BOOK CLUBBING: I Am the Messenger and Stinky Blue Cheese Poppers

Who am I?
What is my purpose?
Am I good enough?
Where is my place in the world?

These are thoughts every young person has at some point. These are the pivotal questions asked in this month’s Goon Squad Book Club book.

{If you wonder how we got our name–the very first book we read in July of 2011 was A Visit From The Goon Squad. None of us particularly liked the book–but the name just kinda stuck!  Now we meet once a month to enjoy book discussions, food drink, and companionship.}

We read, I Am the Messenger.  It is a young adult book where Ed Kennedy becomes the accidental hero after a foiled bank robbery. He has a choice, live up to the hype or fade away into non-existence. When some mysterious playing cards are delivered, that choice is taken out of his hands.  I had so many thoughts about who was behind the mysterious cards that made Ed dig deep within himself to discover his own self-worth. God?  Satan?  Ed’s father?  His friends?  Someone else entirely unexpected? I’ll let you read and find out yourself…

Each character was so perfectly flawed that you couldn’t help but falling in love.  Ed Kennedy reminded me of 21st century Lloyd Dobler, every woman who is 35+ had a major movie crush on that guy circa 1989 (yes, I looked it up)!  He was tragic and full hearted.  All he wanted was THE GIRL.  He did right by everyone else but was never able to believe he was good enough.  I fell in love with Ed just like I was 13 again.  He had his faithful companions with secrets of their own including the love able Doorman…his terribly smelly, old dog.  Ever the underdog, Ed was worth cheering for.  I loved that he rolled with the punches, figuratively and literally.

We had a small book club meeting this month–only 6 members were able to make it. However, each of us enjoyed the book very much. We would all recommend it to a friend, young adult boys especially. It is the kind of book to hook young men, especially if assigned as a school read…as one of our Goonies does. It’s a bit edgy for the classroom which is part of its teen appeal. Most agreed that this was a book you could read just for the story or you could delve deeper looking for literary symbolism. Our next adventure takes us to the 1920’s in Suzanne Ridell’s The Other Typist.

In honor of the Doorman, I found this  while looking at some recipes online.  The lovable dog in our book was loyal to the core even though he stunk to high heaven!  These Blue Cheese Poppers might have a smell that rivals the Stinky Cheese Man, but their flavor cannot be beat!  I lightened up the original recipe as a mere 3 poppers didn’t seem nearly enough bang for my WW buck, er…point plus.  At under 1 point plus per popper, I felt like I could indulge on this rich treat without all the guilt.

 

STINKY BLUE CHEESE POPPERS–FULL FAT VERSION

1 can Pillsbury biscuits (6 buttermilk biscuits)
1/2 stick butter (4T)
1-5 oz package blue cheese
  1. Melt blue cheese and butter on a cookie sheet at 350*.
  2. Quarter raw biscuits.
  3. Roll in melted blue cheese mixture until well covered.
  4. Bake according to directions or until golden brown.
8 servings at 7 WW Points Plus Per Serving (3 poppers each serving)
STINKY BLUE CHEESE POPPERS–LIGHTENED UP VERSION

1 can Pillsbury Reduced Fat Crescent Rolls
3T I can’t Believe It’s Not Butter
1-4 oz package reduced fat blue cheese crumbles
1 sprig rosemary finely chopped
  1. Melt blue cheese and margarine on a cookie sheet at 350*.
  2. Cut each raw roll into 6 pieces and roll into little balls.
  3. Roll in melted blue cheese mixture until well covered and sprinkle with rosemary.
  4. Bake according to directions or until golden brown.
8 servings at 4 WW Points Plus each serving (6 poppers per serving)

MONDAY MEMORY: 35th Birthday REDO

Monday was my husband’s birthday.  Last year, just a few days before, the house flooded.  You can read about that day HERE.  We spent his special day emptying the house of all our personal belongings.  We sang Happy Birthday over a double cheeseburger from McDonald’s.  His gift was delivered to a house that was torn into pieces.  It was his 35th birthday.  By the way…it was a fantastic HD projector with a TEN FOOT screen for watching movies in the backyard.  The screen is in my brother’s garage the and projector is still in the box.

 

So this year I wanted to do something a special as a 35th birthday REDO.  Yesterday I wrote about the meal we had at Drury Lane to celebrate our first Valentine’s Day, our first anniversary, and my birthday.  It was an eventful weekend for sure!  The dish both of us sometimes still drool over was delicious braised short ribs in a mushroom ragu.  That’s what my dear hubby wanted for his birthday.  How on earth was I supposed to recreate THAT?!?  I scoured the internet and couldn’t find a single recipe that hit all the same flavor notes.  I did find something to work with though…THAT is why I love cooking and detest baking!  I used this recipe from Bobby Flay as a base.  After reading through it, I was certain that this would be the most complex flavor profile I had yet created.  What bubbled away on the stovetop was a rich, layered dish full of bold flavors and tender short ribs.  Do not let the ingredient list or number of steps deter you.  It was not nearly as difficult as I anticipated.  The work was well worth it!!  Of course, for dessert, we enjoyed cheesecake–my husband’s all time favorite treat.  As a non-baker, I purchased the cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory.  Someday I will tackle the baker’s pantry.  Just not today!

 

BRAISED SHORT RIBS WITH MUSHROOM RAGU OVER GNOCCHI

Total Time:
4 hr 15 min
Prep:  30 min
Cook:  3 hr 45 min
Yield: 6-8 servings

A rich deeply flavored sauce over fluffy potato pasta pillows--the perfect birthday dinner comfort food for a cool rainy night

a rich, deeply-flavored braised short rib ragu full of earthy mushrooms over fluffy potato pasta pillows–the perfect birthday dinner comfort food for a cool rainy night

Ingredients
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
3 1/2 to 4 pounds short ribs, each about 2-inches long
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 package dry porcini  mushrooms
10 ounce Baby Bella mushrooms chopped
2 dried bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh rosemary chopped
5 sprigs fresh thyme chopped
2 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley chopped
4 small carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 small onions, diced
2 medium shallots, diced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 bottle red wine, such as cabernet
1/2 head garlic, cloves separated, peeled, and chopped
3 1/2 cups beef stock (I used boxed)
2 beef bouillon cubes
2 lbs gnocchi
2 tablespoons butter.
grated Pecorino Romano, for garnish
Directions
Heat oven to 325*
  1. In a medium sauce pan–reconstitute dried mushrooms in broth along with bouillon cubes until tender. 
  2. Remove mushrooms with slotted spoon and roughly chop reserving broth.
  3. Over medium heat, add oil a 5-quart casserole or Dutch oven until almost smoking.
  4. Season short ribs generously with salt and pepper and brown on both sides.
  5. Remove ribs from casserole, and transfer to a large bowl–set aside.
  6. Add carrots, celery, onion, fresh and reconstituted mushrooms, and shallots to oil in the casserole, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and golden, about 10 minutes.
  7. Add flour and tomato paste to the casserole, and stir to combine. 
  8. Add 1 cup of wine; stir with wooden spoon until all browned bits have been scraped from the pan and the bottom of the casserole is clean. 
  9. Add remainder of red wine, and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. 
  10. Add garlic, beef-mushroom stock, chopped herbs, bay leaves, browned ribs to the casserole and bring the liquid to a simmer over medium-high heat. 
  11. Cover the casserole, and place it in the oven for 3 hours or until ribs are very tender.
  12. Remove the cooked ribs from the casserole. 
  13. Set the casserole on the stove top over medium heat, and simmer to thicken sauce just slightly. 
  14. As soon as the short ribs are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones, and shred into small pieces. 
  15. Degrease the sauce and discard the bay leaved. 
  16. Return shredded meat to casserole and simmer until thickened.  
  17. Prepare the gnocchi according to package directions–being sure to add plenty of salt.
  18. After drained, add a couple pats of butter to the pan–allowing to melt completely.
  19. Add the drained gnocchi to the butter and saute until lightly golden brown.
  20. Add just a little ragu to the gnocchi to coat.
  21. Portion out and add additional ragu and cheese to the top.
  22. Serve with crusty bread.

 

 

MONDAY MEMORY: Easter Traditions

This Easter was the first holiday without my mom.  Although it was tough one, family traditions seemed to help comfort us with shared memories from Easter mornings past.

 

This year, each little sub-family had so many other things going on that we were separated on Easter Sunday itself.  Instead, on Saturday, we celebrated my nephew’s 9th birthday along with an early Easter party at the YMCA followed by a low key meal shared together afterward.  My sister is a fantastic cook who can put most people to shame.  So when she asked me to make my homemade mac and cheese, I was more than thrilled that she would want my dish to accompany her delicious concoctions!  It was a beautifully sunny day to share with family and friends…the kind of day that my mom loved.  Each year, she spent many hours gathering the perfect gifts for each grandchild’s Easter basket.  Rather then letting the tradition go, we modified it just a little.  Each godparent put together a basket for their godchild.  I had a blast choosing the perfect superhero bucket, PJs (a grandma special), candies, and a few Aunt KK originals like a new toothbrush, a jump rope, and some silly putty!  A HUGE Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup made my godson the happiest kid on the block.  I’m pretty sure that he had never even seen Silly Putty before…can you even believe that?!?!

 

Easter itself was a bit more low key.  My sisters spent the day with their little families since we were all together the day before.  I put together a simple brunch for my brothers, dad, husband, uncle, and our dear family friend at my dad’s house.  Of course, the famous party potatoes were on the menu along with a variation of my aunt’s stuffed French toast, a delicious eggs Benedict casserole, deviled eggs, fresh fruit, and Grandma O’s cream cheese coffee cake.  It is truly the PERFECT cake.  It is dense enough to enjoy as breakfast with a bold cup of coffee but light enough to add to brunch as a dessert.  It was one of my mom’s favorite treats…I must have made it a half dozen times in the weeks she was home recovering from her operations.  Now, those of you that know me, know that I am NO BAKER!  I actually despise baking.  It is too technical and leaves no room for error.  I prefer the freedom cooking offers me…a little of this and a little of that and a meal is served.  However, at the request of my mom, I made it a couple years ago.  It’s since been one of the few baked goods I have mastered.  I did make just a one tweak to it over the last few years…nothing that changes the perfect consistency of the cake, but just enough to make it my own.  I have to say, my mom loved my addition but always insisted that it needed the icing.  I never did add the icing preferring the buttery cinnamon strudel to shine on its own but feel free to add it for an extra sweet kick.  No fancy ingredients needed for this one.  I usually have pretty much everything on hand in the pantry and fridge.

 

As I sit and plan my Monday off {including a couple of surprises to help celebrate my husband’s birthday tonight} I am enjoying a slice of cream cheese coffee cake and a cup of tea enjoyed Mom’s way…with a little milk and sugar.  I am flooded with memories of past Easter mornings hunting for the SIX dozen brightly colored eggs (a dozen for each kid), ham glazed with 7-up, and of course Grandma O’s coffee cake.  Adding something so familiar made this holiday a little less bitter and an bit more sweet.

 

As for my husband’s birthday today, he asked if I could possibly recreate a meal we had our first Valentine’s Day together.  He had surprised me with a weekend full of fun activities to celebrate Valentine’s Day, my birthday, and our first anniversary.  At Drury Lane, before enjoying a super fun performance of Monty Python, I ordered braised short ribs with mushroom ragu over gnocchi.  I am making an attempt at this meal with complex flavors.  I am using this recipe from Bobby Flay as a base to build in the other flavors we both remember.  If all turns out, I’ll try to post the recipe with my additions soon.

 

Cream Cheese Coffee Cake–GRANDMA O’S ORIGINAL

350°
30-40 minutes–when toothpick comes out clean
CAKE:
1 large cream cheese–softened
1 stick margarine–softened
1¼ c sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
2 c flour
2 t baking powder
½ t baking soda
½ t salt
½ c milk
TOPPING:
½ c butter–chop while still cold
Coat with
   ½ c flour
   ½ c sugar
ICING:
1 c powdered sugar
2 T warm milk
½ t vanilla
  1. Make the topping and put back in the fridge to keep cold.
  2. Cream margarine and cream cheese.  
  3. Add sugar and beat together.  
  4. Add eggs and vanilla and beat together.  
  5. Add flour, powder, soda, salt and milk and beat together.
  6. Pour batter into a greased 9×13 pan.  
  7. Sprinkle sugared/floured butter on top of coffee cake.
  8. Bake 30 minutes in 9×13.
  9. When cool, make icing by mixing ingredients until smooth.
  10. Drizzle on coffee cake and allow to harden.  
Cream Cheese Coffee Cake–FROM KARYN’S KITCHEN

350°
30-40 minutes–when toothpick comes out clean
CAKE:
1 large cream cheese–softened
1 stick margarine–softened
1¼ c sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
2 c flour
2 t baking powder
½ t baking soda
½ t salt
½ c milk
TOPPING:
½ c butter–chop while still cold
Coat with
   ½ c flour
   ½ c sugar
   1 t cinnamon (my ONE change)
  1. Make the topping and put back in the fridge to keep cold.
  2. Cream margarine and cream cheese.
  3. Add sugar and beat together.
  4. Add eggs and vanilla and beat together.
  5. Add flour, powder, soda, salt and milk and beat together.
  6. Pour batter into a greased 9×13 pan.
  7. Sprinkle sugared/floured butter on top of coffee cake.
  8. Bake 30 minutes in 9×13.