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dinner

book review, recipe

The Book of Essie + Cuban Sandwiches

Meghan MacLean Weir’s debut novel The Book of Essie is about seventeen-year-old Esther Hicks, also known as Essie. Her father is an evangelical preacher and she grew up on a hit reality show, Six for Hicks. Not only do her parents have strict expectations for her, but her entire life is often under public scrutiny. When her mother finds out Essie is pregnant, an emergency meeting with the producers determines the best way to salvage the situation. 

The Book of Essie

While the producers and her mother plan out Essie’s life without her input, she is arranging a different future. She attaches herself to fellow student Roarke, and their to-good-to-be-true love story is sold to the media. Will Essie get the happy ending she desires, or will her parents and producers get their way?  

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book review, recipe

We Were the Mulvaneys + Shrimp and Sausage Casserole

Joyce Carol Oates’ novel We Were the Mulvaneys has been on my shelf forever. I picked it up at a used book sale years ago because I had heard Oates speak at a bookstore once in NYC and had yet to read her books, and it sounded interesting. Still, whenever I was looking for a book to read next, I didn’t gravitate towards this one. That is, until the recent Book Challenge by Erin, where one of the categories requires you to read the book that you’ve owned the longest. Welp, this was it. And, I have to say, I’m glad I finally got around to reading it.

We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates

This a family saga that builds. That is to say, the first quarter is so involves a lot of scene-setting and character-building, and it wasn’t exactly easy to get into. I’m not sure if this is Oates’ typical storytelling, since I haven’t read anything else by her yet, but it definitely worked for this novel. As she settled into the story, the background that she created was almost second nature, as if you were a part of this family, this town.

It centers around the Mulvaneys, a large family that is both beautiful and charismatic, wealthy and generous. They live in upstate New York on their property, High Point Farm, and are well-respected in the town. That is, until Valentine’s Day in 1976, when an unfortunate event takes place that changes the family and their position in the community.

I won’t give anything away, but what happens divides the Mulvaneys. Each member is affected differently, but each of their life paths are drastically altered. Oates weaves a complex, messy, truthful family saga. I appreciated that their lives weren’t perfect, nor were they a disaster — they felt like real people. I look forward to reading some more of her novels when I get a chance.

I decided to make a casserole, only loosely based on one mentioned in the novel, described as “a Mexican chicken-shrimp-sausage casserole.” The “super-casserole” was served with a robust menu of “grilled Parmesan-dill bread, baked butternut squash sprinkled with brown sugar, a giant tossed salad with Mom’s special oil-and-vinegar dressing, homemade apple-cinnamon cobbler with vanilla ice cream.” The reason this meal stood out to me most is that it took place just before the Mulvaneys’ lives changed forever; it was a meal that took place while they were still the Mulvaneys, so to speak.

Casseroles are also indicative of homestyle, comforting family dinners. It seemed like the perfect choice for a family saga such as this. I found a recipe for something a busy parent might make on a weeknight, an easy but flavorful-sounding Shrimp and Sausage Skillet Pasta Bake and made some slight alterations to make it a casserole.

First, I brought a large pot of water to boil and added the pasta, cooking it according to package directions.

Meanwhile, I browned the sausage in a large skillet, breaking it with a spoon as it cooked. When the sausage was done, I used a slotted spoon to remove it and placed it in a bowl lined with paper towel. In the same skillet, I added the shrimp, cooking each side for about 2 minutes, until the shrimp were pink and cooked through.

When the pasta was done, I drained it, adding the vodka sauce and sausage and tossing until evenly coated. I poured it into a 9×13 casserole dish, covering the bottom.

Sausage Vodka Pasta

On top of the pasta, I placed the cooked shrimp.

Shrimp and Sausage Pasta

I covered the entire dish with a combination of parmesan, mozzarella and cheddar cheeses before placing it in the oven to finish.

Cheesy Pasta Bake

Once the cheese was melted, I removed the casserole from the oven to serve. It smelled amazing and was delicious.

Shrimp and Sausage Pasta Casserole

Shrimp and Sausage Pasta Bake

What food(s) remind you most of home?

Shrimp and Sausage Pasta Casserole

Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 pound small pasta
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1 jar your favorite store-bought vodka sauce
  • 1 pound loose sweet Italian sausage
  • 1 pound large shrimp cleaned and deveined
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese grated
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese grated
  • 1/2 cup sharp white cheddar cheese
  • fresh parsley for garnish

Directions

  1. Preheat your broiler to high.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and set aside.
  3. To a small saucepan, add the vodka sauce. Heat over low heat. Keep warm on the stove until you are ready to use.
  4. To a large oven-safe skillet, cook the sausage over medium heat until brown and cooked through. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate. Keep the stove on.
  5. To the skillet, add the shrimp. There should be enough fat left in the skillet from the sausage. If you find that there isn't enough to cook the shrimp, add a tablespoon of olive oil. Season the shrimp generously with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes or until pink and cooked through. Remove the shrimp from the pan and transfer to another plate. Turn off the heat.
  6. To a large bowl, combine the vodka sauce, pasta and sausage. Toss until evenly coated.
  7. Pour the mixture back into the skillet (or into a 9x13 baking dish). Top with shrimp and then top with parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, and cheddar cheese.
  8. Place the skillet/baking dish into the preheated oven and broil until cheese is melty, about 2 minutes. Keep a close eye as the cheese can quickly go from melted to burnt.
  9. Remove from heat and garnish with fresh parsley. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Recipe Notes

From: Cooking and Beer

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book review, recipe

Artful Eating + Sauteed Scallops with Peas

For anyone who knows about my recent journey to transform my eating and lifestyle to one that’s healthier yet still fulfilling from a food perspective (which I chronicled briefly here), you’ll understand why I was excited to get my hands on this next book: Karina Melvin’s Artful Eating.

In it, she talks about why “lasting weight loss is not about what you eat; it’s about how and why you eat.”

Artful Eating by Karina Melvin

Whether you’re trying to lose weight, or trying to be overall healthier – like myself – it’s important to focus on making a more permanent lifestyle change rather than seeking a “quick fix.” Karina’s book is full of resources to help you do just that. Each of the twelve chapters is part of a bigger picture to help you accomplish a new mindset to accomplish your goals. They also includes recipes that are smart and sensible but also satisfying.

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book review, recipe

Bird Box + Tuna and White Bean Pasta Salad

I don’t always read “happy” books, but I typically do avoid scary ones. My imagination is too active for me to be able to read them without freaking myself out. For Josh Malerman’s novel Bird Box, however, I made an exception. Why? Because a few good friends insisted it wasn’t scary-scary, but also it was so good I had to. When one of these friends let me borrow her copy, I wasted no time jumping in. It was now or never!

Bird Box Book Cover

Truthfully, Bird Box isn’t a horror novel. If anything, it’s more like a thriller/suspense dystopia. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t creepy, uncomfortable moments. In a world where something unknown is out there causing people to turn violent, creepy moments are bound to happen.

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book review, recipe

The Power of Habit + Turkey Taco Zucchini Boats

In May, the task for The Literary Feast Reading Challenge was to read a book you’ve seen someone reading in public. Now, this may be an easy task for people living in large cities, where public transportation is rampant, or even people who frequent coffee shops. I neither live in a large city nor do I visit many coffee shops, so I counted myself lucky when, in March, I finally stumbled upon my first person reading “in the wild.” Or, more accurately, she was walking in the hallway between my office and the parking garage. She is still the only person I’ve seen reading this year, and she was reading The Power of Habit.

The Power of Habit Cover

Charles Duhigg’s nonfiction book explores the science behind why we do what we do, or how we create and form habits. I’ll admit, I thought the title sounded interesting, but I was not expecting to love it as much as I did. It probably helped that at the same time, I was attempting to undergo a personal transformation – and still am – to become healthier. So, much of what Duhigg covered about how we can change bad habits and create new, good habits really resonated with what I was focused on anyway.

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book review, recipe

Crazy Rich Asians + Chicken Satay

Kevin Kwan’s novel Crazy Rich Asians has been buzzed about since its debut five years ago, and that buzz has only continued to grow now that it’s becoming a movie (out on August 15 this year). The title is pretty self-explanatory – the novel is about the wealthiest of the wealthy families in Singapore, including the Youngs. But, when Rachel Chu’s boyfriend, Nick Young, invites her to attend his best friend’s wedding back at home, she has no idea what’s in store.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwon (Book Cover)

Together in New York, they work regular jobs, go out to eat occasionally and live in an average apartment. Her first hint that Nick’s life may be different than he let on is on their extravagant first class journey to Asia. Rachel realizes it’s going to be even harder to impress his parents than she expected, once she learns he is a member of one of the wealthiest families in the country (and likely, the continent).

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book review, recipe

The Female Persuasion + Faith Frank’s Feminist Steak

I don’t remember where I first heard about Meg Wolitzer’s new novel The Female Persuasion, but I remember getting immediately excited and adding to my TBR on Goodreads. Even though I didn’t really like The Interestings, the description of this one seemed right up my alley. If I didn’t like it, I decided, Meg Wolitzer probably wasn’t for me. As luck would have it, I didn’t have to wait long to read it — I was the first one to receive it when it arrived at the library on New Book Tuesday, April 3. I rushed to pick it up.

In it, Wolitzer explores feminism from the inside-out. Greer is a shy college freshman when she attends an event where Faith Frank is speaking. A prominent figure in the women’s movement for decades, Faith captivates the room. Greer, too, is inspired and decides to approach Faith, making to a connection that will shape her ideas, her career and her future.

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book review, recipe

Life of Pi + Dhal Soup

I rarely re-read books, primarily because there are so many new ones I want to read. My TBR list never stops growing – and it’s only gotten worse since I started blogging. Lately, though, I’ve been thinking that I’d like to make it a point to re-read more of my favorites. Or, more specifically, books that I enjoyed so much I bought a copy (with the intention of reading them again or lending them out for others to read). Anyway, when the Book Challenge by Erin included a category of “books that take place on a mode of transportation,” the first book that came to mind was Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. The challenge only allows for one re-read, and this was one I owned – and remember liking, so I decided to give it another go.

For the majority of the story, 227 days worth of it to be exact, Pi survives on a lifeboat with fellow passenger Richard Parker, who happens to be a Bengal tiger. Pi and his family were traveling from India to Canada with a cargo ship full of zoo animals when it shipwrecked, stranding Pi with an unusual boatmate. Though the premise promises adventure, it took a little bit to get into – the narrator describes how he stumbled upon Pi and learned his story. Pi also goes through a bit of a spiritual exploration prior to their scheduled journey, which slows things down even while providing some humor.

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book review, recipe

Rainbirds + Japanese Curry Rice

I love being a part of the Book of the Month Club for many reasons, including that I love getting mail and I love when that mail is books. I love BOTM even more when it introduces me to a wonderful novel I haven’t heard of before. (Some of my recent favorites from BOTM have been The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and The Heart’s Invisible Furies.) Clarissa Goenawan’s debut novel Rainbirds caught my eye because of the beautiful cover, and I ultimate chose it for the description.

It takes place in a small town in Japan, where Ren Ishida goes to get his older sister’s affairs in order after her murder. They shared a special bond, taking care of each other when their parents were otherwise occupied. He struggles to make sense of her sudden death, wondering if he could’ve done anything differently. Ren seeks solace in answers and soon finds himself slipping into her life, accepting her teaching job and moving into her old rented bedroom.

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book review, recipe

The Mothers + Fish Taco Bowls

Every reader has something they look for in a book, something that makes it worth it for them. I enjoy a well-crafted plot, and I love memorable characters. I’m not usually the type of reader who gushes about writing or writing style. To me, in most cases, I’d rather not notice it. If it’s good, it’s seamless, enhancing the other elements of the book that normally stand out to me; if it’s bad, it can take away from an otherwise good story and becomes more annoying than anything else.

However, in the case of The Mothers, what did stand out to me was the writing. Brit Bennett sure has a wonderful way with words, and I ate them right up.

Her story about a contemporary black community in Southern California is narrated by the female elders at the church or “the Mothers.” When we begin, Nadia is seventeen and about to graduate high school, destined for great things. She begins dating the pastor’s older son, Luke, and the relationship progresses how you would probably expect. Determined to not let anything get in her way of her ambitions, Nadia makes a decision that will impact everyone far beyond their youth. Continue Reading