Monday, November 30, 2009

Super Easy Chocolate Macaroons

These are a Christmas favourite in our house. Use a small melon baller to make perfectly shaped small macaroons. You cannot get easier than this stove-top cookie!!

2 cups white sugar
6 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup coconut, shredded
3 cups rolled oats

Place waxed paper on a cookie sheet.

Combine sugar, cocoa, butter and milk in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and add vanilla. Remove from heat; stir in coconut and oats. Drop by spoonfuls (or by melon baller) onto the waxed paper and chill for a few hours.

Yield: 3 dozen+

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Herb Rubbed Sirloin Roast


My Achilles Heel (or Achilles Hell as I like to call it) has always been beef roasts. I can roast chickens, the odd turkey and amazing pork roasts but good, tender beef roasts have always eluded me. I have tried repeatedly to mimic my Mom and my sister Jennifer's amazing beef roasts ... but mine always turned into quite remarkable imitations of a large hockey pucks. I tried roasting them in the oven and even in the mighty crockpot ... to no avail. UNTIL NOW!

Yup, I did it. I made an awesome beef roast last night! Great flavour and cooked medium-rare just like we like it. It even tasted great tonight for roast beef sandwiches to eat while watching the Grey Cup (well, I'm typing and reading while the Grey Cup is on but you get the picture!).


1 1/4 tbsp paprika

1 tsp salt (or 1 tbsp kosher salt)

1 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1/2 tsp onion powder

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp oregano

1/2 tsp thyme

2 tbsp olive oil

1 (3lb) sirloin tip roast


In a small bowl, mix paprika, salt, garlic powder, black pepper, onion powder, cayenne pepper, oregano and thyme. Stir in the olive oil and allow mixture to sit about 15 minutes.


Line a large baking dish with aluminum foil. Place roast on the foil and cover all sides with the spice mixture. Allow roast to sit in the fridge for 1 hour.


Preheat oven to 350F. Roast for 1 hour, or to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees F (63 degrees C). Let sit for 15 minutes before slicing.


Recipe originally from: allrecipes.com

BOOK: "Death on Demand" by C. Hart


Title: Death on Demand (1st book in the Death on Demand series)

Author: Carolyn G Hart

Type: Mystery

Pages: 212


Synopsis: Annie Laurance owns the quaint mystery book shop "Death on Demand" in the picturesque island of Broward's Rock, South Carolina. During a weekly gathering of mystery writers at the bookstore a local author is killed. Annie becomes a prime suspect. Along with her old flame Max Darling, she tries to clear her name but ends up getting more and more muddled in the crime.

My Thoughts: A good mystery with a classic mystery feel. I felt like I figured out who dunnit half way through but then the author threw some curve balls and made me second guess myself. I found it amusing reading a book that was written in the mid-80's. In the beginning of the book the main character, Annie, describes one of the quick-witted women as having the mental quickness of a PCjr!! Yup, a wee bit outdated lol. But the writing is good and the storyline has lots of twists and turns.

The one thing that I didn't enjoy was all of the references to mystery authors and books that I haven't read yet. I guess I need to bone up on my older mysteries (ie Agatha Christie etc) so I can understand her references.

My Rating: 3.5/5 (a good read)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Chocolate and Kahlua Cheesecake

This is one of those desserts that looks amazing and tastes even better. The low-fat cottage cheese and sour cream keep the fat low so you don't have to feel guilty about eating it! :)

Make sure you give yourself enough time though. This one takes 3 1/2 hours in the oven plus it has to sit overnight. After baking the cake for about 1 1/2 hours it sits in the oven with the door open halfway for 2 hours. This helps prevent that cavernous crack that many cheesecakes get due to the drastic temperature change when they go from the hot oven to a cooling rack.

1 cup chocolate Oreo baking crumbs
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp butter, melted
2 cups low-fat (1%) cottage cheese
2 cups low-fat sour cream
8oz light cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 large eggs (or 3/4 cup fat-free egg substitute)
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup Kahlua or coffee liqueur
Fresh strawberries or raspberries to garnish

Preheat oven to 350F.

To make crust: Combine crumbs, brown sugar and melted butter in a small bowl. Mix well. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with non-stick spray. Press crumb mixture evenly over the bottom of the pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Reduce heat to 325F.

To make cake: In a blender or food processor, whirl cottage cheese, sour cream and cream cheese until smooth. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat together both sugars, cocoa and eggs on medium speed of an electric mixer. Add cream cheese mixture and beat until smooth. Add cornstarch and beat again. Add vanilla and Kahlua and beat until mixture is well blended.
Pour batter into prepared crust. Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Cheesecake will appear puffy and will jiggle slightly when shaken. Turn off heat. Open oven door halfway and let cake cool in oven for 2 hours. Chill overnight.
Before serving, run a knife around the edge of the pan and remove sides. Garnish with fresh strawberries or raspberries, if desired.

Yield: 12 servings

Originally from: "Crazy Plates" ("Do the Cocoa Motion Cheesecake" pg 151)

Healthy Info per serving: 283 calories, 6.6g fat, 3.2g saturated fat, 12.1g protein

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Three in a Bed


Title: Three in a Bed

Author: Carmen Reid

Type: Chick Lit

# of Pages: 478


Synopsis: Bella Browning is a very successful business woman who is always in control and knows what she wants. She's married to her reporter husband, Don, and is surprised when she suddenly feels the need to have a baby. When she tells Don that she's pregnant he feels terrified at the prospect. Bella feels she's up to the challenge. She a top Management Consultant .... certainly she can handle a little baby!

Fairly quickly Bella sees how pregnancy, hormones, a new baby and a new body can truly change her life. With many stumbles along the way she finds out (the hard way) how trying to be the perfect working sexy mom is a very hard job.

My Thoughts: This was one of those books that I picked up at my local library because I liked the front cover. I was nicely surprised to find out that I enjoyed this book. It had an honesty about it -- I liked the way it dealt with the stress of pregnancy, the stress of labour (brought back some memories for me lol) as well as the struggles of being a first time mom trying to do everything 'just right'. I plan to read another book by this author.

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Heads UP! : Next week - Christmas recipes!!

Since the holidays are quickly approaching, I thought it would be a good idea to get some of my tried and true holiday favourites on here. December feels like it's sneaking up on me because without our usual snow here in Canada I'm finding it hard to get into the holiday swing of things.

So, next week make sure you check back here. There will be a lot of baking recipes (of course) including Sugar and Spice Cookies, Chocolate Macaroons, Super Chocolate Fudge, Best Sugar Cookies, as well as a really good Apple Cider recipe (and any other good recipes I can find!). :)

The Baking Bookworm

Sun-Dried Tomato and Basil Scones

I first tasted these delicious itty-bitty carbs at my friend Isabelle's house. I adore sun-dried tomatoes and thought that these were so good that I had to ask for the recipe so I could make them at home. Serve these with pasta, minestrone soup or my Meal in a Bowl soup.

2 1/4 cups flour (divided)
1/2 cup Asiago cheese, grated
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp dry basil
3/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup milk
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, drained, patted dry and coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 400F. Lightly grease a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, stir 2 cups of flour with the Asiago, baking powder, basil and salt until well blended. Using a pastry blender, or your fingers, add in butter and mix until it resembles coarse crumbs.

In a small bowl, whisk milk with eggs. Add to flour mixture. Add sun-dried tomatoes; stir to combine. If the sun-dried tomatoes are still moist, you may need to add the remaining 1/4 cup of flour to form a soft dough.

With floured hands, knead dough about 10 times on a floured surface. Place dough on the prepared baking sheet and roll into a 9" circle. Using a serrated knife, cut into 8 wedges (don't separate wedges).

Bake in the centre of the oven for 17-20 minutes or until golden brown on top and baked through. Serve warm, or cool on a rack.

Tip 1: I prefer to use my Pampered Chef baking stone for this recipe.
Tip 2: You could also try adding chopped black olives too.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cheesy Roasted Potatoes

Like I've mentioned before potatoes are one of my favourite foods to eat. I found this recipe in a cookbook I own called "Eat, Drink and Be Merry" (it's from the authors of "Crazy Plates"). This is a garlicy, cheesy potato sidedish'o'bliss!! This Tater Lover gives it 2 thumbs up!

2 1/2 lbs unpeeled, thin-skinned potatoes (red or white)
1 cup onions, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp thyme
1 (10.75oz) can condensed cheddar cheese soup, undiluted
1/3 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
2 tbsp fresh dill or parsley, chopped
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 green onion, chopped

Preheat oven to 425F. Cut potatoes into 1-inch chunks and place in a 9"x13" casserole that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Add onions, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, paprika and thyme; mix well. Roast potatoes for 30 minutes, stirring once, halfway through cooking. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Reduce oven temperature to 375F.

In a medium bowl, mix together soup, Parmesan cheese and dill. Pour over potatoes. Mix well. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese followed by green onions. Return potatoes to oven and bake, uncovered, for 25 minutes until cheese is bubbly and potatoes are golden brown around the edges. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

My Tip: Try adding 4 slices of cooked, chopped bacon to this dish when you add the soup mixture. Mmmm bacon!!

BOOK DISCUSSION: Library vs Buying Books

I am a self-proclaimed library addict (and proud of it). I belong to 2 separate library systems in our area and I'm known by name in both. :) I regularly have over 40 books out at a time (this number includes the mountains of books that my kids take out too). Makes it difficult sometimes when books are due but I have a system at home that helps keep track of all of our Library Booty. I like to believe that my family helps increase the stats in our local libraries! :)

Do I like to buy books? Yes ... sometimes. Although, I find it much easier to try new authors or new genres if I don't have the thought in the back of my head that "I just spent $36 on this book, I hope I like it!" I made the mistake several times a few years ago when I would buy books suggested by Oprah. It took me a few times to realize that she and I don't have similar book tastes so I ended up hating the books that I had bought ("Drowning Ruth" was one of said books). Oprah tends to have fairly depressing books (or did in the beginning of her Book Club).

I find that I'm much more willing to try a new book/author when I use the library. If I don't like it after 50-100 pages I just start a new book. No hassles. I have often just walked the library and picked up books based on the covers (usually at times like these my kids are getting antsy and want to head home from the library with their stash of books). I have found several good reads this way but I would NEVER do that in Chapters. Too much money at stake.

I also love libraries for their audiobooks. I rarely listen to them but my kids love them. The boys will often listen to Geronimo Stilton or Artemis Fowl at night while they try to fall asleep and Missy Moo will listen to "Charlotte's Web" or other girly audiobooks. I would never spend $40+ on an audiobook from a bookstore, but that's just me.

I do love buying books that I have read in the past though (probably because I already know that I like the book). I love to re-read my favourites. I've re-read the Harry Potter series at least 4 times and have recently re-read "Outlander" by Diana Gabaldon.

I also love collecting series of books and love browsing book stores to see if I can find the books at a discount. I am currently collecting: "The Women of the Underworld" series (Armstrong), the Twilight series, "Lake in the Clouds" series (Donati) and the Stephanie Plum series (Evanovich). I am a bit of a book snob and prefer either hardcover or trade paperback (not mass paperbacks). I do adore seeing my favourite books on my book shelves. :)

What do you prefer? Are you a Library Connaisseur like moi? Or do you prefer to buy/collect books on your ever growing home libraries?

Friday, November 20, 2009

NEW BLOG!!! Kids book reviews

After witnessing how much I enjoy my own blog I've decided to let my kids have a go at it too. I've started www.mylittlebookworms.blogspot.com so that they can come on here and do their own book reviews. They are all avid readers/book addicts like their Mama and I think it will be a great experience for them to write about the books that they love reading.

If you know of anyone who is in need of new book ideas for their kids please pass on the address to them.

Thanks!
Mama Bookworm

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chocolate Brownie Bites


Since I am unable to buy those delicious Two Bite Brownies due to a peanut allergy in our family I have been on the lookout for a homemade substitute. I believe I have found it!! It was in one of those free flyers from Smuckers. These look and taste just like the Two Bite Brownies in the food store.

These muffins freeze really well. I like to freeze muffins in 3's so that I can easily take out a bundle for my kids' lunches if I run out of freshly baked things.

1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
1/4 cup cocoa
3/4 cup white sugar **
1/4 cup brown sugar **
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup flour
1 tbsp granulated instant coffee or instant espresso powder
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Line mini muffin tins (or regular muffin tins) with paper liners.

Combine butter, melted chocolate chips, cocoa, white sugar, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla. Mix well. Add remaining ingredients. Stir until combined. Fill each muffin cup 3/4 full for mini muffin tins and 1/2 full for regular muffin tins.

Bake for 12-15 minutes for mini muffins and 20 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean) for regular muffin tins. Serve warm or at room temperature

**Note: The original recipe uses Splenda No Calorie Sweetener in place of the white sugar I used. It also used Splenda Brown Sugar Blend instead of the brown sugar I used.

Tip 1: Use small melon baller to put batter into muffin tins.
Tip 2 :The instant coffee can be omitted but I do believe it helps give these muffins a richer taste and don't have a mocha flavour.
Tip 3: These brownies can also be baked in a 9"x9" pan for 20-25 minutes or until set.

The Body in the Belfry


Title: The Body in the Belfry

Author: Katherine Hall Page

Series: 1st book in the Faith Fairchild mystery series
Book Type: Mystery

Pages: 259


Synopsis: Faith Fairchild is a proud native New Yorker who has recently moved to a small New England town with her pastor husband and her 5 month old son, Benjamin. Although Faith misses the excitement of Manhattan and her former catering business she learns that small towns can have just as much drama.

While hiking up to the old town befry, Faith finds the body of young Cindy Shepherd. Cindy had a lot of enemies in town and was notorious for her back stabbing and promiscuous ways. When her fiance Dave is accused of the murder Faith, against the advice of her husband and the local police, tries to find out who killed the young woman.

My Thoughts: This was a decent easy-to-read mystery. I didn't guess whodunnit until the end which, in my book, makes it a decent read. The main character, Faith, is a good main character and self-proclaimed 'food snob' (Faith is a former caterer) and I did enjoy reading about all of the dishes she makes. Too bad they didn't include some of the recipes like other book series have done. This book isn't a "wow, I can't put it down" but it's a nice book to curl up with and read within a day or two. I plan to read more from the series.

My Rating: 3/5 (a good read)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

BOOK DISCUSSION: E-Readers vs old-fashioned books


I'm one of those people who adore reading, which is why I'm a self-proclaimed bookworm. I love snuggling up on the couch with a book and a cuppa coffee. Nothing better ... I think. See, I was on Todays Parent's Book Forum (LOVE that place) and someone mentioned that she had a Sony E-Reader. So I looked it up at http://www.sonystyle.ca/ and I was quite impressed. Not impressed enough to shell out the $400 they're asking but I was impressed nonetheless.

I know that there is another E-reader out there (the Kindle) getting a lot of hype because it's soon to be released here in Canada. Oprah was singing it's praises earlier this year and declared it one of her favourite things but other than that I didn't know a whole lot about it.

So, my question is: are you a diehard paper book kind of person or would you be interested (if money wasn't an issue) to try one of those E-readers? I think it would be amazing to bring an E-reader on vacation (you can have up 350 books in it without any extra memory and the battery lasts for 2 weeks or 7500 page turns!). It also has a built-in dictionary and lots of other bells and whistles ... but I digress.

Are you an "old-fashioned" reader or an E-Reader? For me, I think I could do a bit of both. I'm still a total and utter library addict so I couldn't give that up but I've gotta say that taking 350 books with me to peruse while on vacation sounds mighty fine too! What do you think? Post your comments, please. :)

Tomato Soup Cake

This is one of my Mom's specialties. It's an easy and wonderfully spiced cake. Don't let the tomato soup scare you off! The soup gives the cake great colour and you're adding some veggies into the mix too! You may want to take a tip from my Mom -- call it a Spice Cake until your guests try it. More often than not, people hear the words 'tomato soup' and their noses wrinkle up. Ignorance is bliss! Once they taste it they'll be hooked! 

3/4 cup vegetable oil 
1 1/2 cups white sugar 
1 (10.75oz) can condensed tomato soup 
3/4 cup water 
1 tsp baking soda 
3 cups all-purpose flour 
3/4 tsp salt 
3 tsp baking powder 
1/2 tsp cinnamon 
1 tsp cloves 
1 1/2 tsp nutmeg 
1 1/2 cups raisins 
1 1/2 cups walnuts, chopped (optional) 
Garnish icing sugar 

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a bundt pan and set aside. 

In a large bowl, mix oil and sugar together. 

In a small bowl, combine tomato soup and water. Add soup mixture to the sugar mixture. 
Add the remaining ingredients; mix well. 

Bake for 50 minutes. Let cake cool for 10 minutes. Turn cake out onto a cooling rack. 

Allow cake to cool completely. Sift icing sugar over cake.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Quick Meal ideas

From what I've been hearing many people want quick meal ideas. Sooo, I've put a new category at the right-hand side (Recipe - Quick Meals) for those of you with little time to get dinner on the table. When I post a new recipe, if it's an easy, quick meal I'll put in that category to help you out.

Quick meal to me means you can get it on the table in about 30 minutes with not too much fuss.

Pasta with Creamy Tomato Sauce

This pasta dish is really easy to make but tastes like you spent a lot of time working on it. Don't leave out the nutmeg. It really enhances the flavours. If at all possible, use fresh Parmesan cheese. The 'fake stuff' just doesn't compare!

Serve with warm garlic bread and a salad for a complete meal.

2 tsp olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion, diced
1/2 green pepper, thinly sliced
1 cup button mushrooms
1 (680mL) jar tomato sauce
1 (19oz) can diced tomatoes
1 cup half-and-half creamer
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tbsp basil
1 (8oz) package of angel hair or spaghetti pasta
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a large saucepan, saute the garlic, onion, green peppers and mushrooms in the olive oil until onion is soft. Add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, half-and-half, pepper, nutmeg and basil. Simmer over low heat for 30-45 minutes; DO NOT BOIL.

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

Toss pasta with sauce and Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Alternative: You can try adding cooked Italian sausage or cooked chicken breast to this dish as well.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Finger Lickin' Fifteen


Title: Finger Lickin' Fifteen (15th book in the Stephanie Plum series)

Author: Janet Evanovich

Pages: 308

Type: Mystery


Synopsis: Now that Stephanie Plum has sworn off men, she has lots of time on her hands. In need need of some extra money she accepts a desk job from Cuban hunk/bounty hunter extraordinaire, Ranger. This does not please her now off again boyfriend, Joe Morelli.

When ex 'ho' Lula witnesses a famous chef being decapitated she learns that the murderers are now after her. She enlists Stephanie's help to find the killers. Lula's idea to catch the killers? To sign up to compete in the Rib Cookoff being held in Trenton which the famous chef was supposed to be a big part of. The only problem? (well one of the many problems?) -- Lula cannot cook and when she gets Grandma Mazur on board as her sous-chef ... things start getting messy. Can Stephanie help catch the killers before they kill Lula? Can Stephanie keep her self-imposed 'anti-men' campaign while in Ranger's midst?

My Thoughts: I had several laugh out loud moments in this book but I wouldn't say that the mystery was the best mystery of the series. I would have loved more from Grandma Mazur -- I cannot believe there was no Grandma Mazur high jinx at the funeral parlour!! Although, Stephanie's dad's comments around the family dining table are hilarious.

My Rating: 3.5/5 (a good read)

Broccoli and Carrot Lasagna

This is a really good vegetarian lasagna that has a creamy sauce instead of the traditional tomato sauce.

4 cups broccoli, chopped
2 cups carrots, chopped
2 tsp butter or margarine
1/2 onion, chopped
1 cup fresh mushrooms, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
2 (10.75oz) cans of condensed Crem of Mushroom soup
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (divided)
3/4 cottage cheese
3 cups Mozzarella cheese, grated (divided)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp rosemary, crushed
9 oven-ready lasagna noodles
2 tsp paprika

Preheat oven to 375F. Steam broccoli and carrots until tender. In a small skillet, melt butter and saute onion, mushrooms and green peppers until onion is tender.

In a bowl, combine cream of mushroom soup, 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese, cottage cheese and 2 cups of Mozzarella. Mix well and set aside 1 1/2 cups of this mixture. To the remaining sauce, add garlic powder, rosemary and the cooked vegetables. Set aside.

To assemble the lasagna: In a 9"x13" pan, lay 3 noodles, then spread 1/2 of the vegetable mixture over thop. Lay 3 more noodles, spread the rest of the vegetable mixture on top. Lay the remaining 3 noodles in the pan follwed by the resserved 1 1/2 cups of the cheese mixture. Sprinkle 1 cup of Mozzarella on top. In a small bowl, mix together the paprika and 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle on top of the Mozzarella layer.

Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour then remove cover. Bake an additional 10 minutes.

Tip: There's a lot of chopping involved in this recipe. When I make this lasagna I use my Pampered Chef Chopper to make things easier and quicker.

Yield: 12 servings

Originally from: Allrecipes.com

Fancy Beef Filet

This is a recipe that my Mom makes occasionally and it ... is ... sooooo good! With the amount of butter and red wine it wouldn't make the "Healthiest Meal" list but sometimes (ok, many times) taste wins out over healthiness. :) Serve with garlic mashed potatoes, asparagus and more red wine. Mmmmm.

5-6lb whole beef filet
1/2 lb butter, softened (no substitutions!)
2 cups fresh button mushrooms
1 beef boullion cube
1 cup red wine

Preheat oven to 400F. Place filet on a deep-sided cookie sheet (aka jelly roll pan). Spread softened butter over filet. Keep cold until ready to bake.

To cook so that the centre is rare and the ends are well done: Put filet in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Dissolve boullion cube in the red wine. After the initial 30 minutes in the oven, place mushrooms around meat and baste with wine mixture. Bake for 20 minutes more.

Tip: You can use an Eye of Round beef roast instead of the whole beef filet but the meat will not be as tender.

Originally from: "Talk About Good - The Junior League of Louisiana" page 268

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Mariana


Title: Mariana

Author: Susanna Kearsley (Canadian)

Pages: 395

Book Type: Historical Fiction/Romance


Synopsis: When 5 year old Julia Beckett saw the 16th century farmhouse house known as "Greywethers" years go she knew that she was drawn to it. 25 years later she again finds herself drawn to the house and decides to buy it. She feels that it's more than coincidence that has brought her once again to Greywethers.

Julia enjoys the small town atmosphere, especially when she starts receiving the attentions of the eligible owner of Crofton Hall. Shortly after moving into her new home Julia learns of Mariana, a beautiful woman who lived in Greywethers 300 years ago. Julia inexplicably finds herself transported back to 17th century England and sees the world through Mariana's eyes. Julia starts to become captivated by Mariana's life so much so that Julia must learn how to put Mariana's past to rest before she can start living her own life.

My Thoughts: I have been waiting and waiting for this book to be reprinted and was thrilled to finally get it from our local library. After reading and being captivated by Kearsley's other book "The Winter Sea" I was itching to read more from this Canadian author.
Kearsley has a way of pulling the reader into her stories with her wonderful characters, intruiging storylines, storyline twists and a nice bit of romance. No cheesy romance here ... you'll just find yourself smiling to yourself at the end of this very enjoyable book.
My Rating: 4/5 (a really good read)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Carmelized Baked Chicken

This is one of my husband's favourite dishes. It's a really easy and versatile dish which can be doubled for a crowd or cut in half for smaller gatherings.

3lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 cup honey
2 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup soy sauce
Dash salt
Dash black pepper
2 tbsp ketchup

Preheat oven to 375F. Place chicken in a 9"x13" baking dish.

Mix remaining ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix well. Pour over chicken. Bake for 1/2 hour. Turn chicken pieces over. Bake for another 1/2 hour or until sauce has carmelized over the chicken (it will be bubbly!).

Tip: I wasn't aware of this until about 2 years ago but did you know that soy sauce should be kept in the fridge? Yup. I used to keep it in the pantry along with my Worchestershire sauce and spices until one of my sisters told me that she had read the label and been surprised to find out where it should be kept. Oops! Just an FYI. You may now proceed to put yours in the fridge too ... unless you were wiser and knew that tidbit already! ;)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Marked


Title: Marked (1st book in The House of Night series)

Authors: P.C Cast & Kristin Cast

Book Type: Supernatural/Young Adult


Synopsis: The House of Night series is set in modern day ... but in a world where vampires have always existed among humans. In this first book of the series, new vampire Zoey Redbird enters The House of Night - a residential school for new vampires. Away from her family and friends, Zoey awaits her 'Change' into an adult vampire and hopes that she can survive the change (which often kills a new vamp).

Zoey is no ordinary vampire since she has been specially Marked by the goddess Nyx. She is not the only young vampire with special powers. When she learns that the leader of the school "Dark Daughters" group is misusing her goddess-given powers Zoey knows that she must stop her with the help of her new vampire friends.

My Thoughts: This is the first book in The House of Night series written by mother and daughter authors, P.C and Kristin Cast. I have to say that they did a good job. I think that Kristin helped to make the writing 'young' with the teenage slang etc (which can get a bit annoying at times but they don't overindulge in teen-speak). The storyline moves along at a good pace and is hard to put down at times.
Even though this is a novel written for Young Adults this 30-something quite enjoyed this book. It's easy read with likable characters. I think it's a cross between "Twilight" and "Harry Potter". I actually found quite a few similarities between Harry Potter and this book (new kid at a residential school for kids with special powers who has extra special powers and must fight the evil kid at school as well as an even darker force). This book isn't going to change anyone's lives by reading it nor invoke long and heated book club debates but it's a good read.

This is the first book in the series of 6 books (book 7 is due out on 2010). Read the books in order since there are several on-going storylines.

My Rating: 4/5 (a really good read)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Chocolate Peanut Butter Squares


These taste exactly like Reese's Peanut Butter cups. They even have the same texture!

You may have noticed that I don't post many recipes that use nuts (if I do they are easily omitted). This is due to a severe peanut allergy in our family. This is a recipe that I've had for a long time but haven't made in over 6 years. These squares are amazing!

For those of us dealing with an anaphylactic allergy to peanuts you can substitute Freenut Butter instead of peanut butter. I buy mine at a local Sobey's food store and it is the closest thing to peanut butter in taste and texture that I have been able to find. I love the stuff!!! Plus, it's gluten free, has omega-3 and -6 polyunsaturates and is trans-fat and cholesterol free. You can't get better than that! You can get more information on Freenut Butter by going to http://www.totallynutfree.ca/.

1 cup butter or margarine
4 cups icing sugar
2 cups peanut butter (or Freenut Butter)
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Melt 1 cup of butter over low heat. Remove from heat and stir in icing sugar, peanut butter/Freenut Butter and graham cracker crumbs. Spread mixture evenly in a jelly roll pan. Pat down gently.

To make topping: Melt together 1/2 cup of butter with chocolate chips. Spread this mixture over the peanut butter mixture. Refrigerate for 1/2 hour. Cut into squares.

Originally from: allrecipes.com

Prairie Tale


Title" Prairie Tale

Author: Melissa Gilbert

Book Type: Autobiography

Pages: 367


Synopsis: Melissa Gilbert, of "Little House on the Prairie" fame, writes a very touching, real and honest book about the ups and downs of her life in the spot light. She writes about her adoption into a legendary Hollywood family, her fame during her decade playing Half Pint on Little House, her close relationship to Michael Landon, her failed relationships, failed marriage and alcohol and drug abuse.


My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this candid book about Gilbert's life. Growing up I was a big fan of "Little House" and had heard bits and pieces about Melissa Gilbert's life in the spot light but Gilbert sheds light on a side of her that I had no idea existed.

It's interesting reading about her journey of self-discovery. She writes about her identity issues about being adopted as an infant, striving to be perfect at all things and to have people love her no matter what the cost to her self-esteem, personal health or relationships.

She also dishes a lot on her relationships, namely Rob Lowe and the Brat Pack that she hung around with, as well as her relationship with Billy Idol (news to me!). She also is candid and honest about her decent into drug and alcohol addictions which took her decades to admit to herself.

Overall, this was a really good read. I like her sense of humour and respect how honest she was throughout the book. It's nice to see a child actor who, unfortunately, struggled with the negatives that come with fame but ultimately came out the other side a stronger and more self-aware person.

My Rating: 4/5 (aka a really good read)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Comments anyone?? Bueller? Bueller?

I love seeing people post comments about my blog posts -- and get disappointed when all I see are the equivalent of virtual crickets chirping ;) Don't be shy!! If you've tried one of my recipes I'd love to hear about it. Have you read one of the books I posted? Let me know. Or if you just wanna say 'hey' that's good too. :)

Let me know if there are books you think I'd like to try ... or if there are recipes types you'd like me to post more of. I can look through my oodles of recipes and see if I have something that matches what you're looking for.

Chocolate Banana Bread

This is one of my 'go-to' recipes that I know my kids will love. "Cub's" best friend actually asked for this recipe when I gave it to them as a snack during a playdate so that his mom could make it for him at home (needless to say I gave him the recipe and an extra slice for such a sweet compliment!).

This bread makes 2 loaves and is awesome for freezing so you can eat one and save one for later.
1 cup butter or margarine, softened (see Tip)
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
6 bananas, ripe and mashed
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup cocoa
1 cup sour cream
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease TWO 9"x5" loaf pans.

In a large bowl, cream together butter, sugar and eggs. Stir in bananas and vanilla.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda and cocoa; mix well. Add banana mixture to flour mixture and mix until just blended. Stir in sour cream and chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of each loaf comes out clean.

Tip: You can cut the amount of margarine/butter in half. Use 1/2 cup of unsweetened applesauce as well as 1/2 cup of butter/margarine. You still need the fat in baked goods but you can usually cut the fat in half by using applesauce while still maintaining moistness.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

My MIL's Famous Apple Pie

With my oldest son celebrating his birthday with a big sleepover with his buddies I didn't have a chance to try out the recipes that I was planning (a bunch of 10 year old boys would not appreciate a nice Greek quiche!). So instead I'm going to share with you one of our family favourites.

This is a wonderful sour cream apple pie that my Mother-in-law is famous for. Thanksgiving and Christmas wouldn't be the same without this dessert. :)

1 unbaked deep-dish pie shell
4-5 apples - peeled, cored and sliced
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp cinnamon sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp brown sugar
1/3 cup sour cream
2 tbsp milk
2 tbsp butter
Garnish cinnamon

Preheat oven to 425F.

Arrange apple slices in pie shell. Sprinkle apples with lemon juice and 1/2 tsp of cinnamon sugar.
Mix 1/3 cup of white sugar, flour, 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1/2 tsp cinnamon together and sprinkle over apples. Sprinkle 3 tbsp brown sugar over top. Mix sour cream with milk. Drizzle over top of apple mixture. Dot with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon.

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Frostbitten


Title: Frostbitten (10th book in the "Women of the Underworld" series)

Author: Kelley Armstrong

Type: Supernatural

Pages: 339


Synopsis: There's nothing worse for werewolves than when attention is drawn to them. So, when a pack of rogue werewolves begins killing people in Alaska, Elena is sent to solve the problem and get rid of the Mutts. Elena has a lot on her plate dealing with ghosts from her past and an uncertain future among The Pack. She finds this new problem in Alaska more than she can handle and asks her husband Clay to come up and help her. They find a lot more than they bargain for when they learn of a new beast that may be hunting them!

My Thoughts: Kelley Armstrong has got to be one of my favourite writers ... especially when she writes about Clay and Elena. As I've mentioned before, Armstrong has a wonderful way of writing about the supernatural. Elena is my favourite characters from this series. She's a strong woman who can hold her own but it was also nice to see that she has some weaknesses that we find out about in this book.
I also loved the fact that Armstrong mentioned several times in the book the fact that Elena is Canadian (Armstrong lives in south-western Ontario). In the past she's occasionally mentioned this fact but in this book she refers to Algonquin Park, Toronto, northern Ontario, Newfoundland etc etc. It didn't sit well with me that Armstrong is Canadian, made her main character Canadian ... but then all 10 books in the series (with the exception of the beginning of "Bitten") happen in the States. It was very refreshing to see some Canadian stuff mentioned in this book.
This book was very hard to put down and had loads of action in it (at times I was on the edge of my seat anxiously reading what would happen next).

My Rating: 4.5/5 (amazing book)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tiramisu Layer Cake


I made this recipe last year for my Mom's birthday. It ... was ... amazing (if I do say so myself!). My Mom is a huge tiramisu fan and this cake had the same taste and texture of the real thing. It looks like a fancy dessert but using a boxed cake mix makes it easy! The original recipe was from allrecipes.com but I've made a few changes ... namely using instant coffee instead of fresh brewed and adding an extra layer of coffee flavoured cake.


The mascarpone cheese (found near most deli counters - near the feta etc) is pricey (around $8!) but well worth it. You could try using a mixture of creamed cheese and sour cream instead but I like to stick with the real thing for this recipe.


Cake

1 (18.25oz) pkg Duncan Hines moist white cake mix (plus ingredients used to make mix)

2 tsp instant coffee powder

2 tbsp water


Coffee Mixture

3 tsp instant coffee powder

1/4 cup water

2 tbsp coffee flavour liqueur (Kahlua)


Filling

1 (8oz) mascarpone cheese

1/2 cup icing sugar

2 tbsp coffee flavour liqueur (Kahlua)


Frosting

2 cups heavy cream (whipping cream)

1/4 cup icing sugar

2 tbsp coffee flavour liqueur (Kahlua)


Garnish

2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa

1 (1oz) square semi-sweet chocolate (optional)


Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour 3 (9-inch) round baking pans.


Prepare cake mix according to package directions. Divide one third of batter into one pan. Stir 2 tsp instant coffee with 2 tbsp water; add to remaining 2/3 of batter. Divide batter into 2 remaining pans.


Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.


In a measuring cup, combine 3 tsp instant coffee powder with 1/4 cup water and 2 tbsp coffee liqueur. Set aside.


To make the filling:

In a small bowl, using an electric mixer set on low speed, combine mascarpone, 1/2 cup icing sugar and 2 tbsp coffee liqueur; beat just until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.


To make frosting:

In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer set on medium-high speed, beat the heavy cream, 1/4 cup icing sugar and 2 tbsp coffee liqueur until stiff. Fold 1/2 cup of cream mixture into filling mixture.


To assemble cake: Place one coffee flavoured cake layer on a serving plate. Using a thin skewer, poke holes in cake about 1-inch apart. Pour 1/3 of reserved coffee mixture over cake, then spread with half of the filling mixture. Top with white cake layer; poke holes in cake. Pour another 1/3 of coffee mixture over this second layer and spread with remaining filling. Top with remaining coffee-flavoured cake layer; poke holes in cake. Pour remaining coffee mixture over top. Spread sides and top of cake with frosting. Place cocoa in a sieve and lightly dust top of cake. Garnish with chocolate curls, if using. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Size 12 Is Not Fat!


Title: Size 12 is Not Fat!

Author: Meg Cabot

Type: Chick Lit/Mystery
Series: 1st book in Heather Wells Mystery series



Synopsis: Heather Wells has seen a lot of changes in her life. She went from being a big teen singing sensation (think mall singers Tiffany and Debbie Gibson-type fame) with her equally famous boyband boyfriend .... to losing said boyfriend, her recording contract and all of her money.
Now, in her late twenties, she's gained a few dress sizes (which she's fine with, really!), hears endless "Don't I know you from somewhere?" from strangers and now has a job as an assistant dorm supervisor which she enjoys. That is, until the bodies of female undergraduates start piling up in her dorm! The cops and college staff chalk the deaths up to accidents but Heather isn't so sure and sets off to find out more about the deaths.


My Thoughts: This was a decent, easy to read mystery. The one thing that got annoying was the (I guess you could call it joke) that Heather repeatedly (I mean at least 15 times in the book) refers to her workplace as a college residence instead of *gasp* a dorm. Not sure why that had to be repeated throughout the book, but it was. The main character was likable but the secondary characters (ie Magda) weren't as involved in the storyline like I would have expected. Overall, a good read. Good mystery with a few twists.

My Rating: 3/5 (good read)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Broiled Sweet and Tangy Tilapia

Tonight I tried a new recipe because I had some tilapia that I wanted to use. It was called "Broiled Sweet and Tangy Tilapia". Although the sauce smelled wonderful, because the fish wasn't marinated in the sauce the dish was very blaw. I think that if you were to marinate the fish for a couple of hours in the marinade it would be wonderful. I've posted the recipe the way it was originally written (except that I used olive oil instead of butter). If anyone gives this a try with the marinating let me know how it turns out.

1 tbsp olive oil
6 tbsp lemon juice, divided
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp grainy Dijon mustard
2 tsp raspberry vinegar
4 tsp honey
1/2 tsp tarragon
1lb tilapia fillets

Preheat oven broiler. Place a sheet of aluminum foil on your broiling pan (or on a cookie sheet) and brush with 1 tbsp olive oil.

In a bowl, whisk together 2 tsp lemon juice, 2 tbsp olive oil, Dijon, raspberry vinegar, honey and tarragon.

Place tilapia on prepared baking sheet. Broil 3 minutes in the preheated oven. Turn tilapia and drizzle with approximately half of the marinade. Continue broiling for 3 more minutes; turn and drizzle with remaining marinade. Return fish to oven and broil for an additional 2 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Remove from heat and sprinkle with remaining lemon juice.

Originally from: allrecipes.com

Cherry Cheese Balls

These are one of my Mom's specialties and a Christmas favourite in our house. As per K&DMum's request (from Todaysparent) here's the recipe ...

4 oz cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1 cup graham cracker crumbs or vanilla wafer crumbs (I use graham)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup Maraschino cherries, chopped
Garnish graham cracker crumbs

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese with a wooden spoon until smooth. Gradually blend in icing sugar, graham cracker crumbs, salt and cherries. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Shape into 1-inch balls. Roll in graham cracker crumbs. Chill.

Yield: 3 dozen

Tip: Make sure you roll each ball in the graham cracker crumbs otherwise they get really sticky when you pick them up.

Macaroni and Cheese

This is such a staple in our house that I no longer need the recipe. My kids love the crumb topping. If you don't have lots of time you can omit the topping and serve this dish right from the stove top omitting the baking time.

2 cups elbow macaroni, uncooked
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp Worchestershire sauce
2 cups milk
2 cups old cheddar cheese, grated

Crumb Topping
3 tbsp butter or margarine, melted
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350F. Cook macaroni as directed on package. While macaroni is cooking, melt butter in a large skillet or 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour, salt, pepper, dry mustard and Worchestershire sauce. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth and bubbly; remove from heat. Stir in milk. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir for 1 minute. Stir in cheese. Cook, stirring occasionally until cheese has melted.

Drain macaroni and add to cheese mixture. Pour into an ungreased 2-quart casserole dish.

To make crumb topping: In a microwave-safe bowl, melt butter. Add bread crumbs, garlic powder and Parmesan cheese. Mix well. Sprinkle crumb mixture evenly over macaroni. Bake, uncovered for 20-25 minutes or until crumb topping is browned and macaroni is bubbling.

Tip 1: Add some extra zip by using jalapeno flavoured cheese. You could also add some Cajun spice to the bread topping.

Tip 2: Try changing the cheese. I've used old white cheddar before and it was really good!!

Dead Men Don't Get the Munchies


Title: "Dead Men Don't Get the Munchies

Series: 3rd book in the Cooking Class Mystery series

Author: Miranda Bliss

Pages: 256

Type: Mystery


Synopsis: Best friends and sometimes sleuths Annie and Eve once again find themselves in the middle of a murder. This time, Eve is the main suspect in the murder of one of Annie's cooking class students -- a man who was a total weasel to Eve in the past. Annie jumps in to prove her friend didn't do it.


My Thoughts: This mystery totally fell flat. I figured out who dunnit less than half way through the book.


My Rating: 2/5 (blech)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Greek Quiche

Homemade crust and feta cheese make this a great quiche. I make quiche similar to how I make pizza -- try out different toppings and cheeses!! Whatever you have on hand.

Crust
3 cups white flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup Crisco shortening, at room temperature
3/4 cup water (divided)

Filling
1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
1/2 green pepper, diced
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1 Roma tomato, diced and seeded
1/2 cup black olives, sliced (optional)
3/4 cup Feta cheese, crumbled
6 eggs
1/4 cup milk or light cream
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated

Prepare crust: Mix flour and salt together. Add Crisco and mix with a pastry blender or two knives until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add water 1/4 cup at a time. Do not add too much water at one time. Blend with hands and form into 3 separate balls. Place dough in fridge for 1 hour before rolling. The remaining 2 dough balls can be wrapped in Saran wrap, put into a Ziploc freezer bag and frozen for later use.

Prepare quiche: Preheat oven to 400F. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to fit pie plate. In a small skillet, saute mushrooms, green pepper and red onion until onion is soft. Sprinkle vegetables, tomato and black olives (if using) evenly over crust. Sprinkle with feta cheese.

In a small bowl, combine eggs, milk and water. Mix well. Pour over vegetables and feta in pie shell. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over top. Bake for 10 minutes. Decrease heat to350F and continue baking for 30 minutes more or until eggs have set. Serve with a Greek salad.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Bacon and Potato Heart Stopper Soup

This is a fabulous soup (and a favourite of my hubby's) that tastes wonderful but will put your cholesterol level into the stratosphere! This soup makes plenty so if you have a smaller group you may want to cut it in half.

1lb thickly sliced bacon, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 large onion, coursely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 medium to large potatoes, cubed
4 cups chicken stock
3 tbsp butter or margarine
1/4 cup flour
1 cup 10% creamer (original recipe called for whipping cream)
1 tsp tarragon
1 tsp cilantro or coriander
to taste salt & pepper

In a large skillet, cook bacon. Remove bacon from skillet and set aside. Drain off all but 1/4 cup of the bacon grease.

In a soup pot, saute the celery and onion in a little of the bacon grease until onion becomes clear. Add garlic and continue to cook for 1-2 minutes more. Add potatoes; toss to coat. Saute for 3-4 minutes. Add bacon to potato mixture. Add enough chicken broth to just cover the potatoes (approximately 4 cups). Cover and simmer until potatoes are tender.

In the skillet used for the bacon, cook the flour in the remaining 1/4 cup of bacon grease for 1-2 minutes. Add the cream and heat until thickened, stirring constantly. Add the cream mixture to the potato mixture, heating through. Puree approximately half of the soup and return it to the pot. Season to taste.

Originall from: http://www.souprecipes.com/
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