Book Review: two young adult books by Avi

So after my first experience with a book on tape, I decided to try out a couple more. The first book was a bit odd, and probably not the best choice for a book on tape. Since I do mostly local travel, I decided to listen to a couple books by Avi, who writes for young adults. I remember reading his books when I was in grade school, and enjoyed them, so thought I’d give them another whirl. Both books were easy to listen to (only about 4 hours each), so perfect for my local drives.

About the Author: Avi began his career in writing as a playwright, but I know him best for his young adult books. However, when I was checking out Avi’s website, I discovered the Avi also has written all sorts of works, including picture books and short stories.

Don’t You Know There’s a War On? : This book tells the story of a boy who has a crush on his teacher, who is fired. As the boy, Howie, follows and tries to help his teacher, you get glipmses of what it is like living in NYC during WWII – war bonds & stamps, rations, air raids, etc.

My favorite part of the book, however, was not the story but the language. Howie, both the main character and narrator, speaks in slang for most of the book. This completely took me into the book!

Poppy: Poppy is a young mouse that first gets in trouble for going into the forest without the great horned owl’s permission. When her family asks the owl permission to move to New House, they are denied because of her actions. Poppy then goes off on her own to seek out the real reason for the owl’s refusal, encountering many adventures along the way.

I did not enjoy Poppy as much as Don’t You Know There’s a War On? Perhaps it can be blamed on the narrator of the story (since I was listening to it), but I felt like the story was told incredibly dramatically, considering it was a mouse. I’m not sure what I was expecting out of this book, but as I was listening to it, I felt like it should be a picture book, like the Peter Rabbit stories, and not a young adult book, as I thought it was.

Corn Fritters

Corn Fritters 4

This was my husband’s one request for his birthday party (I know, a bit weird, right?). However, it ended up being easy to make (I made them during the day, and heated them up in the oven when everyone arrived) and served them with chili. They weren’t as fluffy as the photos in the magazine, but almost all were gone, so I guess they were a hit!

Corn Fritters

Source: Fine Cooking No. 100

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 c. stone-ground yellow cornmeal
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. table salt; more for sprinkling
  • 1/2 c. whole milk
  • 1/4 c. sour cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 c. fresh corn kernels, coarsely chopped (from about 1 large or 2 small ears of corn) — I used canned corn, drained
  • 1 to 1-1/2 cups vegetable oil

Combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. In another smaller bowl, whisk the milk, sour cream, and eggs.

Add the egg mixture to the flour and cornmeal mixture, stirring with a rubber spatula until combined. Stir in corn.

Corn Fritters 1

Let the mixture sit for 10-15 minutes, while you heat oil in a skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium heat… Oil should be about 1/2 an inch deep.  (If you need to keep the fritters warm, preheat oven to 200°F.)

When oil is hot (it should sizzle when you drop a bit of batter in the oil), use a tablespoon (or mini-ice cream scoop) to drop balls of batter in the oil. Be sure not to overcrowd the pan – Fine Cooking recommends 3-4 fritters at a time, I cooked 5-6 at a time. Stove should be set to medium-low heat so the fritters cook gently. When browned on the bottom (1-2 minutes), flip the fritter over (using a slotted spoon) and cook another 1-2 minutes, again until golden brown.

Corn Fritters 3

Transfer fritters to a wire rack, set over a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and allow to keep warm in the oven while cooking others (I didn’t keep them warm while cooking the others, but heated them up later

Transfer the fritters to a wire rack set over a baking sheet, sprinkle generously with salt, and keep warm in the oven. Continue to cook the remaining batter in small batches, adding more oil as needed to maintain the 1/2-inch depth.

Corn Fritters 4

Bailey’s Icing (for Chocolate Cupcakes)

This idea came from Annie’s Guinness and Bailey’s Irish Cream Cupcakes. However, since we had some little kids over, I needed to make sure there were some cupcakes for them. Sooo… boxed chocolate cupcakes with vanilla icing on some, and Bailey’s Icing on others.

This recipe is supposed to be enough for 24 cupcakes… I made 2/3 of the recipe and had lots left over, so I’d recommend downsizing the icing, even for 24 cupcakes.

Baileys 2-1

Bailey’s Icing

Source: Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes (p. 214)

Baileys 1-1 Ingredients:

3 sticks unsalted butter
1 lb. (4 c.) confectioners’ sugar
3 Tbs. Bailey’s Irish Cream liquer
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

    With an electric mixer, beat butter at medium-high speed until smooth.

    Reduce speed and add confectioners’ sugar one cup at a time. Beat well after each addition, increasing the speed as you go. You’ll beat for about 5 minutes total.

    Add Baileys and vanilla until smooth.

    Keeps for up to 5 days in an airtight container in the fridge (bring to room temperature and beat on low speed until smooth before serving).

     

    Braised Beef Braciole

    This was a surprise for the hubby, a romantic dinner for two after a long week. Even used the good China!

    Bracoile 3-1

    A bracoile is an Italian dish — essentially flank steak rolled up and pan-seared with a tomato sauce. Bracoile can be served over pasta, with a good piece of bread as a sandwich, or even as an appetizer if sliced thin. My bracoile was served as a main dish.

    Before you start this, make sure that your dutch oven is ready to go (mine was rusty and I had to re-season it before using… my fault, I’m a slacker and had been procrastinating on that).  Secondly, be aware, that you probably want at least 2 hours to make this — you have the prep work (minimal), searing the meat, browning the onions, and then cooking for 1 1/2 hours.

    Braised Beef Bracoile Stuffed with Basil and Fresh Mozzarella

    Source: Fine Cooking, Big Buy 2009 (p. 34)

    Ingredients:

    • 1 2-lb flank steak
    • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 3/4 c. shredded Parmesan cheese
    • 1 c. shredded low-moisture mozzarella cheese
    • 1/3 c. bread crumbs (I used Italian breadcrumbs)
    • 12 large basil leaves, torn into pieces (I used pre-chopped basil I had frozen in water from my summer garden)
    • 1/4 c. olive oil
    • 1/2 c. red wine
    • 1 – 28 oz. can (3 cups) whole tomatoes and their juices, pureed (see note below)
    • 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
    • 8 oz. white mushrooms, quartered
    • 1 onion, sliced in slivers
    • Orzo (optional, see note below and step #6)

    Note: I forgot to puree the whole tomatoes, so I just broke them up in the pan after cooking for a little while minutes. Next time, I’ll probably just use crushed tomatoes.

    Directions:

    1. On a large cutting board, slice the steak lengthwise along one side. It’ll look like you are opening up a book. Season all sides with salt and pepper.

    2. In a small bowl, combine Parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, bread crumbs, and basil. You may want to use a mini-food processor to combine mixture. Place stuffing inside beef and roll it up, lengthwise, jelly-roll style, with the mixture inside. Secure roll with cooking twine or toothpicks.

    3. Heat half the oil in the dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add rolled steak, searing on all sides. Transfer to plate.

    4. Add rest of the olive oil and onions. Season with a bit of salt. Cook until slightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add red pepper flakes and red wine, cooking until wine reduces (about 2 minutes). Add pureed tomatoes and red pepper flakes; bring to a boil.

    5. Nestle steak in the pan, among the sauce. Add mushrooms. Reduce heat and cover, cooking until meat is tender and can be easily cut with a pearing knife, about and hour and a half. Stir and rotate meat occasionally.

    Bracoile 1-1

    6. Since I forgot to puree the tomatoes, my sauce was much more liquidy than the thick tomato sauce that was supposed to go with this recipe. In the last few minutes of cooking, I added orzo pasta to the sauce as my accompaniment.

    7. Let rest 10-15 minutes before serving.

    Bracoile 2-1