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easy prep

book review, recipe

Good Morning, Midnight + Kale Sausage Soup with Tomatoes and Chickpeas

Good Morning, Midnight is a low-key post-apocalyptic novel. Augie is an aging but brilliant astronomer who ends up stranded in the Arctic, choosing to stay when everyone else flees because of “war rumors.” He never hears from them again. In space, Sully is the communications specialist aboard the Aether, which is heading back from a mission to Jupiter. As they get closer to home, it becomes worrisome that they’re unable to re-establish communication with Earth.

Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

I didn’t love this book as much as I expected to, but it certainly had gorgeous elements. Lily Brooks-Dalton’s writing was vivid and imaginative. I could picture Sully’s living quarters and appreciated the description of life in space. I could feel the cold as Augie explored the frozen world around him.

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book review, recipe

A Place for Us + Mango Lassi

Fatima Farheen Mirza’s novel A Place for Us put me at a loss for words (a tough position when I need to write a review…). It was beautifully written, the story woven together so expertly. It’s hard to believe this is a debut.

A Place for Us Novel

The story of an Indian-American Muslim family opens at the California wedding of Hadia, the eldest daughter. She and the rest of the family anxiously await the arrival of her younger brother Amar, who they haven’t spoken to in years. From there, we are pulled into the family ourselves, where the dynamics are complicated. The siblings struggle with their loyalty to their parents’ way of life and carving out their own place in society, while still seeking to please them. The parents try to raise their children wisely, but sometimes doing what they think is best leads to unexpected outcomes.

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book review, recipe

The Late Bloomers’ Club + Burnt Sugar Cake (and Corn Tomato Salad)

If you’re anything like me, you’re looking forward to fall. It’s the season of cool nights, hot cups of tea, fresh baked goods and cuddling up under a blanket with a good book. Reading Louise Miller’s The Late Bloomers’ Club was so cozy and comforting, it felt like I stumbled into Stars Hollow, a fall festival just around the corner. I’m absolutely jones-ing for fall.

The Late Bloomers' Club by Louise Miller

Nora owns the Miss Guthrie Diner, which was opened by her parents and is now an institution in the small Vermont town of Guthrie. She is well-respected in the town but mostly keeps to herself in the wake of her divorce from her high school sweetheart. When the beloved local cake lady, Peggy, unexpectedly dies and leaves her estate to Nora, no one is more surprised than her. Nora learns that Peggy was considering selling her land to a large corporation, potentially changing the town of Guthrie forever, and she must take on the burden of making the decision herself.

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book review, recipe

The Cast + Summer Picnic Food

Amy Blumenfeld’s The Cast centers around a group of friends — Becca, Jordana, Seth, Holly and Lex — who are bonded and forever touched by Becca’s battle with cancer as a teenager. Though as adults they’re not the tight-knit group they once were, this intense bond brings them back together when life happens. Jordana organizes a 4th of July weekend getaway to celebrate Becca’s 25th year cancer-free, and that’s where we begin.

The Cast by Amy Blumenfeld

Life never goes as planned, and their get-together embodies that perfectly. Everyone is hiding something but trying to keep a brave face for the others. When that all breaks down, their friendship shines the brightest and it’s obvious why it has endured so long. It was an easy book to get through, but it wasn’t “light.”

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book review, recipe

Goodbye, Paris + Treacle Tart

Anstey Harris’ novel Goodbye, Paris is being marketed as “Jojo Moyes meets Eleanor Oliphant,” which is definitely what drew me to the book. I don’t necessarily agree with that assessment, but first, let me tell you about the story.

Grace was once a promising cellist, but after a #MeToo encounter in college, she has been unable to play for anyone but an empty room. Now, she runs a successful shop in England repairing and building stringed instruments, living more or less in her bubble and dreaming of a future with her long-time boyfriend. David is a married family man who lives in France. Their long-distance affair would almost be an idyllic relationship, were it not for the fact that it was an affair. When David becomes a hero one day by saving the life of a woman at a Paris Metro station, the delicate balance of his and Grace’s relationship is tipped.

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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

Fierce Kingdom + Cheese Crackers

I was unexpectedly captivated by Gin Phillips’ novel Fierce Kingdom, which I read as part of the Book Challenge by Erin earlier this month. Joan and her four-year-old son are ending an otherwise ordinary day at the zoo, when suddenly, just before they reach the exit, something goes very wrong. Joan hurries to hide with her son Lincoln, and for the rest of the novel – a period of just four hours – she must keep them out of danger.   

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

For the most part, the novel follows Joan, but on occasion it dips into other points-of-view, including that of the mass shooter who is terrorizing the zoo’s guests and animals without remorse. As you can guess, Phillips weaves a harrowing tale. Unfortunately, it’s one that is all too realistic today. I was deeply invested in the well-being of Joan and her son, and though there were times I felt as though I could’ve used a mental break, I didn’t want to stop reading until it was over.

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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

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 Optimistic Decade + Honey-Lemon Popsicles

I was drawn to my latest read both by the striking cover art and the following description:

You say you want a revolution? This energetic and entertaining novel about a utopian summer camp and its charismatic leader asks smart questions about good intentions gone terribly wrong.

Framed by the oil shale bust and the real estate boom, by protests against Reagan and against the Gulf War, The Optimistic Decade takes us into the lives of five unforgettable characters, and is a sweeping novel about idealism, love, class, and a piece of land that changes everyone who lives on it…

Heather Abel’s novel is a brilliant exploration of the bloom and fade of idealism and how it forever changes one’s life. Or so we think.

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