, here.
  • You are on a budget or are traveling with a family – eating one meal in the hotel or having a picnic will help you out!
  • You are getting up for an early day or a hike – make some eggs in the microwave! This will keep you from eating a sugary granola bar.

Endicott recommends that if you can’t reserve a hotel room with a kitchenette, requesting a room with a mini-fridge and microwave or even asking if small appliances such as an electric skillet are allowed in room will do you wonders!

Lastly, I found her Freezer Inventory sheet to be indispensable, especially with everything I have stored in mine right now! You can also download it on her blog. This is a list I’ve been meaning to make for a long time. Downloading this sheet (and having it separated into categories) has finally made me do it! I also try to use up those items that have been in my freezer longest first. It’s easier to do this and plan for this with a list on the outside rather than digging through that cold freezer!


Rocco’s 5-Minute Flavor
by Rocco DiSpirito (nonfiction, cookbook) – skip


I had high hopes… or maybe high expectations for this cookbook! Rocco’s one of those likable celebrity chefs. Reading through the introduction, he put a lot of heart into this book! However, there were a lot more pre-cooked/packaged ingredients suggested in these recipes than I would have liked. In addition, there was nothing really earth-shattering that I decided I’d like to even try to make. I will check out some of his other cookbooks, though, because I’m sure he can teach me something new. He’s the chef and I’m not! Maybe I was going through cookbook-reading-burnout?


Just Five Ingredients
by Ainsley Harriott (non-fiction, cookbook) – skip


This cookbook caught my eye by the name. I am unfamiliar with this British celebrity chef; but his recipes just weren’t my style. Some of the included ingredients I’d never use. That doesn’t mean that you won’t though.


Michael Symon’s 5 in 5
by Michael Symon (non-fiction, cookbook) – worth a read


Symon’s a chef Rob and I like to watch on TV. I haven’t seen him on The Chew because I’m never home during those hours; but I guess he has a Beat the Clock segment where he tries to whip up a meal in 5 minutes. Let’s get something straight here. When he says 5 ingredients he means ingredients you shouldn’t already have in your pantry and fridge like salt, pepper, oil, flour, butter, garlic… He takes some liberties there. But he also takes liberties with the 5 minutes – he’s talking 5 minutes of cooking. The time doesn’t include prep or boiling water or heating up your pan. That being said, these are still relatively simple-looking recipes!

I made one just this week: Pasta with Tomatoes and Olive Oil. We decided on it because we had all the ingredients and just returned from a long weekend in Green Bay. The recipe was delicious! But it said that it made 4 servings. With a whole pound of pasta, it was more like 8! Plus, Rob and I agreed that we’d like more sauce in the sauce to pasta ratio. While it was packed with so much flavor (San Marzano Tomatoes! 3 Tbsp of salt in the pasta water! 1 Tbsp of red chili flakes!), we decided to stick with our fave San Marzano Pasta.

We still are looking forward to trying some of the other recipes from this cookbook.



Okay, so those are the 5 Make-Ahead/Easy cookbooks of the week, but I need to include the one that still takes the cake for me:

5 Ingredients, 10 Minutes
by Jules Clancy (non-fiction, cookbook) – MUST READ

It just might be the best cookbook you’ve never read. Don’t be intimidated by the Australian measurements or some of the alternate names of ingredients. I’ve outlined the most important ones here.  But the recipes are very forgiving and you can approximate and swap out with her suggested variations at the end of every recipe!

When talking 5 ingredients, Jules means 5 ingredients except for salt, pepper, and your preferred cooking oil. When talking 10 minutes, Jules is talking how long it takes her to make from start to finish. You might take a bit longer. (Her recipes have taken me 7 minutes to 20 minutes, but probably averaging around 12.) But it’s still a quick meal, no?

Here’s the first recipe I made from it. I’m still making my way through the cookbook, but there is so much I want to try! I’m learning how to improvise more than I ever had in the past and throw things together in what feels like a blink of an eye compared to the normal amount of time I’d used to spend in the kitchen. Check out Jules Clancy’s blog The Stone Soup to download a free eCookbook or learn how to purchase 5 Ingredients, 10 Minutes.


What’s your favorite time-saving cooking trick?


Broccoli + Beans or Meat = Dinner Served


You can read about how I declared this the Best Cookbook You’ve Never Read <– here.

You can read about the first recipe I cooked from this cookbook here.

You can read about how I cooked tuna and salmon – {from a can!} – for the first time here.

You can read about how I made a stir-fry for some friends and made salads without dressing here.


But it was from this recipe out of 5 ingredients, 10 Minutes that I learned that if you have a bag of frozen broccoli and a half pound a meat or a can of beans, that you can have a dinner on the table any night of the week in just MINUTES…

Super Simple Broccoli with Almonds
Recipe Ingredients: broccoli, almonds, butter, lemon juice

I think this base recipe was originally meant to be a weeknight side dish. Here is a photo of the pic in the cookbook. Looks yummy, no?!

I was going to make this as a side to some burgers I whipped up for Rob and me one night. But as I’ve mentioned, Jules shares possible variations at the bottom of every recipe in her 5 ingredients, 10 Minutes cookbook.

Her variations help those with dietary restrictions and even the pickiest eaters among us whip up something delicious and healthy. I am not allergic to nuts. In fact, I love them as a nice added roasty crunch to a dish. However, when I read Jules’s nut-free variation of this dish, I knew I’d be making it as a meal for myself instead:

Nut-free: leave them out or replace with a small can of chickpeas

I adore chickpeas {Rob doesn’t} and knew this was going to make a wonderful lunch for me. And it was:

This dish may not sound nor look exciting to you; but the results are all in the preparation. That is why I wanted to provide you with a few notes on why/how this is such a fantastic, versatile dish:

Notes with my adaptations in blue:

  • The dish calls for one head broccoli. I took a bag of broccoli out of the freezer and thawed over night.
  • I cut the broccoli into smaller pieces than they came, cutting them into “little trees” as instructed and thinly slicing the stems. This helps the broccoli cook faster and those little bits will get such a nice char! {I also personally like smaller pieces of broccoli, that this sounds like an obvious step I should have been doing anyway.}
  • I also liked Jules’s tip to get the pan on the heat before you chop the broccoli to get it nice and hot.
  • The variation suggested a small can of chickpeas. I’ve never heard of such a thing, so I just drained and rinsed a whole can and dumped them in, creating a more substantial lunch.
  • Even with my chickpea/garbanzo bean substitute, I did add a few crushed almonds. They did seem to get a little bit soft in the pan. I think if I made this dish with nuts, I’d add them at the end next time.
  • I generously seasoned this dish while cooking and after it was finished. I also added a little extra drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. I don’t think adding garlic, red pepper flakes, nor shredded parmesan would hurt either!
  • You can find this recipe in Jules Clancy’s cookbook 5 ingredients, 10 Minutes or her blog The Stone Soup {sans almonds, but the technique is there.}
  • This dish took me 12 minutes to make, including chopping.
  • I’d make 800 variations of this again! Here’s why:

While Jules lists 5 different suggested variations at the bottom of this recipe, the final one reads:

More substantial: toss in a drained can of chickpeas or serve with some hummus. {Okay, so I realize now that I didn’t get the idea to use a whole can of chickpeas to make it more substantial by myself.} Or toss with hot pasta and your best quality extra virgin olive oil. Or add a drained can of tuna in oil, allow to warm through and serve with a wedge of lemon. Or team with a fried egg.

You see? All you need is a head of broccoli (or a bag reserved in your freezer) and either a can of beans / can of tuna or salmon / egg / scoop of hummus / box of pasta / pre-cooked protein such as diced chicken and you’ve got dinner on the table in minutes. I’m sure you could cook up some ground beef or turkey and mix it in, too.

The possibilities are endless.

Do you have a go-to formula to get something on the table quick based on ingredients in your fridge-freezer-pantry? If so, please share!


5 for Friday: 5 Favorite Soups for Fall!


When I was putting together my list of 5 soups that we’ll make again and again and again, I noticed a theme.

Almost all of these soups are other dishes… in soup form!

Lasagna Soup

I found a link to this recipe for lasagna soup on My Bizzy Kitchen. It was love at first bite. There are other slow cooker versions online, too. But Biz is on her 8,412th batch, so I’m sure you can try any of her versions!


Reuben Soup

I started making this one after Rob was waiting all year just to have some at a nearby restaurant that only serves it the week of St. Patrick’s Day. Turns out, this recipe is better than the restaurant one! It doesn’t have any potatoes {which Rob loathes – except for fry or chip form!}, so that’s a win for him.


Pizza Soup

You’ll be surprised how quickly this recipe can come together! {Hint: Just 10 minutes.}


Taco Soup

This is a new found-love – as in this week! The link is to an Instant Pot recipe, but I followed another one of her recipes to make this on the stove top. I might post my variation here so that I can follow it a bit easier next time, rather than deal with all of the back and form from recipe to recipe. I added shredded cheddar and green onions for toppings, but it really doesn’t need anything. If you’d like to throw some tortilla chips on top, be my guest!


My final soup recipe doesn’t follow the theme I had going here; but it has become my favorite soup recipe of the year!

Immunity Soup

This is the best chicken soup I’ve ever had. I think the abundance of garlic along with the thyme and pinch of red pepper flakes help give it an extra boost of flavor that makes me swoon.

I make a big batch, divvy it up into single serving containers/zip lock bags and freeze them. That way, if I’m ever needing some comforting soup or if I’m feeling under the weather, all I need to do is pull it out of the freezer and pop it in the microwave. I don’t have to have the energy to put together a pot of soup on those days when I need it most!

It doesn’t have noodles, but I’m sure you could add them in if you’d like. Instead, I like to serve it with a crusty roll {also kept in the freezer!} with a little butter. Mmmm….

Which reminds me, that is my last bowl! Time to make a new batch for the freezer.

What is your favorite homemade soup recipe?


Thirsty Thursday: HeadFlyer Brewing


We’ve taken a lot of out-of-town guests on our little NE Mpls Brewery Tour, but I had yet to hit multiple taprooms with my closest gal pals.

On a whim one rainy Saturday, Rob and I whisked them away to hit our faves.

We started a little later than usual, therefore our usual first stop at Dangerous Man was a bust after we found a line out the door.

“We’ll have plenty of available seating at our next stop!” Rob exclaimed.

I joked that he was going to jinx it.

Sure enough, there was a festival going on over at our usual brewery #2: Indeed. Even if we wanted to chance it, there was no place to park!

We rolled the dice and headed our way to our usual #3 taproom: Insight, pointing out the other breweries along the way that, through our “research”, were not worth the stop.

Here we were able to snag a booth and enjoy a nice variety of brews. Finally!

Rob was really hoping for his Doe Eyes, an ale brewed with cherries; but alas, it was not available.

But where to next? With our first two strikeouts, our taproom tour had just begun!

Then I remembered a dog-friendly promotional event posted a few weeks prior at a new brewery called HeadFlyer. I promptly looked up its location and beer styles and knew it was going to be our next stop.

They had so many beers on tap!

We opted to get two flights so that we could taste them all. Just look at the size of these flight pours!

I can honestly say I did not dislike one of these beers. But still, there was a very clear winner: the Vanilla Bean Porter. I took a growler home. I would come back for this beer alone.

Oh… and to pet Spaghetti:

Who else can say that they pet Spaghetti?!

Well, our friend Ryan can! He found out he had just been there as well when we ran into him, ending our tour South of the River at his new Shakopee Brewhall… which deserves a post on its own, soon!

Sometimes you discover something new and cool when things don’t go according to plan…