Monday, October 31, 2016

Crockpot Picadillo + bonus Picadillo Pie with Cheesy Cornbread!

I can't remember the first time I heard the word Picadillo. I'm a huge fan of Latin American food and am always checking out cookbooks and recipes to learn more, so most likely saw the term on one of my explorations.

The basic definition is a traditional Latin-American dish that contains ground meat, tomatoes, vegetables, and other regional ingredients, used as a filling, for example in tacos.

I've seen it labelled as Cuban, Spanish and Latin-American and the sheer variety of ingredients used and ways they are combined is mind-boggling. Some are very tomato-y, more like a Sloppy Joe. Some us very little tomato. Some are spicy, some are not.

The two ingredients I used to see in every recipe were pimento stuffed olives and raisins.  While most seem to still include the olives, the raisins have disappeared in many.  I like them included.  It is a really subtle flavour note, but one that makes it taste more authentic to me. With the slow cooker style of cooking it is so blended you don't even realize raisins are in it.

I perused about six recipes to get ideas and took what I liked from each in terms of proportions and ingredients.  This is a great way to create something new if you're like me and palette challenged. Oh that I could take a taste of a dish and list all the ingredients or know the one thing that needed adding. Instead I have learned what I like by trial and error.  To create something "new", I usually start with a few recipes of a similar vein. If you do this enough, you begin to know what will you like.

This recipe is super easy. You just brown the hamburger, then dump it all in the crockpot. Stir well, then let it cook,  You can serve the Picadillo with (or on) rice, wrapped up in tortillas, as a filling for stuffed peppers or tacos, tucked into a Spanish Omelet, or paired with spicy cheese in Quesadillas. Another option is to make a Picadillo pie topped with biscuits, cornbread or Polenta.

I used this last option and topped it with my favourite cornbread recipe as I couldn't find a quick mix, but there is no end to ways you can use this versatile dish.

= = =

Crockpot Picadillo

Ingredients -

2-1/2 Lbs.          Extra Lean Ground Hamburger
3                         Large Roma Tomatoes, Diced
8 oz.                   Tomato Sauce
2 T                     Tomato Paste
1                         Large Red Pepper, Diced
2 C                     Sweet Onion, Diced
3 cloves             Garlic, minced
1/3 C                  Raisins
1/2 C                  Pimento stuffed Green Olives (e.g. manzanilla), Sliced cross-wise
1 tsp                   Oregano
1 tsp                   Cumin (going to cut this back to 1/2 tsp next time - not big on Cumin)
1/4 tsp                Cinnamon
2                         Bay Leaves
1/4 C                  Water

Directions -

Brown extra lean hamburger in non-stick skillet until all pink is gone.  Drain.  Place in crockpot with the rest of the ingredients. Stir well, cook on low for 4 - 5 hours. Remove bay leaves and serve in your favourite way.

Picadillo Pie Topped with Cheesy Cornbread

1                     recipe Picadillo
1                     Corn muffin or corn bread mix or your favourite recipe.
1 C                 Grated sharp cheddar, Tex Mex or Jack
                       If you like it spicy - Jalapeno Jack or Habanero Mix

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9 x 13 baking dish (oil, spray or butter).  Place the Picadillo in the dish and spread in an even layer.  Prepare your cornbread mix (home or commercial), adding the grated cheese to the dry mix before your add the liquid ingredients. Drizzle in a thin layer over the top. Gently even with the back of a large spoon.  Place in oven and back for 30  minutes or until edges are slightly brown and cornbread is firm. Do not overcook.

Cornbread (for those without a recipe)

1 C                  Unbleached White Flour
1 C                  Yellow Cornmeal
1/2 C               Sugar
1 tsp                Baking powder
1 tsp                Salt
1                      Egg
1 C                  Milk
1/4 C               Vegetable oil

Mix all dry ingredients. If using for above recipe add your cheese here.  Mix your egg, milk and oil. Add to the dry ingredients and stir gently until well combined.  See above to use for Picadillo Pie.

If you want to make muffins or a loaf of cornbread, prepare your muffin cups or loaf pan with Pam or butter. Spoon into muffin cups or loaf pan (for muffins 10-12 depending on size). Bake until done - about 20 minutes. Should be firm and edges a slight touch of brown.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Michelangelo's Ghost: A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery by Gigi Pandian

Filled with the unexpected twists, vivid historical details, and cross-cultural connections Pandian is known for, Michelangelo’s Ghost is the most fast-paced and spellbinding Jaya Jones novel to date.

Synopsis -

A lost work of art linking India to the Italian Renaissance. A killer hiding behind a centuries-old ghost story. And a hidden treasure in Italy’s macabre sculpture garden known as the Park of Monsters… Can treasure-hunting historian Jaya Jones unmask a killer ghost?

Filled with the unexpected twists, vivid historical details, and cross-cultural connections Pandian is known for, Michelangelo’s Ghost is the most fast-paced and spellbinding Jaya Jones novel to date.

When Jaya’s old professor dies under eerie circumstances shortly after discovering manuscripts that point to a treasure in Italy’s Park of Monsters, Jaya and her brother pick up the trail. From San Francisco to the heart of Italy, Jaya is haunted by a ghost story inexorably linked to the masterpieces of a long-dead artist and the deeds of a modern-day murderer. Untrustworthy colleagues, disappearing boyfriends, and old enemies—who can Jaya trust when the ghost wails?

Review -

I like to call this an intelligent mystery.  Why?  The main character is a history professor who actively involved in research, trying to fill the voids in history and make connections to tie the past into a seamless story.  She is also multicultural - of East Indian decent but living in San Francisco.  As the plot unfolds we are given glimpses into the world of academic research as well as the food and music of India.

These side notes add that extra touch, a spicy flavour to the story (just like the food Jaya consumes). I was intrigued. Growing up, the author traveled extensively with her parents soaking up the culture, scenery and food as she went. After high school, she first pursued a life as an academic. She was in a PhD program when she decided it wasn't the life for her and walked away to attend art school and begin writing her first novel. All these experiences comes together in the Jaya Jones series.

In this third book, a disgraced former professor reaches out to Jaya for her help.  She has found the sketchbooks of an undiscovered artist who supposedly trained under Michelangelo and then moved to India where he created a fusion of styles. On returning home, his unique art work was considered an embarrassment to his family and hidden away.  The artist was relegated to a simple line in the history books. This discovery, if true, could be ground breaking.

Jaya is intrigued, but unsure. Then the professor dies in questionable circumstances. That is the spark that sends Jaya off to Italy - along with her brother and his girlfriend - to search for a hidden studio that is hinted at.  Will they find it and after all these years will there be any artwork that survived?

The plot offers murder, intrigue, suspense and questions galore. Add in romance, characters that come alive, great food and wonderful settings and you have a book sure to keep you reading until the wee hours. I am going back and reading the series from book one, something I suggest other readers consider doing. It is a stand alone book, but I love following the development of the main character from the start and there is the occasional reference to previous experiences.

Buy the Book: Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble

Meet the Author -

USA Today bestselling author Gigi Pandian is the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India. She spent her childhood being dragged around the world, and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Gigi writes the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mysteries, the Accidental Alchemist mysteries, and locked-room mystery short stories. Gigi’s debut novel, Artifact, was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant and named a “Best of 2012” debut by Suspense Magazine. Her fiction has been awarded the Lefty Award and short-listed for Macavity and Agatha Awards. Sign up for her email newsletter at

Interviews were not a part of this tour, but I found this great one from Hook of a Book from 2015. Intrigued to know more about the author?  Click HERE!

Connect with the author: Website  ~  Twitter  ~  Facebook

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Friday, October 14, 2016

The Murders At Astaire Castle (A Mac Faraday Mystery Book 5) by Lauren Carr

Never tell Mac Faraday not to do something.

Synopsis - 

Spencer's police chief, David O'Callaghan, learns this lesson the hard way when he orders Mac Faraday to stay away from the south end of Spencer's mountaintop - even though he owns the property. It doesn't take long for Mac to find out what lies on the other side of the stone wall and locked gate, on which hangs a sign warning visitors to Keep Out!

Topping the list of the 10 top haunted places in America, Astaire Castle is associated with two suicides, three mysterious disappearances, and four murders since it was built almost a century ago - and Mac Faraday owns it!

​In spite of David's warning, Mac can't resist unlocking the gate to see the castle that supposedly hasn't seen a living soul since his late mother had ordered it closed up after the double homicide and disappearance of Damian Wagner, a world-famous master of horror novels.

​What starts out as a quick tour of a dusty old castle turns into another Mac Faraday adventure when Astaire Castle becomes the scene of even more murders. Mac is going to need to put all of his investigative talents to work to sort out this case that involves the strangest characters he has run into yet - including a wolf man. No, we're not talking about Gnarly.

Review - 

I've been a big fan of Lauren Carr's mystery books right from the first book I had the privilege to review. Of her many offerings, the Mac Faraday series is probably my favourite. Each book has just the right mix of humour (often courtesy of a large, intelligent dog named Gnarly) , mystery, romance and murder that keeps me turning the pages into the wee hours.  The downside of this is I usually consume them in a only a day or two and then have to wait patiently for the next to be released.

The Murders At Astaire Castle offers a new element - a haunted castle.  While out looking for an older woman who became lost when she walked away from Spencer Inn, he discovers no one wants him to explore a wild part of his estate. It's only after asking several people that he finds out there is an abandoned, haunted castle hidden there that was the site of several murders, suicides and a strange disappearance by a teenage boy.

Not to be scared away, Mac schedules a visit and ends up locked in a tower with two others. A secret passage offers a way of escape, but also the beginning of the plot for this new story created in honour of Halloween. In the passage they discover a skeleton with an axe embedded in its head. It is Damian Wagner, a world-famous master of horror novels, who had lived there for a time and been blamed for several of the murders. So who HAD committed those grisly murders?

What follows is a wild ride that involves a wolf man, a billionaire driven to purchase the castle, a missing former maid and of course - MURDER!

Buy the book: Amazon  ~  Audible

Meet the Author - 

Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, and Thorny Rose Mysteries. The twelfth installment in the Mac Faraday Mystery series, Candidate for Murder will be released June 2016.

Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She lives with her husband, son, and four dogs (including the real Gnarly) on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV. 

Connect with LaurenWebsite  ~  Twitter  ~  Facebook

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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Italian Street Food: Recipes From Italy's Bars and Hidden Laneways by Paola Bacchia

Synopsis - 

Italy’s classic recipes are well known the world over, but few are aware of the dishes that reign on the flourishing Italian street-food scene. Hidden behind the town squares, away from the touristy restaurants, and down back streets are little-known gems offering up some of Italy’s tastiest and best-kept secret dishes that the locals prize.

ITALIAN STREET FOOD is not just another Italian cookbook; it delves into truly authentic Italian fare—the kind of secret recipes that are passed down through generations. Learn how to make authentic polpettine, arancini, stuffed cuttlefish, cannolis, and fritters, and perfect your gelato-making skills with original flavors such as lemon and basil or affogato and aperol. With beautiful stories and stunning photography throughout, ITALIAN STREET FOOD delivers an authentic, lesser known take on a much loved cuisine.

Buy the Book: Rizzoli ~ Amazon

Meet the Author - 

Paola Bacchia is one of Australia’s most popular Italian food bloggers. On her blog, Italy on My Mind, she shares family memories and their connections to food. It won awards for best food blog in 2013 and 2015 from ITALY Magazine. Paola returns to Italy every year to expand her knowledge of Italian food, its traditions, and innovations.

Connect to the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Pinterest ~ Instagram

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