Monday, 31 August 2009

Apple Fritter Pancakes

Note: This blog post was updated and revamped March 6, 2013.
Original post was on Aug 31, 2009
 

Everyone knows that I'm Canadian, eh?  Because of this fact I not only have a compulsion to say 'eh' and add an extra 'u' here and there but I also have a mild maple syrup addiction. 

Maple syrup is Awesome in liquid form.  One of the things that makes spring real to me and gets me rather giddy is seeing those little metal buckets hanging off the local trees.  That means that the maple sap is bein' tapped and that fresh maple syrup is on it's way to my table! 

In the Bookworm Household we think that one of the BEST foods to eat with maple syrup are apple fritters.  A slice of apple dipped in pancake batter then deep fried?!?!  Heaven!  But due to the fact that Brad and I agree that we cannot trust ourselves to buy a deep fryer (we'd try deep frying everything under the sun just for kicks) we cannot opt for making traditional apple fritters at home without signing up for joint by-pass surguries. 

In order to omit the hospital stay I came up with this recipe.  This recipe is a very close second in terms of 'The Apple Fritter Factor'.  You still have homemade pancake batter hugging a delicious slice of apple that you can drizzle with maple syrup to your heart's delight!

I just made these for supper tonight (breakfast for supper gets me extra "Cool Mom Points") so I thought that I'd vamp up my original post of this recipe which I wrote back in 2009 with some pictures and some witty dialogue.  Enjoy!

Apple Fritter Pancakes
Yield: approximately 10 pancakes

1 egg
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 to 1 1/4 cup buttermilk (** see note below)
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp white or brown sugar
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 large, tart apples (ie. MacIntosh)
 
Buttermilk Note: I never keep buttermilk in my fridge. Instead I add 1 tbsp of white vinegar to one cup of 1% milk. Let it sit for 5 minutes until it becomes thick. 
 
In a small bowl, combine egg, vegetable oil and buttermilk; mix well. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg; mix well.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until just combined. DO NOT OVERMIX. Add 1-2 tbsp of milk (regular milk will do) to the batter if it is not thin enough.

Peel and core apples (I use the Pampered Chef apple corer). Cut the apples into 5 or 6 rings. Set aside

Spray a large skillet or griddle with non-stick cooking spray. Heat skillet over medium heat. Pout 2 or 3 apples slices in the skillet, making sure they're not close to touching each other.  Pour approximately 1/4 cup of the batter over the rings. See picture below ...


Note: For those of you with eagle eyes, I'd just like to state that yes, I do label my spice bottles that already have a label.  There's three reasons why I do this.  First, I like to be able to see the names of my spices when they're on my stepped spice rack.  Secondly, I'm Type A and lastly, I'm totally and unashamedly addicted to my label maker. :)

Cook pancakes until bubbles form and edges are dry.  Carefully flip each pancake and cook other side for a couple of minutes.

Serve immediately with maple syrup.

Roasting in Hell's Kitchen: Temper Tantrums, F-words and the Pursuit of Perfection


Title: "Roasting in Hell's Kitchen: Temper Tantrums, F-words and the Pursuit of Perfection"

Author: Gordon Ramsay

Type: Autobiography

Book Type: Hardcover

# of pages: 288 pages


Synopsis: One of the world's most famous—and infamous—chefs tells the inside story of his life: his difficult childhood, his father's alcoholism and violence, his brother's heroin addiction, his short soccer career, and his amazing achievements in his pursuit of gastronomic perfection. All of these things have helped him to become the culinary talent and media powerhouse that he is today.

My thoughts:
This was a good read. For those people who watch Ramsay on "Hell's Kitchen" they only know of the very blunt, arrogant man with the mouth like an angry sailor. But this book sheds light on the reasons behind his hard exterior -- from his hellish childhood, to working his butt off in European kitchens (starting as a dishwasher) to become one of the most respected chefs today (even without any formal training). You can understand why he gets angry when he sees people not taking his advice or the great opportunity that his show gives young chefs (although I probably wouldn't refer to a young chef as a 'F-ing Cow!" in order to motivate them lol).

The books also focuses a bit on Ramsay as a family man (he's the father of 5 young children). Even if you're not a fan of his f-bombs on screen I think that after reading about where he's come from it may change quite a few views of this infamous chef.

My Rating: 3.5/5 (aka good read)

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Mocha Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins


These are a favourite in our house. The combination of mocha, chocolate and banana smells and tastes amazing! These moist muffins freeze very well.


1/2 cup butter or margarine

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 1/4 cups white sugar

1 egg

3 ripe bananas, mashed

1 tsp vanilla

2 tbsp instant coffee

1 tbsp water

2 1/4 cups white flour

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 cup chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350F. In a food processor, blend margarine, sugar, egg, bananas and vanilla. Mix instant coffee with water in a small bowl. Add to banana mixture and mix well., coffee and vanilla for 2 minutes. Add the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Stir until just blended. Add chocolate chips and mix. Spoon mixture into 15 – 18 muffin cups.

Bake for 25 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

Mandarin Orange Breakfast Bites

These are wonderful mini-muffins that all 3 of my kids gobble down. They remind me of the sour cream donuts at Tim Horton's. Great for packing into kids' lunches.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup cold butter or margarine
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (11 ounce) can mandarin oranges, drained and diced

TOPPING:
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted


In a large bowl, combine the first five ingredients. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. In another bowl, whisk the egg, milk and vanilla extract. Stir into crumb mixture just until moistened. Fold in oranges. Fill greased or paper-lined miniature muffin cups two-thirds full. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks. Combine sugar and cinnamon. Dip tops of warm muffins in melted butter, then in cinnamon-sugar.

Originally from: Allrecipes.com

Friday, 28 August 2009

I'll Scream Later


Title: "I'll Scream Later"
Author: Marlee Matlin
Type: Autobiography
Pages: 323

Synopsis: This is the autobiography of Deaf actress Marlee Matlin.


My thoughts: I knew quite a bit about her life before reading this book but it did enlighten me to more of her life before she became famous in "Children of a Lesser God". I did enjoy learning how she dealt with some of the backlash from the Deaf community since I had heard about that happening over the years as well as her reasoning behind some of her decisions.
While I did find this book interesting I found the writing too simple for my tastes. It felt like I was reading a diary or the writings of a teenage girl. It was full of her rhyming off what famous people she's met and what she had done in her career -- that being said it didn't come off as a brag-fest (a la Oprah) but after awhile it became a bit monotonous. I had to push myself to finish the last half of the book unfortunately.


My Rating: 2.5/5 (aka OK read but glad I didn't buy it)

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Overnight Apple Cinnamon French Toast

This is a very easy brunch recipe for large groups since it makes a lot and you can put it together the night before. It’s a delicious bread casserole filled with sweet apple pie filling. Try it with different pie fillings.

¾ cup Butter, melted
1 cup Brown sugar
1 tsp Cinnamon
½ cup Chopped pecans (optional)
2 (21 oz) cans Apple pie filling
12 slices White bread
6 Eggs
1 cup Milk
1 tsp Vanilla

Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan. In a small bowl, stir together the melted butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and pecans (if using).

Spread mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Spread 1 can of apple pie filling on top of the brown sugar mixture. Layer 6 bread slices on top of the pie filling (you might have to squish them together to fit them in). Press slices down.

Spread last can of apple pie filling over bread slices in dish. Put remaining 6 bread slices on top of the apple pie filling, pressing down as you go.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with the milk and vanilla. Slowly pour this mixture over the bread, making sure that it is completely absorbed and covering the bread. Cover the pan with foil (see tip below) and refrigerate overnight.

TIP: To reduce the chance of the casserole sticking to the foil, grease the foil before putting it on the casserole.

In the morning …
Preheat oven to 350F. Place covered pan into the oven and bake for 75 -90 minutes. The casserole will be done when it’s not very wet looking. Remove foil and return casserole to oven and broil for a few minutes until the top begins to brown.Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes, then cut into squares. Serve hot.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Balsamic Roasted Potatoes and Green Beans

I adore balsamic vinegar and potatoes so when I found this recipe I was on Cloud 9! This recipe is originally from the "Crazy Plates" cookbook by Greta and Janet Podleski (named "This Spud's For You!"). If you don't own their cookbooks ... you should! They have wonderful recipes, great humour, they're Canadian (eh!) and have a way of making low-fat dishes taste good! You couldn't ask for more!!

1 ½ lbs Small, red potatoes – unpeeled and quartered
2 Medium onions, peeled and quartered
1 tbsp Olive oil
1 cup Fresh green beans, stems removed
2 tbsp Balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Dried thyme
½ tsp Salt
¼ tsp Black pepper

Preheat oven to 400F. Spray a medium roasting pan with non-stick spray. Add potatoes, onions and olive oil. Mix well. Cover with foil and roast for 30 minutes.
Add beans, balsamic vinegar, thyme, salt and pepper to potatoes in pan. Stir until vegetables are coated with vinegar and seasonings. Roast, uncovered, for 25 more minutes, until potatoes are tender and crisp around edges.

Tip: Is using mini red potatoes, cut them in half instead of quarters.

Romantic Fiction


Title: "Romantic Fiction"

Author: Melanie La'Brooy (Australian)

Type: Paperback

Pages: 336
Where'd I get the book?: I own it


Synopsis: Who wrote the book of love...and what the hell were they thinking??? When nothing else seems to be going right in life, people should always have their friends to lean on.
Lucy-hopelessly romantic, and hopelessly confused

Meg-a career girl with cat claws

Chloe-cute, caring, and an utter doormat

Tom-loves Lucy...but loves being single, too

Percy-too polite and proper for his own good
Together, they find themselves dealing with the rigors of modern life, such as psychotic potential roommates, lethally hideous window treatments, pet hams, mistaken identities, prehistoric plastic bath toys, boyfriends-turned-friends-turned-boyfriends, and the eternal question: Is true love fact, fiction, or something in between?

My Thoughts: Loved this book. Wonderful dry humour with awesome come-backs that had me laughing out loud. It felt very much like a written "Friends" episode. I plan to look for this author's other books.
My Rating: 4/5 (aka awesome read!)

Monday, 24 August 2009

Chocolate Molten Lava Cakes



On the request of my son "Cub" I began my search for a chocolate lava cake. I found this one on grouprecipes.com that used semi-sweet chocolate (which I had in abundance in my pantry). This was .... amazing! It tastes like thick hot chocolate (not too rich) and it looked so good too! I was quite impressed with myself. So much so that I had my husband Brad take a picture of it before we could eat it.


To prepare pan -- white sugar
4 squares of semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup butter (no substitutes)
1 cup icing sugar
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
6 tbsp flour

Garnishes:

2 large strawberries cut in half lenthwise

icing sugar

chocolate sundae topping



Directions

Preheat the over to 425F.


Butter the sides of 4 (3" diameter) custard or souffle dishes and place onto a baking sheet (to make it easier to get the dishes in and out of the oven).


On a piece of parchment paper outline the bottom of the four dishes. Cut out the circles - making the circles a little smaller than the traced circle so that they fit into the dishes. Butter each circle and place each circle into each dish with the buttered side up. Sprinkle a bit of white sugar into each custard cup and swirl it around (this will stop the paper from sticking to the cakes).


Microwave the chocolate and butter in a large bowl on high for 1 minute or until the butter is melted. Stir with wire whisk until chocolate is completely melted. Stir in sugar until well blended. Whisk egg and egg yolks. Stir into chocolate mixture. Stir in flour.

Divide batter between the prepared cups.

Bake for 13 to 14 minutes or until the sides are firm but centers are soft. DO NOT OVERBAKE OR YOU WON'T HAVE ANY 'LAVA'. Let stand for 1 minute.

Carefully run a small knife around the cakes to loosen. Zig zag chocolate sauce over bottom of plate. Invert the cakes onto a dish. Top with half of a strawberry and sprinkle with icing sugar. Serve immediately.


Tips: Don't let the cakes sit for too long because the lava will start to harden and you'll just get ... cake.


Linked to:



Ultimate Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

I came across this recipe back in the spring of 2000. It was in one of my favourite recipe magazines "Quick Cooking" by Taste of Home. A great magazine if anyone is looking for something that gives them great 'tried and true' recipes from regular cooks.

This recipe makes the BEST grilled cheese you'll ever eat. With three kinds of cheese it's really decadent and rich. It's great with tomato soup.

3 oz cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
1/2 -1 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp seasoning salt
10 slices of italian bread (1/2" thick)
2 tbsp butter or margarine, softened

In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and mayonnaise until smooth. Stir in grated cheeses, garlic powder and seasoning salt. Butter one side of each slice of bread. Spread mixture over 5 slices of bread (approximately 1/3 cup each). Don't over stuff the sandwiches because the sandwiches will be too rich and runny. Top with remaining bread slices. Cook sandwiches in a large skillet over medium heat until golden brown on both sides.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Nefertiti


Title: "Nefertiti"

Author: Michelle Moran

Book Type: Historical Fiction

Type: Paperback

Pages: 496



Synopsis: In this wonderful historical fiction, Mutnodjmet, the younger sister of Nefertiti, tells the fictional story of her sister's life. The story starts out with Prince Amunhotep killing his brother in order to get the thrown. The 17 year old Pharoah then takes 15 year old Nefertiti as his second wife. The first wife, Kiya, does not have royal blood like Nefertiti but is still able to keep her place as 1st wife because she continues to give the Pharoah sons (unlike Nefertiti who can only give him daughters). Amunhotep and Nefertiti cause friction in Egypt -- they begin to pray to another main god and take away the power and money from the formerly powerful priests. They also begin building huge monuments and temples to their god with their own likenesses on them instead of spending the money to protect Egypt's borders which ultimately causes their downfall.

My thoughts: This was an amazing novel and totally engrossing page turner. I loved how Moran's writing sucks you into the story and makes the ancient world come alive. She describes the 14th century BC so well that you can 'see' it. I'm a fan of historical fiction but had never read any dealing with this era of time. Fascinating story. Lots of court scandal, forbidden love and sisters trying to find their ways in the world.

My Rating: 4/5 (aka great read!)

Bermuda Spinach Salad

This is a wonderfully fresh salad that I like to make in the summer. I originally found it on allrecipes.com (one of my go-to sites when I need a quick 'tried and true' recipe).

6 Eggs
1/2lb Bacon
½ Onion, chopped
2/3 cup Sugar
1 tsp Salt
1 cup Vegetable oil
1/3 cup Cider vinegar
½ tsp Black pepper
1 tsp Celery seed
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Large bag of fresh spinach, rinsed and chopped
1/2 cups Croutons
1 ½ cups Fresh mushrooms, sliced

Place eggs in a saucepan and cover completely with cold water. Bring water to a boil. Cover, remove from heat, and let eggs stand in hot water for 10-12 minutes. Remove from hot water and cool. Once cool, peel and chop finely.

Place bacon in a skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until evenly brown. Drain, crumble and set aside.

Prepare dressing in a blender by combining: the onion, sugar, salt, oil, vinegar, pepper, celery seed and mustard. Blend until smooth.

In a large salad bowl, combine eggs, bacon, spinach, croutons and mushrooms. Toss to mix. Just before serving the salad, pour enough dressing to lightly coat. If you put the dressing on too soon the spinach will wilt. Toss and serve.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Cheesy Cauliflower

For most kids getting them to eat cauliflower can be a chore. Pour this gooey, cheesy sauce over cauliflower (or broccoli) and watch them ask for seconds.

1/2 tsp salt
1 large head cauliflower, cut into pieces
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
Garnish minced fresh parsley


In a large saucepan filled with 1 inch of water, place a vegetable steamer. Add cauliflower pieces to steamer. Bring water to boil. Reduce heat; cover and cook for 5-15 minutes or until cauliflower is crisp-tender.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt butter; stir in flour and thyme until blended. Cook for 1 minute. Gradually add milk; stirring constantly. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Reduce heat; add cheese, stirring until melted.
Remove cauliflower from steamer; place on a serving platter. Top with cheese sauce; sprinkle with parsley.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Heart of the World


Title: "Heart of the World"

Author: Linda Barnes

Series Info: 11th book in the Carlotta Carlyle P.I. series

Type: Mass Market Paperback

Pages: 351



Synopsis: In this latest book in the series, Boston P.I. Carlotta Carlyle finds herself immersed in a highly personal case. Her "Little Sister" Paolina goes missing. Paolina's mother is too caught up in her new boyfriend to care enough to be worried about her 15 year old daughter. Carlotta fears that Paolina has been abducted by her biological father who is a Columbian drug lord, known as Roldan. As she follows the case the trail leads Carlotta from Boston, to Miami and finally to Columbia where she learns that life in Columbia is much different than back home.


My thoughts: I came across this book in a discussion on one of my favourite book sites - the book forum on Todaysparent.com. I was really intrigued by what the other posters were saying about the book so I thought I'd give it a try. Honestly, I didn't enjoy this book and had to push myself to finish the last half of it. At times the pace is quite fast but more often it lags quite a bit. I wasn't into the background story of the "mamas" either. It just didn't fit well with the book overall.
This is my first Carlotta Carlyle book (first book by author Linda Barnes too) so I think I may have enjoyed it more if I had more of the background info on the main characters. I don't plan on reading any more from this series.
Rating: 2.5/5 (aka meh)

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Fruit, Feta and Balsamic Salad



There are many different colours and flavours in this salad but they work so well together. This salad not only looks wonderful but tastes even better. This was a big hit at a couple of gatherings this summer.

One of my favourite things to eat is balsamic vinegar. After a trip to Italy one of my prized possessions was my 21 year aged balsamic vinegar. WOW! What a difference 21 years makes!! You don't have to use high end balsamic for this recipe ... but if you have it, why not? :) In this recipe the balsamic mixed with the fruit and feta is amazing and fresh.

8 cups baby romaine leaves or baby spinach leaves (or a mixture of the two)
1/2 medium red onion, sliced and separated into rings
1 (11 ounce) can mandarin oranges, drained AND/OR 1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries
1 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1 cup hulled sunflower seeds (OR honey-roasted sliced almonds)
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 cup President's Choice "Maple Balsamic vinaigrette" salad dressing, or to taste

Place servings of lettuce/spinach onto salad plates. Top with red onion, mandarin oranges, cranberries, sunflower seeds and feta cheese in that order. Drizzle dressing over each salad.

Tips:
1) Instead of using President's Choice "Maple Balsamic" salad dressing you could substitute any balsamic dressing or Asian Sesame dressing.
2) Try adding pear slices or grapes.
3) Don't drizzle the dressing over the salad until you're ready to serve. The spinach leaves will wilt quickly once the dressing is on and won't look as nice.

Momzillas


Synopsis: When Hannah Allen moves to Manhattan with her hubby and 2-year old daughter, Violet she quickly learns that mothering amongst her husband's circle of friends is very different in the big city. In New York, these mothers are highly educated, very wealthy and extremely competitive ---- using their children's achievements to measure their successes and get them into the upper echelon of mothering elite. Hannah learns that not all of the advice she's given is with her best intentions in mind whether the advice is from her new 'friends' or her overbearing socially conscious mother-in-law. Despite her own down-to-earth common sense Hannah quickly gets involved in this stressful, competitive sport of mothering.

My thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is laugh out loud funny at times. I love the 'fish out of water' feel that Hannah has when first coming to New York. I also like seeing how she learns to cope in her new environment, new acquaintances while still holding on to her own mothering instincts.

My rating: 4.5/5 (aka. Awesome read)

Sun-Dried Tomato, Bacon & Olive Pasta

This is a very flavourful recipe I came up with to include some of my favourite foods (garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and olives!!). Even my picky kids eat it up.
As I usually preach, don't skimp on the fresh Parmesan cheese. That canned stuff does NOT even come close to simulating the taste of the real stuff. :)

6 bacon slices (1/4 lb), chopped
1/2 cup shallots or onion, finely chopped
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1/2 green pepper, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp thyme
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil), chopped
1/4 cup sliced green olives
1 cup 10% cream
3 tbsp flour
3 cups dry rotini
1/2 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated

Cook bacon in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp, 6 to 10 minutes. Transfer bacon with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.
Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from skillet. Add onion, mushrooms, green pepper, garlic, and spices to skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened and lightly browned, about 6 minutes.
Add flour to cream and whisk until smooth. Add cream, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and bacon and simmer until cream is slightly thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Cook pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve 1 cup cooking water, then drain pasta in a colander. Add pasta and cheese to sauce and toss to coat pasta, adding enough reserved cooking water to thin sauce as desired.

Tip: You could substitute the bacon for pancetta or even add cooked chicken to this dish.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

The Cinderella Pact


This was a very enjoyable read by author Sarah Strohmeyer. The main character, Nola, is very down-to-earth (has her flaws but also has a good heart) which makes her very likable and 'real'.


Synopsis: Nola Devlin is living a lie. Part of her day is spent as an overweight, frumpy and underappreciated editor at a woman's magazine but when she gets home on her computer she becomes the very cool, very elusive British writer, Belinda Apple. It doesn't take long for the public (including Nola's own family) fall in love with Belinda's work.


As Belinda she writes an article about how easy it is to lose weight. Nola's best friends, not knowing that Nola has written the article, rave about it and propose to have a "Cinderella Pact" together to follow Belinda's advise and lose weight.


Unfortunately, after some success as Belinda Apple, Nola's bosses get suspicious and start trying to figure out who exactly this elusive author really is and threaten to sue her!! The lies she's told finally catch up with her. Add to the fact that her family gives Nola no support (especially her mother who clearly favours Nola's younger, thinner sister, Eileen), and the man she's falling for turns out to be someone entirely different than she thought and Nola's got a heap of problems.

My thoughts: I found that I enjoyed this book much more than the other book that I've read by this author "The Secret Lives of Unfortunate Wives" (blech and yawn!). The writing in this book reminds me a lot of Jennifer Weiner -- easy to read, light but not corny with very likable characters. Nola reminds me a lot of Jennifer Weiner's character, Cannie Shapiro (whome I loved). I definitely have plans to read Strohmeyer's "The Sleeping Beauty Proposal".

My Rating: 4.5/5 (loved it!)

Citrus 'n' Garlic 'n' Chicken ... Oh My!!

I found this very easy, yet very tasty, marinade on one of my favourite recipe sites, allrecipes.com (on that site it's called "Unbelievable Chicken"). The chicken needs to marinate for at least 8 hours (preferrably overnight) for the best results so plan ahead.

1/4 cup cider vinegar
3 tablespoons prepared coarse-ground mustard
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 lime, juiced
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
ground black pepper to taste
6 tablespoons olive oil
6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves OR 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

In a large glass bowl, mix the cider vinegar, mustard, garlic, lime juice, lemon juice, brown sugar, salt, and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil. Place chicken in the mixture. Cover, and marinate 8 hours, or overnight.
Preheat an outdoor grill for high heat.
Lightly oil the grill grate. Place chicken on the prepared grill, and cook 6 to 8 minutes per side, until juices run clear. Discard marinade.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Into the Wilderness


If you're looking for a book to escape into that is hard to put down ... look no further. This is a beautifully written and intelligent historical novel that is filled with action, romance and adventure. Although many people have made comparisons with this series and the infamous "Outlander" series by Diana Gabaldon each set of books is quite different (even though "Outlander" characters Claire and Jamie Fraser make a brief appearance in Donati's first book).

Synopsis: When well-educated spinster (a staggering 29 years old!) Elizabeth Middleton goes to her father's lands in upstate New York in 1792 she is under the understanding that she has been asked to become the town school teacher. Instead she learns that she was actually brought from her home in England so that her father can marry her off to the local doctor, Richard Todd. Although Elizabeth has no intention to marry, she is immediately drawn, not to Richard, but to backwoodsman Nathaniel Bonner, son of Dan'l "Hawkeye" Bonner (Dan'l being the hero in "The Last of the Mohicans").

Nathaniel's connection to the Mohican people is a strong since he considers Hawkeye his adoptive father and his own wife was a Mohican woman who died in childbirth several years earlier. Elizabeth soon learns that her inheritance is a mountain known as Hidden Wolf, which is part of Bonner's lands. This inheritance is to be granted to her only when she marries. She soon finds herself caught between the Mohicans and Richard who both want the land.

Knowing Richard's main interest in her is her land, Elizabeth resists his attentions as she gets to know Nathaniel and his people and soon finds herself siding with their claim to Hidden Wolf. Meanwhile, the attraction between her and Nathaniel grows into a love that only adds to the conflict between the whites and the Indians.

My thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed all 5 (soon to be 6) of the books in this series (for a full run down of the series look on www. fantasticfiction.co.uk). I found it interesting that Donati decided to write this series as sequels to "Last of the Mohicans" (which was originally written by James Fenimore Cooper). The relationship between Elizabeth and Nathaniel is strong and realistically portrayed (in my own humble opinion) and the main characters, on a whole, are very well-rounded and multi-dimensional. Lots of action with some romance thrown in here and there make this a book that is hard to put down.
My Rating: 4/5

Grilled Citrus Salmon


Updated: November 20, 2013

This is seriously good eats here, people. 

This dish is, hands down, one of Brad and my favourite dishes.  I actually found this recipe in one of those free recipe flyers from Diana Sauces. It's a wonderfully easy main dish that looks great and tastes even better! The BBQ sauce gives it a sweet flavour and really enhances the taste of the salmon.

When I made it for my parents last year my dad was a little sceptical about adding BBQ sauce to salmon. I know, not the norm but sometimes you have to step outside your comfort zone and ignore what your brain is telling you because it's your taste buds that you're really trying to impress, right?

Let's just say I made a believer out of my Dad. :)

Throw this on the 'Q with some grilled veggies and spuds and you have a whole meal with minimal kitchen mess!  I'd say that's a pretty perfect meal in my books. 

1/4 cup Diana Sauce Honey Garlic flavour
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp chopped chives
2 tsp butter, melted
2 tsp honey
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes (optional)
2lbs boneless salmon filet

Preheat BBQ to medium-high heat and grease well. Pierce a piece of greased foil several times with a skewer and place on a baking sheet. Combine all ingredients except the salmon in a small bowl and stir.

Set the salmon, skin-side-down, on the prepared foil. Brush half of the sauce mixture over the salmon fillet. Slide the foil onto the grate. Cook, covered and without turning, for 15-17 minutes or until the salmon is cooked but still slightly coral in the centre.

Brush with the remaining sauce during the last 5 minutes of cooking.

To serve, slice salmon into 6 portions; use a thin metal spatula to life each portion off of the foil, leaving the skin behind. Garnish with additional chives.

Tip: To make a cedar plank version --- soak an untreated cedar plank in clean water for 2 hours. Place the plank on the grill over high heat and preheat for 5-10 minutes or until the wood begins to smoke. Place the salmon on the cedar and proceed as directed above. For best results use skinless salmon.

Mediterranean Beans

This is an amazing side dish that my Mom served last year. Tastes great with grilled chicken or a pork tenderloin. You can easily whip up these beans during the last minutes that the meat is cooking on the BBQ especially if you have all of your ingredients ready to go!

1 lb green beans, trimmed
1/2 lb yellow beans, trimmed
1 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 garlic clove, minced

Lemon Oregano Glaze
1/2 tsp lemon zest
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp Dijon mustard
To taste salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup oil-cured black olives, pitted and slivered

In a pot of boiling water, cook green and yellow beans for about 7 minutes or until tender crisp. Drain well and place in a large pot.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a skillet on medium heat. Add shallots, red pepper and garlic. Saute for 5 minutes or until softened slightly. Add to beans.
Whisk together lemon zest and juice, oregano, garlic and Dijon; season with salt and pepper. Drizzle in the olive oil, whisking until combined. Pour over beans and toss to coat well.
Place beans in a large bowl and sprinkle with feta cheese and olives. Serve warm.

Serves 6

Sunday, 16 August 2009

The Vampire Academy

This was not my first YA (Young Adult) novel ... and it probablyl won't be my last :) This was a good read if you like supernatural and don't want anything too heavy. If you have read and enjoyed P.C. Cast's "House of Night" series you'll enjoy this novel.

Author: Richelle Read

Synopsis: Lissa and Rose are best friends who share a very special and secret bond. They also happen to be vampires. Lissa is a Moroi (royal vamp) and the last of the Dragomir line. She is a mortal vampire princess whom Rose (who is a Dhampir -- half-human/half-vampire) has vowed to keep safe from her enemies, the Strigoi, who are immortal vampires that are set on destroying the Moroi.

Lissa and Rose have been on the run for the past 2 years. When they are returned to St. Vladimir's Academy (a private school for vampires and the half-blood vamps) they have to deal with the typical high school challenges of gossip, their apparent decent from the social elite as well as Lissa's new found skill that will put her at even more risk when it comes to dealing with the Strigoi.

My thoughts: I found it interesting how this author decided to make different kinds of vampires -- from the Dhampir to the Moroi and Strigoi. The storyline keeps at a fairly quick pace and is decent while not too immature for a 30-something to enjoy as a light read.

My Rating: 3.5/5 (aka a good read)

Saturday, 15 August 2009

One Hot Mess


Look no further if you're in the mood for a quick, easy and funny read. This is it!

Synopsis: Psychologist Christina McMullen has a lot on her plate. She is never in need of new clients (L.A is filled with crazies!), her on-again-off-again relationship with LAPD lieutenant Jack Rivera has just started sizzlin' again, and now Rivera's womanizing dad has come asking her to investigate a mysterious death that might haunt his next political campaign. Soon Chrissy is investigating an 'accidental' death - until she stumbles on a trail of bodies littering Senator Rivera's political career. As she untangles the mess and lies, Chrissy believes that she's found the secret to a serial killer's underground campaign. The killer has a list, a motive, and the perfect disguise - the only question is: who's next?

My thoughts: After reading quite a few chick lit/mysteries lately I had gotten almost fed up with the whole genre. Either they were corny or totally ripping off Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum character (I'm shocked that Evanovich hasn't sued an author or three for copyright infringement. By I digress...). I was happily surprised to find that this book falls into neither of those categories. Author Lois Greiman has written a great mystery with even better witty banter between Chrissy and the secondary characters. I actually chuckled out loud several times (much to the confusion of my hubby).

Rating: 4.5/5 (aka. Awesome Read!)

Banana Bread Cookies

If your kids (or yourself!) love Dare's Bear Paws, give this recipe a try. These are a moist and cake-like cookie. Great for putting in kids' lunches.

1 cup butter-flavoured shortening (I used 1/2 c marg. and 1/2 c shortening)
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 bananas, mashed
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 cup flour

Preheat oven to 350F. Cream together shortening and sugar. Add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla and bananas.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Add dry ingredients to banana mixture. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto baking sheets and bake for approximately 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. Keep them in a tightly sealed container to keep them soft otherwise they'll go quite hard (if you have any left by that time!).

Tip: Try adding various “Bear Paws” ingredients (ie. chocolate chips or apples and raisins, cocoa with a bit of mint extract…).

Friday, 14 August 2009

Cranberry Orange Bread



This is one of my favourite quick breads to make. Very moist and full of flavour. It's also a great way to use some of the cranberries that I hoard in my freezer year round.

2 cups Flour
1 cup Sugar
1 ½ tsp Baking powder
1 tsp Salt
½ tsp Baking soda
½ cup Margarine or butter
1 tsp Freshly grated orange zest
¾ cup Orange juice
1 Egg
1 ½ cups Fresh (or frozen) cranberries, coarsely chopped (or you can leave them whole)
1/3 cup Walnuts, finely chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F.


In a large bowl, blend together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda and margarine with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

In a small bowl, whisk together the zest, orange juice and the egg. Add to the flour mixture, and stir until batter is just combined. Stir in the cranberries and walnuts.


Transfer batter to a well-greased 9x5” loaf pan. Bake in the middle of the oven for 1¼ hours, or until tester comes out clean. Let bread cool in the pan for 20-25 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack.

Tip: It's easier to chop the cranberries while they are still frozen. I use a chef's knife or
you could try throwing them into your food processor but you may not get nice big even chunks that way.

From: Epicurious.com (originally from Gourmet magazine – Oct 1991)

Outlander


This is one of my all-time favourite books. It is the first book in a hugely successful series by author Diana Gabaldon.

Synopsis: English nurse Claire Beauchamp Randall and husband Frank take a second honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands in 1945. When Claire walks through a cleft stone in an ancient henge, she's somehow transported to 1743. She encounters Frank's evil ancestor, British captain Jonathan "Black Jack" Randall, and is adopted by the Fraser clan. Claire nurses young soldier Jamie Fraser, a handsome redhead, and the two begin a romance, seeing each other through many perilous adventures involving Black Jack. Gabaldon describes the Highlanders' daily life and blends it with Scottish wit and humour. Eventually Claire finds a chance to return to 1945, and must choose between distant memories of her husband, Frank, and her happy, uncomplicated existence with Jamie.

My thoughts: When I first found this book I was a little skeptical and thought it was more of a 'bodice-ripper' (a genre that I don't read). The book is over 600 pages long so even starting it was a little daunting to me (who had just had my second child and whose reading time was very limited and precious!). The storyline starts off slowly but by page 100 I dare anyone to not be hooked! This book sucked me in and 8 years later I still love it.

When people ask me what genre of book "Outlander" is it's really hard to describe it. It's part historical fiction, part romance (which can get pretty steamy at times), part action, part supernatural ... The main characters, Claire and Jamie, are intense and complicated and the secondary characters are just as rich and interesting so you find yourself rooting and cheering for them and thinking about them long after you've finished the book. The storyline is fast-paced, full of action and is grounded in real events (ie. the Battle of Culloden).

I love the fact that Gabaldon has a very strong, smart lead female character like Claire. She's not a damsel in distress and can hold her own in some very intense situations. The connection between Claire and Jamie can leave you breathless and wishing that your own man could don a kilt and speak in a Scottish brogue once in awhile ;)
My Rating: 5/5

The Book of Negroes

If you're looking for an amazing book that you won't stop thinking about long after you've finished the book ... THIS IS IT!! If you're a fan of Alex Haley's "Roots" then you've got to pick up this book. It's written by Canadian author Lawrence Hill. It is well written and totally enthralling.

Author: Lawrence Hill

Note: In countries other than Canada, this book is called "Someone Knows My Name".

Synopsis: Kidnapped as a child from Africa, Aminata Diallo is enslaved in South Carolina but escapes during the chaos of the Revolutionary War. In Manhattan she becomes a scribe for the British, recording the names of blacks who have served the King and earned freedom in Nova Scotia, Canada. But the hardship and prejudice there prompt her to follow her heart back to Africa, then on to London, where she bears witness to the injustices of slavery and its toll on her life and a whole people.

My Thoughts: I adored this book. I loved that it was from a woman's perspective. Not as gritty as "Roots" but still a really good read. Looking forward to reading more from this Canadian author.

My Rating: 5/5

Taco Lasagna

If you're getting tired of the standard Italian lasagna give this recipe a try. The tortillas make great replacements for the typical lasagna noodles. You can make it as spicy as you want too!

2 lbs lean ground beef

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 green pepper, finely chopped

2 (1.25oz) pkg taco seasoning mix (as spicy as you'd like)

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tbsp chili powder

1/2 cup water

18 (6 inch) tortillas

1 can refried beans (optional)

1 (24oz) jar of salsa

1 cup green onions, chopped

1/2 cup black olives (optional)

1 (16oz) container sour cream

1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, grated

1 1/2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, grated

Place beef, garlic and green pepper in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until evenly brown. Drain, then season with taco seasoning, cayenne pepper, chili powder and water. Simmer for 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375F. Grease the bottom of a 9x13" baking dish. Place 6 tortillas into the prepared baking dish (you can easily rip the tortillas to fit the bottom. Make sure as much of the bottom of the pan is covered by tortilla as possible).

Spread 1/3 cup of refried beans (if using)over the tortillas. Spread approximately 1 cup of salsa over the refried beans. Spread 1/2 of the meat mixture evenly over the salsa. Sprinkle with 1/2 of the green onions and black olives. Drop 1/2 of the sour cream randomly over the black olive layer. Top with 1/2 cup of cheddar and 1/2 cup of Monterey Jack cheese. Repeat layers. Top with 6 tortillas, spreading remaining salsa and sprinkling remaining cheese on top.

Bake for 30-45 minutes or until cheeses are melted.

Tip: This recipe can easily be halved and put into a 8x8" pan.

Tip #2: Keep your tortillas in the fridge. They'll last a LOT longer.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Can You Keep a Secret?


I have read only two other books by Sophie Kinsella (the first Shopaholic book and "Undomestic Goddess") and was not impressed by either of them. I couldn't stand the main characters in either book much less the storyline. But I thought I'd give Kinsella one more shot ... and I'm glad that I did.

Synopsis: Emma is sitting on a turbulent plane. She's always been a nervous flyer. She really thinks that this could be her last moment. So, naturally enough, she starts telling the man sitting next to her - quite a handsome American, but she's too frightened to notice -all her innermost secrets. How she's not sure if she has a G-spot, and whether her boyfriend could find it anyway. How she feels like a fraud at work - everyone uses the word 'operational' all the time but she hasn't a clue what it means. How the coffee at work is horrible. If ever there was a bare soul, it's hers. She survives the flight, of course, and the next morning the famous founding boss of the whole mega corporation she works for is coming for a look at the UK branch. As he walks around, Emma looks up and realises... It's the man from the plane. What will he do with her secrets? He knows them all - but she doesn't know a single one of his. Or... does she?

My thoughts: I was nicely suprised by how much I enjoyed "Can You Keep A Secret?" It's a very easy read (aren't most chick lit books pretty easy to read though?!?). MUCH better than the other two books I read of Kinsella's. There are some very funny moments in this book and if she continues her writing in this style I may pick up another of her books.
Rating: 4/5 (aka. a very good read)

Balsamic Tortellini

This is a very yummy main dish. I adore balsamic vinegar so this recipe is right up my alley!Serve it with a green salad and warm crusty bread.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 cup small button mushrooms
1/2 green pepper, sliced
5 slices pancetta bacon, raw
1 (9 ounce) package cheese-filled tortellini
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute onion, mushrooms, green pepper and bacon until onion is translucent and bacon is brown; remove from skillet and drain well on paper towelling.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain.

Return bacon mixture to skillet and add cooked tortellini. Toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil and heat through. Place in serving dish or bowl, sprinkle with vinegar and cheese and serve immediately.

Substitutions: I used 6 strips of regular bacon instead of the pancetta.

Apple Crisp

This dessert is a favourite of mine and "Monkey's". He loves it so much he now offers to help me out to ensure that I'll make it! Mmmm. Needless to say, leftovers are coveted!
We love it made with MacIntosh apples. You can easily double or triple this recipe if needed. Serve it warm with vanilla ice cream.

4 Medium, tart cooking apples (ie. MacIntosh), peeled and sliced (approx. 4 cups)
2/3 to ¾ cups Packed brown sugar
½ cup Flour
½ cup Quick-cooking oats
1/3 cup Margarine or butter, softened
¾ tsp Cinnamon
¾ tsp Nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375F. Grease bottom and sides of a square 8x8-inch pan with shortening.
Arrange apples in pan. Mix remaining ingredients. Sprinkle over apples.
Bake for 30 minutes or until topping is golden brown and apples are tender.
Recipe from: "Betty Crocker: Everything You Need to Know to Cook"

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Forget About It


This is a very funny read by author Caprice Crane. This is Crane's 2nd book ("Stupid and Contageous" being her first). Crane is the daughter of the actress who played Ginger on "Gilligan's Island" (not an important piece of information, just an obscure trivia fact).

Synopsis: Jordan Landau has a crap job, a shrewish boss and a dud boyfriend, but when she gets hit by a car and takes a nasty knock to her noggin, things start to look up. Jordan, who has a crazy family and an unsatisfying, thankless junior copywriting job, fakes amnesia and parlays her condition into a better position at the ad agency where she works, a better boyfriend and an all-around better lifestyle.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this book. It's a light read but has a few good chuckles in it.

Rating: 3.5/5 (aka a good read)

Crescent-Wrapped Brie

This is an elegant, yet easy, appetizer. Who doesn't love gooey cheese in pastry!?!? You can change this appetizer up depending on what topping you use. I adore red pepper jelly with this dish.

Yield: 10 servings

1 (8oz) can Pillsbury crescent rolls
1 (8oz) Brie round
1 Egg, beaten
2 tbsp Topping (hot red pepper jelly, chutney, fruit preserves, salsa ...)

Preheat oven to 350F. Unroll crescent rolls; separate crosswise into 2 sections. Pat dough and firmly press perforations to seal, forming 2 squares.
Place 1 square on an ungreased baking dish. Place cheese in centre of dough. With a small cookie cutter, cut 1 shape from each corner of the remaining square.

TIP: For Christmas I made leaves and small balls for holly to put on top of the brie.

Once cut outs are done, set aside. Spread topping over brie.

Place remaining square on top of cheese round. Press dough evenly around cheese; fold bottom edges over top edges. Gently stretch dough evenly around cheese; press to seal completely. Brush with beaten egg. Top with cut-outs; brush with additional beaten egg.
Bake for 20-24 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 15 minutes (or cheese will be too runny).

Serve warm with crackers or sliced, toasted French bread.

Breaking the Good Mom Myth


The full title of this wonderful parenting book is "Breaking the Good Mom Myth: Every Mom's Modern Guide to Getting Past Perfection, Regaining Sanity, and Raising Great Kids" ... but it was much too long to put in the title spot here. :) The author, Alyson Schafer, is a psychotherapist and also has a TV show on Rogers).

Synopsis:
This is a brilliant and hilariously revealing exploration of today''s misguided mother-hood. Discover the Truth behind the myths that keep moms flying at a crazy, competitive pace, spending countless dollars they often don't have, and losing endless hours trying to become "experts" on everything from ear infections to the safe heating points of hard plastics. Apparently neurotic has become our new "normal"?

Within each new mother an ideal has been cultivated that (like the perfect house and husband) is doomed to fall short. This book challenges our unchallenged thinking with warmth, humour, and real wisdom.

My thoughts: I loved this book and highly recommend it. I love her sense of humour and I totally agree with her analysis of modern mothering -- "Competitive Mothering" specifically. It's ridiculous that some mothers feel like not a good mom if, instead of baking cupcakes from scratch, they .... use a mix!! Say it ain't so!! I love how she says it's OK to be a good mom (who is happy, effective and is self-fulfilled), but we have to let go of the idea of being a perfect mom because the stress we put on ourselves doesn't help our families or ourselves at all. I have recommended this book to friends and have bought it for new moms too.
My Rating: 4.5/5

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Still Alice

This is a wonderful, insightful book that deals with Alzheimer's Disease from first time author Lisa Genova (who also has a PhD in neuroscience).

Synopsis: Alice Howland is a happily married woman with three grown children and is a celebrated Harvard professor. Suddenly she notices a forgetfulness creeping into her life. As confusion starts to cloud her thinking and her memory begins to fail her, she receives a devastating diagnosis: early onset Alzheimer's disease. Fiercely independent, Alice struggles to maintain her lifestyle and live in the moment, even as her sense of self is being stripped away

The story is heartbreaking especially for those of us who have had family members or friends that have suffered from this horrible disease. You get to see Alzheimer's through the eyes of the sufferer. It is a book that sticks with you well after you finish the last page.

My rating: 4.5/5 (aka really good!)

Comfort Food

Sometimes you are in the mood for some good'ol comfort food. For me, when I think of comfort food main dishes, a meal of baked ham, scalloped potatoes (see my post about "The Glorious Potato" for this recipe), baked beans and homemade (well, bread machine 'homemade') bread and apple crisp! Mmmm. Or even a Shepherd's Pie or homemade Mac'n'Cheese. Those are my comfort foods. :) Here are some of my favourite comfort food recipes ...


Baked Beans
This is a recipe that my Dad throws together whenever the Grandkids ask for "Poppa's Beans". :) They are a family favourite and the recipe changes each time he makes it! This is one of those dishes you have to keep tasting as you make it to make sure it's 'just right'.

2-28oz cans Libby's beans in tomato sauce
2 large squirts Ketchup
1 large squirt Mustard
1 onion, chopped
To taste Molasses (I use approximately 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup Salsa (we've also used our favourite hickory BBQ sauce instead of the salsa)

Mix the ingredients together and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake another 15 minutes to allow the excess moisture to leave the beans otherwise they may be watery.

Note: You can also put these in a crockpot on low for 4 hours or until the onion is soft.


Shepherd's Pie
This shepherd's pie has a lot of flavour compared to the standard pie with creamed corn as the middle layer. You can either bake it in a deep dish pie shell or in a casserole dish.

3 Large potatoes, cut in pieces
2 Garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 lbs Ground beef
1 Medium onion, chopped
3/4 cup Carrots, diced
1/2 cup Celery, diced
2 tbsp Flour
1 cup Beef broth
1/2 cup Frozen peas
1 tsp Thyme, dried
1/2 tsp Rosemary, dried
1/2 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Pepper
Sprinkle Nutmeg
2 tbsp Butter or margarine
1/2 cup Milk or cream
1/2 tbsp Parsley (optional)
1 deep dish pie crust (optional)

Preheat oven to 375F. Boil the potatoes and garlic in water until potatoes are soft, approximately 20-30 minutes. While potatoes are boiling, in a skillet over medium-high heat, saute ground beef, onion, carrot and celery until the meat is no longer pink. Drain fat.

Stir flour into the meat mixture. Add broth and reduce heat to simmer. Add frozen peas, thyme, rosemary, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Simmer about 5 minutes, stirring a few times.

While meat mixture is simmering, drain potatoes. Add butter, milk and parsley (if using). Mix with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy. Spoon meat mixture into a 9" deep pie shell or casserole dish. Spread potatoes evenly over meat. Swirl top of potatoes with tines of a fork to create peaks. Bake for 35-40 minutes.

Yield: 6 servings

Macaroni and Cheese
This is a staple in our house. With three kids who can have their picky moments this Mac'n'Cheese is always on their wish list. I have made it so often I no longer need a recipe.

2 cups Elbow macaroni noodles, uncooked
1/4 cup Butter or margarine
1/4 cup Flour
1/2 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Pepper
1/2 tsp Dry mustard
1 tsp Worchestershire sauce
2 cups Milk
2 cups Sharp cheddar cheese, grated OR old white cheddar cheese
3 tbsp Butter
1/2 cup Dry bread crumbs
3 tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated (the real stuff preferrably!)
1/2 tsp Garlic powder
1/4 tsp Fresh black pepper

Preheat oven to 350F. Cook macaroni as directed on package. While macaroni is cooking, melt butter in a large skillet over low heat. Stir in flour, salt, pepper, dry mustard and Worchestershire sauce. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; add milk. Return skillet to burner and heat until boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir for 1 minute. Stir in cheese. Keep over heat until cheese has melted.

Drain macaroni. Gently stir macaroni into cheese mixture. Pour into an ungreased 2-quart casserole dish.

Make crumb topping: In a microwave-safe bowl, melt butter. Add bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, garlic powder and pepper. Mix well. Sprinkle over top of macaroni evenly. Bake, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes or until bubbly.

Tip: Add extra pep to this dish by using jalapeno-flavoured cheese or add some Cajun spice to the bread topping for some zip.

Saucy Tortellini Casserole


This is a casserole I threw together one night when I needed a quick casserole. Make sure you use fresh Parmesan if you can. Makes a BIG difference in taste.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
½ lb Fresh tortellini (approximately ½ pkg)
¼ cup Butter or margarine
2 Garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ cups Button mushrooms, halved
1/2 Green pepper, sliced
¼ cup Flour
2 cups Milk
2 cups Grated old white cheddar cheese
½ tsp Oregano
½ tsp Basil
1 (5.5oz)can Tomato paste
6 Bacon slices, cooked and crumbled
Garnish Fresh parmesan cheese & freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350F.
In a large saucepan, cook tortellini until they float (approximately 6 minutes). Drain; set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt butter. Add garlic, mushrooms and green pepper; cook for 3 minutes. Add flour; mix. Cook for 1 minute. Add milk and stir until thickened. Add old white cheddar cheese, tomato paste, bacon and spices. Add tortellini and mix well. Pour into a casserole dish. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bake for 20 minutes.
Yield: 6 servings

Monday, 10 August 2009

Cooking Up Murder


This is a very light, easy mystery by Miranda Bliss. It's the first book in "The Cooking Class Mystery" series.

Synopsis: Eve and Annie have been friends since childhood. Since Annie is horribly inept in the kitchen Eve signs them both up for a cooking class at a local gourmet shop. During their first class they see a fellow student in a heated argument with a man --- who later turns up dead. The two friends decide to solve the mystery -- didn't see that coming did you? ;)

I enjoyed the main characters, Annie and Eve and loved the fact that you learn some cooking terms while you're reading. Plus there are several recipes in the back of the book. The writing is good and there's no corny, embarassing romance going on either.

Rating: 3.5/5 (aka. a good read)

Chocolate Caramel Shortbread Squares



These are a favourite of my eldest son's and are a staple in our home at Christmas. With their shortbread crust, their chewy caramel layer and rich chocolate topping it's no surprise that there's never any leftovers!!

If you're a nut lover, you can also try adding chopped pecans to the caramel layer for a Turtle-like treat!


2/3 cup butter, softened (no substitutes)
1/4 cup white sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter (no substitutes)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tbsp light corn syrup
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated)
1 1/4 cups milk chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a medium bowl, mix together 2/3 cup butter, white sugar and flour until evenly crumbly. Press into a 9" square baking pan. Bake for 20 minutes.

Note: if you want to make it easier to cut your squares, line the pan with parchment paper. Once your squares are totally done and cooled you can easily lift the whole batch out with the parchment and cut them on a large cutting board.

In a 2-quart saucepan, combine 1/2 cup butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk. Bring to a boil; stirring constantly. Continue to boil for 5 minutes; stirring constantly so the mixture doesn't burn. Remove from heat and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon for about 3 minutes. Pour over baked crust (warm or cool). Co0l until it begins to firm.

Place chocolate chips in a double-boiler and heat until chips are melted and chocolate is smooth. Pour chocolate over caramel layer and spread evenly to cover completely. Chill. Cut into 1" squares before chocolate layer hardens (otherwise it will crack).

Linked to:
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Bitten


My first book post! Some of my friends get immense pleasure in teasing me about how I keep track of all of the books that I read. I'm an avid reader ... so much so that it's hard to keep track in my head all of the books I've read. So I keep an Excel spreadsheet of all the books I read, what I think about them etc. A little OCD? Maybe ... but it works. Especially when I get friends asking for book recommendations. :)

Although I read this book several years ago I had to post about it. The book is called "Bitten" by Canadian author Kelley Armstrong. Before I had read "Bitten" (the first book in "The Women of the Underworld" series) I never would have thought I'd like supernatural books (Harry Potter excluded, of course!). Werewolves? Necromancers? Demons? Totally not 'my thang' ... until I found "Bitten".

Synopsis: The main character is Elena Michaels who is a self-described "mutt," (a werewolf who left her Pack in upstate New York for a life among humans). In the year since she relocated to Toronto, she's started a 'normal' life with a career as a journalist and has begun a pleasing but mundane relationship with a decent man. All this is jeopardized when she agrees to help her old packmates hunt some troublesome mutts who are converting common criminals to werewolves and leaving a trail of conspicuous carnage. Reunited with her former werewolf lover, Clay, and forced into brutally predatory confrontations, Elena finds the call of the wild subtly reasserting itself.

My thoughts: This book is filled with romance and supernatural intrigue and it is hard to put this book down. Armstrong has the ability (aka J.K. Rowling) to make having supernaturals living among us even seem plausible. The writing is good, the main character is a strong female (unlike some authors like "Twilight"'s Stephenie Meyer) and there's lots of action.

My rating: 4.5/5 (aka "an awesome read").

Sunday, 9 August 2009

The BEST Blueberry Muffins You'll EVER Eat

These muffins are, hands down, my family's favourite muffin. They are so moist and full of flavour and, not surprisingly, they don't last long in our house. They are especially good while they're still warm accompanied by a cuppa java!!

Note: In the picture below I opted to not put on the delicious crumb topping. They tend to freeze a bit better without the topping and I needed to stock up on my 'oh no, what am I going to feed my kids for first break' stash in my freezer.



Yield: 12 small muffins

1 1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour
3/4 cup White Sugar
1/2 tsp Salt
2 tsp Baking Powder
1/3 cup Vegetable Oil
1 Egg
1/3 cup Milk
1 cup Fresh (or frozen) Blueberries

Topping
1/4 cup White Sugar
2 1/2 tbsp All-Purpose Flour
1/8 cup Butter, cubed
3/4 tsp Cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400F. Grease or line muffin cups.

Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 3/4 cup sugar, salt and baking powder. Place vegetable oil into 1 cup measuring cup; add the egg and enough milk to fill the cup; mix well. Mix this with the flour mixture. Fold in blueberries (making sure not to mix the batter too much or you'll have heavy, dense muffins). Fill muffin cups to the top and sprinkle with crumb mixture.

To make crumb mixture: Mix together the topping ingredients. Mix with a pastry blender (or fork). Sprinkle over muffins before baking.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean.

Recipe from: Allrecipes.com

My first post!

I've finally got my own blog!

I've started this blog for 2 reasons. I always get people asking me about the books I'm reading as well as the new recipes I've tried. So .... I'll be posting my opinions on the numerous books that I read as well as the new 'tried and true' recipes that I've found ... and hopefully people will share some of their favourite books and recipes with me!
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