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Read & Eat: Almostkinda Shrimp Gumbo & The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

You may recall that one time and the other time that I paired up and reviewed a recipe and a book in one sitting. Because nothing beats scarfing something down while flipping through some awesome pages. So let’s all take a break from analyzing the VMA awards and Googling what twerking is. Please.

Disclaimer: Depending on the food you’re eating, take care when turning pages. Loaning out a book with cheeto-fingerprint-corners can be awkward.

Read & Eat: Almostkinda Shrimp Gumbo & A Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz | Painting Sunny

Yes, I love my soups and my novels… Almost equally. Not sure which one edges the other out, but in this case, it was pretty much a dead heat. I’m excited to share with you Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Woa and a maybe-not-all-that-authentic-but-really-yummy Shrimp Gumbo. Let’s hit the books first.

Read & Eat: Almostkinda Shrimp Gumbo & A Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz | Painting Sunny

Yes, this is when I was dueling books at the airport with a somewhat strange pairing.
It totally worked though.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

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If you’re in the mood for a novel that is both substantial and engaging, here it is. Every family’s story is both a comedy and a tragedy, and every individual is influenced by their heritage in ways we often don’t understand. This highlights the balance in one family and the insight into what drives us from one generation to the next.

Sometimes with a determined grimness and sometimes with a smirking humor, Diaz baldly lays out historical backgrounds and cultural experiences as a foundation for characters that feel very real. It’s rare to find a book that blends modern experiences so comfortably with a sense of ancestry and deep-rooted ways. There is perseverance, fear, and destiny – Beli, Lola, and Oscar are always moving from something, towards something and through something at the same time.

With multi-perspective storytelling, it can easily feel jarred and confused; somehow this novel manages to avoid that. Yunior serves as an anchor while the books moves fluidly through several characters, stories, and time periods to create a more rounded understanding of the family as a whole. Get 1/3 of a way through the book, and you’re sunk into it – you’ll feel compelled to stay up late and finish.

If you’re into this kind of thing, might I suggest some other fav’s of mine such as House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson, and Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver.

Okaybees, let’s get to the food!

Read & Eat: Almostkinda Shrimp Gumbo & A Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz | Painting Sunny

Sources: Pinterest and Original

Yes, this took a little bit of time to make. Consider it an investment. This stuff is very customizable, delicious, filling, and even freezes awesomely. Try it asap with some brown rice (not only a healthy choice, but a little more substantial when paired with the goodness of gumbo) and some fresh-baked rolls. Wegman’s were responsible for ours, of course.

Check out the original source, and keep in mind how easily you can make it your own. I changed a few things up, myself…

  1. Instead of being a seafood gumbo, mine was simply a shrimp one. Shrimp was a more affordable choice, and one everyone in our fam will eat a little more readily.
  2. I skipped the green bell peppers – I don’t eat them.
  3. I used vegetable stock instead of water/seafood stock. I keep vegetable bullion cubes in the house at all times since they are so useful.
  4. I skipped the boiled ham, as two out of our four don’t eat meat (but do eat fish & seafood).
  5. I use one of these fresh seasoning tubes in EVERYTHING as they are amazing, instead of dried herbs, etc.
  6. Obviously, I added cayenne pepper. You know me.

I give this recipe 4 stars, as well.

Read & Eat: Almostkinda Shrimp Gumbo & A Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz | Painting Sunny

My little guy even tried some out. What a champ!

Anyone else reading Junot Diaz? Think cayenne pepper is the finishing touch to pretty much anything? Finally watching Orange Is The New Black? I’m obsessed.

PS: This is not a sponsored post. All opinions are my own, and I have not received compensation for anything written. Links to products on Amazon may be affiliate links. Keepin’ it real.


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Introducing Ginger Dijon Salmon, Our Most Favorite Fish

For a few months now, every Saturday evening the husband and I make dinner together for just us, and it is usually this salmon with a ginger Dijon sauce. That sounds like it would get old, but with something this good we just never get tired of it. “Salmon Saturdays” even rhymes, so obviously that makes it more delicious.

This is really guest post, as the salmon recipe was created by the very own hubs. Thanks babe! He was inspired by this recipe, and went on to tweak it and add ground ginger, which is what catapulted it into the realm of fav recipes.

The roasted red potatoes are also so delicious. Mental Note: remember to bring those back up another day.

Our Favorite Ginger Dijon Salmon | Painting Sunny

Can you see how delicious that glaze is?

Our Favorite Ginger Dijon Salmon | Painting Sunny

The best part is the crispy edges, as seen above. I’m not a girl who likes things “blackened” under almost any circumstance, but with this a little bit of crunch is good.

Our Favorite Ginger Dijon Salmon | Painting Sunny

(Full and concise recipe at bottom of post)

Ingredients

  • 2 – 4 salmon fillets
  • 1 tbl extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 c. light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger (a little less)
  • 2 tbs Dijon mustard

Our Favorite Ginger Dijon Salmon | Painting Sunny

This is so, so simple. To start, clean and prepare your salmon fillets then lightly coat them with extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. We use fresh ground pepper.

Our Favorite Ginger Dijon Salmon | Painting Sunny

Whisk together the Dijon mustard, brown sugar, and ginger until smooth.

We are generally only preparing two salmon fillets, and have about half of the sauce left over. I keep thinking we need to find a way to save the rest, but generally come to the conclusion it wouldn’t be as fresh and good the next week so we continue to prepare it fresh each time.

Our Favorite Ginger Dijon Salmon | Painting Sunny

Coat the salmon fillets generously with sauce, but not to the point that it is dripping off of them.

Broil on low until cooked to your liking. Mr. Sunny likes it well-done with no pink, so broils it for 14 minutes. This also makes the edges nice and crispy. To achieve the same affect with a more rare-cooked fish, I imagine you could broil it on high for less time.

We add another light layer of sauce to the top after it comes off of the broiler.

Our Favorite Ginger Dijon Salmon | Painting Sunny

Serve with your favorite sides. We often do roasted red potatoes, or baked potatoes, or mashed potatoes with a vegetable side as well. This vegetable side was from a frozen prepackaged mix, which we sometimes default to for convenience.

Anyone else have a weekly dish they never get sick of? Is it salmon? With half our family not eating meat but all of us eating fish, it is something we can agree on. Any tips on bottling up your own sauce?

Our Favorite Ginger Dijon Salmon

Ingredients

  • 2 – 4 salmon fillets
  • 1 tbl extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 c. light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger (a little less)
  • 2 tbs Dijon mustard

Clean and prepare your salmon fillets then lightly coat them with extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk together the Dijon mustard, brown sugar, and ginger until smooth. Coat the salmon fillets generously with sauce, but not to the point that it is dripping off of them. Broil on low until cooked to your liking. For well-done, broil for 14 minutes. Optional, add another light layer of sauce to the top after it comes off of the broiler. Serve with your favorite sides.

PS: This is not a sponsored post. All opinions are my own, and I have not received compensation for anything written. Keepin’ it real.


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Zucchini, Black Bean & Rice Skillet Dish

Anyone else have issues spelling zucchini? I seriously never get it right. That one little n seems so lonely, I just want to add another one… Anyway, this dish was so easy, so affordable, and so healthy – I was pretty skeptical at how it would taste. It was, in fact, delicious. The black beans are a boost are protein in the otherwise vegetarian dish.

Both the hubs and I went back for more. I won’t say it was a hit with the kids, because to be honest they just will not get on board with anything they can identify zucchini in. Kids are weird.

Zucchini, Black Bean & Rice Skillet Dish | Painting Sunny

I pinned this recipe from ReadySetEat ages ago, and immediately forgot about it. So glad to have rediscovered it this weekend!

I changed it up a little bit to suite our taste and pantry, so the recipe shown right here is not quite the same as the original one. I normally try to give the original recipe a shot first, but I try to switch out white rice for brown rice and I don’t eat bell peppers (slight allergic reaction to the green ones which makes me disdainful of all the bell pepper varieties.)

Zucchini, Black Bean & Rice Skillet Dish | Painting Sunny

Let’s raid our pantries! Concise recipe at the bottom of post.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbl canola oil
  • 3 medium zucchini’s, quartered lengthwise and then chopped.
  • 1 can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, not drained
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup instant brown rice, uncooked
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese (I used cheddar jack, just ‘cuz)

Note: The taste is really, surprisingly good… but I like things kicked up a notch, so next time I will add more seasoning. BTW, I really do think Hunt’s fire-roasted tomatoes have the best flavor, and the least weird-tomato-parts in the can.

The reviews at the original link had a bunch of suggestions for things to add or alter, and they sound delicious! This is a great recipe to experiment with.

Zucchini, Black Bean & Rice Skillet Dish | Painting Sunny

Heat your oil in a large skillet over medium heat, until it is shimmery but not smoky.

Add your zucchini and stir to coat it in oil. Cook for 4-6 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Zucchini, Black Bean & Rice Skillet Dish | Painting Sunny

When the zucchini is mostly done but not-quite-cooked-through, add the black beans, tomatoes (without draining), and the water. Stir well.

Increase the heat to high, and allow it to come to a boil.

Zucchini, Black Bean & Rice Skillet Dish | Painting Sunny

When it has come to a boil, add the rice and stir well.

Cover the pan, and remove it from the heat. Let it stand for 7-9 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed.

Sprinkle with cheese! Isn’t that always the best part?

Zucchini, Black Bean & Rice Skillet Dish | Painting Sunny

Anyone thinking of a good acronym for this dish? ZBBR does have a fun ring to it, I think. Anyone else avoiding those weird tomato parts in cans? Nothing is worse, I swear. Ideas for veggies to toss into this dish?

Zucchini, Black Bean & Rice Skillet Dish

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbl canola oil
  • 3 medium zucchini’s, quartered lengthwise and then chopped.
  • 1 can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, not drained
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup instant brown rice, uncooked
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese (I used cheddar jack, just ‘cuz)

Heat your oil in a large skillet over medium heat, until it is shimmery but not smoky. Add your zucchini and stir to coat it in oil. Cook for 4-6 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the zucchini is mostly done but not-quite-cooked-through, add the black beans, tomatoes (without draining), and the water. Stir well. Increase the heat to high, and allow it to come to a boil. When it has come to a boil, add the rice and stir well. Cover the pan, and remove it from the heat. Let it stand for 7-9 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Sprinkle with cheese!


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Life and Bloomington and Mahi Mahi

Last Saturday, Haven was in her children’s Theatre & Drama class here at IU, while Mr. Sunny had to go into work. This left the little man and myself free to have fun and explore the town for more than an hour together – a rare occasion!

Obviously, we spent our first 40 minutes perusing Target. That is classic Bloomington on a Saturday morning. Eventually, we made our way back to the IU campus and snapped some quick (iPhone) pictures of Lo in some of the campus hot-spots. That night, we broiled Mahi Mahi. If you are just here for the Mahi, scroll down!

We are going to miss you, B-Town!

Bloomington Love | Painting Sunny

Hav’s class was in the Theatre department attached to the Neal Marshall Black Cultural Center and the IU Theatre reception hall. So, we strolled around there for a bit. They have such wide-open spaces and great views!

Bloomington Love | Painting Sunny

Lo especially admired the artwork. Let’s pretend he isn’t touching it. Please don’t call security.

Bloomington Love | Painting Sunny

If you’re from IU, you know this sculpture of Hoagy Carmichael near the famous Showalter Fountain. Lo was seriously freaked out by him at first, so I had to walk around knocking on the guy’s head to show he was hollow and not a real person. The statue’s head… not our three-year-olds.

Bloomington Love | Painting Sunny

Speaking of the fountain, we explored it a bit too but it was the last cold-ish weekend before they turned on the water – so it’s not so very impressive looking.

Broiled Paprika Mahi Mahi | Painting Sunny

Alright, alright…  on to the Mahi Mahi. Didn’t it turn out pretty?Broiled Paprika Mahi Mahi | Painting SunnyThis was our first time making this fish, but it was on a great sale at our local Kroger in the fish department. The fish-man highly recommended it, so we thought we would give it a try. We started by making sure it was fully thawed, lightly coating both sides with extra-virgin olive oil, and placing it on a lined baking sheet.Broiled Paprika Mahi Mahi | Painting Sunny

This is not a full recipe post because I didn’t really use a recipe. I was just too tired and hungry angry hangry to follow one. After a brief Google, it did seem as though many of the recipes called for broiling the fish with lemon juice and paprika. Which I conveniently had on hand.

A little lemon juice and paprika were rubbed on top and voila! Amazing.

Side note: the sweet potatoes were cooked in the crock-pot, with no liquid added. I love to do it that way – amazing and convenient. Amazivenient. And, Coming Monday there will be a BIG post where I will show off a project long in the making. Exciting!

Anyone else trying out a new fish? About to say goodbye to a town they love and start a new adventure? Leave their baked potatoes in a crock-pot all day?

PS: This is not a sponsored post. All opinions are my own, and I have not received compensation for anything written. Keepin’ it real.


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Lemony Spaghetti

I almost made a Lemony Snicket reference, but it really felt like a stretch, you know? Like, “Lemony Spaghetti’s Series of Tasty Ingredients” or something. Nope, really didn’t work.

This recipe sort of worked, and sort of didn’t. I believe some people will love the tart and different flavor. Others will find it slightly strange if you’re used to red sauce, pesto, or other more common pasta sauces in the U.S. I was looking for some lighter summer pasta recipes, and found this recipe on Food Network, from Giada. This post is not sponsored in any way, BTW.

I will say, it was easy and affordable; so why not give it a shot sometime when you’re in the mood to experiment?

Lemony Spaghetti | Painting Sunny

NOTE: I halved the recipe from the original source, and omitted the basil as I sensed my children would reject it. Let’s get started!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb spaghetti noodles
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tbl unsalted butter (this is my own addition)

Of course, choose some yummy sides to go along with it!

Lemony Spaghetti | Painting Sunny

Start your pasta to boil, and cook according to instructions to achieve al dente status.

Meanwhile, whisk the oil, Parmesan, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.

After the spaghetti is finished cooking, drain the spaghetti and stir into the oil/cheese/lemony sauce.

I found that the lemon stood out a bit too much, so I stirred 1 tbl of unsalted butter into the noodles and it gave it a softer taste.

Lemony Spaghetti | Painting Sunny

Viola! That was easy, wasn’t it?

Lemony Spaghetti | Painting Sunny

Of course, having a good vegetable side is key with pasta. I grabbed some baby portobello mushrooms I had on hand, and a handful of asparagus.

Lemony Spaghetti | Painting Sunny

I heated about 2 tbls of olive oil in a pan, and tossed the asparagus and sliced mushrooms in with the oil. I then let them cook on medium heat for about 6 minutes, turning them once during cooking to get them nice and crisply cooked through.

Lemony Spaghetti | Painting Sunny

If nothing else, it sure looks pretty.

Anyone else try this? Please let me know how you respond to the taste! I couldn’t decide, I think I really just couldn’t wrap my head around it. Any other light summer pasta dishes I should try? Please share! There is only so much pesto a girl can eat! Okay, that’s not true. There is never enough pesto.

PS: This is not a sponsored post. All opinions are my own, and I have not received compensation for anything written. Keepin’ it real.

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Oh La La… Buttermilk French Toast…

Who doesn’t love french toast? No friend of mine, that’s for sure. You know we love breakfast for any meal. Did you know the plural of breakfast is breakfi? Seriously. My husband told me that when we were first dating… ah, love.

This weekend we decided to try something a little different… using buttermilk. I know, I know… could we be any more reckless and wild? That’s just how we roll, what can I say.

Oh La La... Buttermilk French Toast | Painting Sunny

Don’t they look lovely and golden brown and delicious? We ate every bite. Plus a few more pieces not shown… didn’t want to look like a bunch of gluttons.

Oh La La... Buttermilk French Toast | Painting Sunny

Let’s gather our ingredients! Almost everything is a pantry-staple, here, except buttermilk and possibly the bread. Unless those things are already in your pantry, in which case I’m impressed with the diversity of your groceries.

(Full recipe, bottom of post)

Ingredients:

  • 5 eggs
  • Half a loaf of bread, of a type you enjoy french-style
  • 8 oz of low-fat buttermilk
  • spray oil
  • 2 tsp white sugar
  • dash of cinnamon
  • dash of nutmeg

Note: I wanted to use Challah bread which I love for french toast, however my local Kroger just wasn’t on my side that day, so the best thing I could find in my price range was this sliced french bread for $1.99 a loaf. We used the other half of the loaf for toast – yum. Sourdough is incredible as french toast too, but I was afraid combined with the buttermilk the tangy taste might be a bit too much.

Also, the 16 oz bottle of buttermilk was only 99 cents! I only used half, so it was pretty much a bargain.

Oh La La... Buttermilk French Toast | Painting Sunny

Gently beat the eggs in a medium bowl with the buttermilk, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Heat your griddle, and spray with oil. Temperature depends on your griddle or skillet – for the griddle, I set it at 350 degrees.

Oh La La... Buttermilk French Toast | Painting Sunny

See how nice and smooth the egg mixture is, above?

Soak each piece of bread in the egg mixture until it is soft but not yet falling apart.

Oh La La... Buttermilk French Toast | Painting Sunny

Cook each side of the french toast until golden brown and firm, but not too dry.

Oh La La... Buttermilk French Toast | Painting Sunny

Personally, we serve ours with 100% Maple Syrup (as mentioned before, I am a shameless syrup snob) and fresh fruit. The buttermilk definitely gave it a different flavor and it was delicious! The new tangier flavor played so well off the sweetness of syrup.

By the thoughtful look on Lo’s face, I’d say he was testing his palette to identify the subtle flavors.

Oh La La... Buttermilk French Toast | Painting Sunny

Or, he is just a crazy kid.

Oh La La... Buttermilk French Toast | Painting Sunny

So, there you have it – the easiest recipe ever. Delicious, kid-friendly, and probably under $3 to make a whole big mess of a meal.

Anyone else shaking things up with a new 99 cent ingredient? Letting your grocery store sales dictate your meal planning? Trying to get a picture of a squirmy three-year old acting like a french-toast-monster?

Buttermilk French Toast

Ingredients:

  • 5 eggs
  • Half a loaf of bread, of a type you enjoy french-style
  • 8 oz of low-fat buttermilk
  • spray oil
  • 2 tsp white sugar
  • dash of cinnamon
  • dash of nutmeg

Gently beat the eggs in a medium bowl with the buttermilk, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Heat your griddle, and spray with oil. Temperature depends on your griddle or skillet – for the griddle, I set it at 350 degrees. Soak each piece of bread in the egg mixture until it is soft but not yet falling apart. Cook each side of the french toast until golden brown and firm, but not too dry. Serve with toppings such as 100% Maple Syrup and fresh fruit.

PS: This is not a sponsored post. All opinions are my own, and I have not received compensation for anything written. Keepin’ it real.


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Southerwestern Salmon Salad

I don’t really know if salmon is a common component of Southwestern Cuisine. Oh well. This tastes good.

This is another “practically not a recipe” recipe, since it is basically taking things you really like and mixing them together in a nice way. I have to share, though – it was delicious.

Southwestern Salmon Salad | Painting Sunny

It is both warm and cold, and quite filling. FYI: that bowl above is not a normal sized bowl. It is, in fact, mixing bowl sized. Please don’t judge me.

Southwestern Salmon Salad | Painting Sunny

Gather your ingredients:

  • Romaine lettuce hearts
  • Ripe tomatos
  • Pinto beans  (as seen in the plastic leftovers container above… it was from tacos)
  • No-salt-added whole kernel corn (again, in a plastic container)
  • Salsa
  • Ranch dressing (I like the Greek yogurt version from Bolthouse Farms, in the produce section)
  • Pink salmon, from package or can
  • Hot sauce, optional

… and whatever else you like on salads of this sort. Obviously.

Southwestern Salmon Salad | Painting Sunny

Chop up your veggies.

Warm up your pinto beans and corn. I use the microwave.

Southwestern Salmon Salad | Painting Sunny

… and toss all your ingredients together in a way that looks aesthetically appealing.

Eat. There you go.. wasn’t that delicious, and healthy too?

I am amazed I did not add feta cheese or artichokes to this. Those are like sacred foods in my life, to be eaten at every meal. Maybe next time…

Anyone else found any good uses for those packets of ready-t0-eat salmon? Recipes where the titles are alliterations?

PS: This is not a sponsored post. All opinions are my own, and I have not received compensation for anything written. Keepin’ it real.