Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Whatcha Makin' for the holiday weekend dinner?

This weekend is gearing up to be an absolutely fabulous weekend here in Ontario, Canada. It's supposed to be in the mid-20's (around 77F) and full of sun, sun, sun! I'm looking forward to seeing my kids playing with their cousins outside whilst the adults chat and catch up.

My parents will be flying in from their long trip to Australia on Friday so they'll still be a little weary I suppose (being with their 10 grandchildren will either exhaust them or increase their energy ... we'll which happens!). Needless to say, Nanny and Papa have missed the kids!

Our family is all heading over to one of my sisters' for dinner. She's providing the bird, stuffing and potatoes and the rest of us bring everything else. I'm planning on trying out 2 new recipes on my unsuspecting family (truth be told, they now expect me to use them as guinea pigs for new recipes). I'm going to be making a Hot Artichoke and Spinach Dip as well as a Lemon Cheesecake. Mmmm. If I get some thumbs up I'll post the recipes on here next week.

My other sister is bringing some homemade sugar cookies for the kids to decorate and a veggie tray (we need to keep up the appearance of healthy eating so that we can consume the desserts, you see!).

So, what is everyone cooking for this holiday weekend?? Do you have any family favourites? Traditions?

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Chewy Granola Bars

I've been on the lookout for a great homemade granola bar recipe for quite awhile now. The recipes that I've tried in the past were filled with honey and corn syrup ... I mean FILLED with it. So much so that you might as well just munch on a chocolate bar ... dipped in maple syrup! My goal was to find a tasty, chewy bar that had healthy stuff packed in it but still had a sweetness to it. I believe I've found it! This bar really reminds me of the Quaker Harvest Crunch cereal that I loved as a kid. I think it's because of the coconutty taste to it.

I found this recipe on a blog called Cinnamon and Sass (who originally got it from I thought I'd give it a try because the sweetened condensed milk intrigued me.
These granolas bars passed my "Kid Approved" testing (which is fairly strict and can easily waiver with an ill-placed serving of raisins or *gasp* other healthy stuff!). I gave some to my kids and they (especially 10 year old Cub) loved them!
I did make some adjustments to better suit our family. I didn't use the walnuts in the orginal recipe because of the nut allergy in our family (I substituted Rice Krispies instead which added a nice light crunch) and I used Freenut Butter instead of the butter or peanut butter. I couldn't taste the nutty flavour of the Freenut Butter but I like using it better than butter because Freenut Butter has no trans fats or cholesterol and boasts lots of Omega-3 and -6's. I also used white chocolate chips as well as chocolate chips (the chocolate was used to entice the kids and keep their attentions away from the craisins, coconut and oats ... all part of my master plan. Bwa ha ha!!). I also finely chopped the craisins (to hid them a bit better from Karate Kid who can usually smell a craisin from 50 feet away).

One of the main reasons I love this recipe is that it's so easy to adjust to your own family's tastes. Try adding sunflower seeds, for added fibre add wheat germ, various nuts, dark chocolate, dried cherries, dried apricots ....

3 cups quick-cooking oats
1 (14oz) can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated)
2 tbsp butter, melted (or peanut butter or Freenut butter)
1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
1 cup Rice Krispies
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried cranberries (aka Craisins), finely chopped if desired

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a jellyroll pan (or cookie sheet) with greased tin foil (or parchment paper).

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together until well blended. Press flat into the prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, depending on how crunchy you want your granola bars to turn out. I pulled mine out after about 20 minutes when they were lightly browned around the edges. My bars came out nice and chewy.

Remove bars from the foil/parchment paper; cut into rectangles while they're still warm then let them cool completely.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Don of the Dead

Author: Casey Daniels
Genre: Supernatural, Mystery
Pages: 325
Series: First book in the Pepper Martin Mystery series
Series Order:
2. The Chick and the Dead
3. Tombs of Endearment
4. Night of the Loving Dead
5. Dead Man Talking
6. Tomb With a View

First Line: "I have to admit, the first time Gus Scarpetti spoke to me, I didn't pay a whole lot of attention."
Synopsis: Pepper Martin is a former rich girl who never had to work a day in her life ... until her dad was convicted of fraud, her family's money dwindles, her mom hightailed it out of town and her ex-fiance dumps her. Now the only job Pepper can get is as a tour guide for one of Cleveland's local cemeteries.

After smacking her head on a tombstone, Pepper learns that she now has the unfortunate ability to speak to a grumpy and dead Mafia don who needs her help finding out who killed him 30 years ago.

My Thoughts: I found a few books in this series at my local library but, for some reason, they didn't have the first book so off I went to buy this first book in the series. I'm not one to read books in a series out of order (part of my Type A personality quirks) so getting the first book in this series was a must.

This book was ... good but was lacking something. I think I'm so used to this kind of book having all kinds of great secondary characters ... but this one didn't have them at all. It does have the beginnings of a love triangle which could prove to be interesting.

There wasn't a whole lot of action until later in the book but there were some really nice twists at the end that stopped me from guessing who dunnit until the end. I did find it odd that cemeteries employ tour guides ... is it just me?

Overall, a good read but I'm kind of reserving my thumbs up until I read more of the series. This book was a good start to a series but I'm hoping for more action, laughs etc in the later books.

My Rating: 2.5/5

Lemony Caesar Salad

This recipe goes out to Jen S who asked me for a Caesar Salad dressing recipe. This is a great Caesar salad dressing that doesn't use raw eggs (I cannot bring myself to eat raw eggs). Loaded with garlic it's delicious. You can make it creamier by adding some mayonnaise and whipping it up. Homemade garlic croutons (recipe below) are a must with this salad!

1/4 cup olive, grape seed oil or vegetable oil
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 heaping tbsp mayonnaise (optional)
9 cups Romaine lettuce, torn
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
1 cup croutons

In a small bowl combine oil, lemon juice, garlic, Dijon, salt and pepper (and mayonnaise, if using); mix well. Set aside.

In a salad bowl, combine the lettuce, onion, mushrooms and Parmesan. Mix well. Drizzle dressing over salad and toss to coat. Add croutons. Serve immediately.

Laurie's Knock You Down with the Smell 'o' Garlic Croutons
3 slices bread
2 garlic cloves, minced

Butter bread on both sides. Cut the slices into cubes. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add some extra butter to the skillet; add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add bread cubes and saute until all croutons are nicely browned. Allow croutons to cool before putting them in the salad.

Note: This recipe has been adapted from "Taste of Home's: Quick Cooking" (Jan/Feb 2000)

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Come the Spring

Author: Julie Garwood
Genre: Romance
Quick Review: Mushy
Published: 1998
Series: 5th book in the "Clayborne Brides" series
Series Order:
1. For the Roses
2. One Pink Rose
3. One White Rose
4. One Red Rose

First Line: "But for the grace of God and an untied shoelace, she would have died with the others that day."

Synopsis: Previous books in this series have focused on the other Clayborne brothers: Adam, Travis and Douglas. This book now focuses on the restless brother of the Clayborne clan, Cole.

Cole has always been the black sheep of the Clayborne family. He's toyed around with living on the wrong side of the law while is brothers have settled down into married life. Cole is asked by U.S. Marshal, Daniel Ryan, to join him as a Marshal in order to capture an elusive band of men who have been terrorizing Montana. Cole is hesitant at first but quickly enjoys being on the right side of the law for a change.

Marshal Ryan has his own reasons for hunting the gang and is set on vengance. Ryan's quest to find this gang lead him to a small town and beautiful young woman who may have witnessed the last bank robbery and mass murder. When two other young women come forward and claim to be the witness to the murders the Marshals have to figure out who is telling the truth. As the story unfolds both Marshals get involved more deeply with the young women than they ever dreamed they would.

My Thoughts: If you're looking for a romance with a bit of gun slinging involved then this book is for you. Personally, I'd prefer more action and less 'Harlequin-type' romantic verbage.

Usually Garwood's "Rose" books are a very light read with slightly mushy overtones. This book is oozing mushy romance with lines like :

"His hand moved to the back of her neck, and he pulled her toward him. 'I want to kiss you. Is that alright?'. she loved the fact that he'd asked permission. 'Yes, Daniel. I want you to kiss me. I've waited for such a long time.'"

Umm, ya. Not my personal cuppa tea. Her books are pretty formulaic too so I wouldn't advise reading them closely together. They typically go like this: man doesn't want to fall in love but finds a beautiful woman. He struggles with loving her, his past and his duty.

Don't get me wrong. Garwood is great for a light, easy read with an uncomplicated storyline perfect for reading on a plane or sitting on the beach. While I liked this book, I preferred the first 4 books in the series which seemed to have better storylines and you got to know the other brothers better. I'd definitely read these books in order because the earlier books explain how the Claybornes became a family.

My Rating: 2.5/5

Friday, 26 March 2010

What I'm Reading in April

Hi all!
I was so please to see all of the responses to my "What Should I Read Next" posting. I had 18 books to choose from (I didn't include suggestions of books that I had already read). In order to pick something randomly I asked my husband to pick a number randomly between 1 and 18. He chose 14 which means I'm reading ....

wait for it
wait for it
"Cane River" by Lalita Tademy!!!! :) I'll pick it up as soon as I can and start reading it in early April! Thanks again for all of the responses. It seems like everyone was really into this kind of posting so I'll do this again next month. That way, you all can share various book ideas and get some new ideas for yourselves. I always find that the best books are those that are referred by other 'regular' readers (not critics).


Now that Blogger has FINALLY got 3-column templates I decided to change up the blog. Now you can find all of the book related stuff down the left column and the recipe related stuff down the right column. In the middle will be all of the posts. Easy peasy!

I'm still working out some kinks and I'm not sure of the colour scheme but, like I say, it's a work in progress. I wanted my blog to be more user friendly and clearer. Before there was too much stuff in the small column and I thought it was hard to find things.

Check it out and let me know what you think. Thanks for your patience - especially those (ie Jen S.) who don't like changes. :)

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Chocolate Orange Muffins

The other day I bought an obscenely huge bag of navel oranges. Since I know that my family probably won't be able to eat them all before they shrivel up I decided to find a recipe to use them up.

The first thought that popped into my tastefully highlighted head was Terry's Chocolate Orange. You know what I'm talking about, right? Chocolate and orange never tasted so good!

So how could I combine chocolate and orange to subdue my craving? The first kind of recipe to pop into my head? Muffins, of course. So I went out onto the web in search of a nice, moist muffin. I found one but then tweaked it to make it mine. Instead of grating chocolate into the batter (I'm much too lazy) I just used chocolate chips. I also increased the orange zest A LOT. Go big or go home when it comes to using zest, I always say. To me, the smell of orange or lemon zest is up there on my list of favourite smells along with a freshly washed baby, freshly brewed coffee and Shemar Moore (or at least I'm assuming he smells as good as he looks!). Mmm, Shemar ........ but again, I digress. Back to muffins ...

Last Christmas my mother-in-law, as part of my gift, bought me a microplane (see picture on the right). It's perfect for zesting citrus fruits so that you get a nice fine consistency of zest, not the chunky, stringy kind. It also helps you just take off the 'zest' (orange part) not the underlying white 'pith' which is bitter. I highly recommend getting one.

These muffins smelled wonderful while they baked. Heck, the batter smelled wonderful. They came out and their texture was moist and light. I'm assuming that, if they survive my husband and children after school/work, that the flavour will only get better and stronger by tomorrow.

1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup orange juice
zest from 2 oranges
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400F. In a medium bowl, combine butter and sugar. Mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, stirring in between each addition. Add sour cream, orange juice and zest.

In another medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix well. Slowly add to butter mixture, making sure not to overmix. Fold in chocolate chips.

Fill paper-lined muffin tins 3/4 full and bake for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean. Let muffins sit in tins for 5 minutes before removing them to completely cool on a wire rack.

Yield: 18 muffins

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

BOOK: Graceling (Cashore)

Title: Graceling
Author: Kristin Cashore
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
Pages: 471
Quick Review: Really good
Published: 2008
First Line: "In these dungeons the darkness was complete, but Katsa had a map in her mind"

Synopsis: In Katsa's world some people are born with extraordinary skills, called Graces. These Gracelings are both feared and exploited for their skills. Katsa is a Graceling and has a skill that even she despises ... the Grace of killing. She lives with her uncle, King Randa, who uses Katsa's skills to torture and murder people who disobey him. She has spent her entire life in service to her uncle. She has hardly any friends and sees no real future for herself except to do her uncle's bidding.

Secretly Katsa has started up an organization which tries to save people from injustices ... often times she has to thwart the desires of her own uncle. During one of these rescues, she saves an old Leinid King. During the rescue she meets a Leinid young man who is graced in fighting. When this man shows up at her uncle's castle, Katsa is surprised to learn that this young man, named Po, is the grandson of the king she rescued.

At first Katsa is very tentative to get to know Po but eventually they find that they have a lot in common and start to train together. Not only do her and Po become close friends but he helps her to truly understand her Grace. This knowledge comes in handy when she decides that she's finally had enough of killing for her uncle. She decides to follow her own free will. She and Po embark on a journey to eradicate a secret that could destroy all 7 kingdoms of their world with words alone.

My Thoughts: This is the first fantasy book that I've ever read. I wasn't sure what to expect ... but I really enjoyed this book. At first it was a little hard getting used to the various names and places. I wasn't used to reading a book that hasn't taken place in our world. Luckily the author had a map of the 7 kingdoms at the beginning of the book which made it easier to picture this new world. I would have loved to have a character reference listing too. Once I got into the story it became easy to keep track of which King belonged to which kingdom but for awhile it was a little confusing.

I enjoyed seeing how Katsa went from a fearless thug with hardly any emotional ties to others to a strong, independent young woman who, with the help of Po, learned how to feel and be more human. I loved the fact that Katsa is such a strong character especially since this book is aimed at young adults. No wishy washy damsel in distress ... Katsa can hold her own and then some. It was actually a little shocking at first to know that a young woman could be so violent. It was also great to see a male character like Po who wasn't intimidated by Katsa's strength but who taught her how to feel and be more than just a killing weapon for her uncle.

Cashore did get a little wordy in the middle of the book which, in my opinion, really slowed down the storyline. I personally don't need so much description of the environment ... but that's just me.

Overall, I was really pleased with my first foray into the fantasy genre. As for the young adult genre? This book didn't feel as YA as many other YA books that I've read (Twilight, House of Night ...). It had much more action, the storyline was much more complex and the characters were nicely layered and not cut out of the typical cookie cutter YA mold.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul

Title: Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul
Genre: Canadiana, feel-good???

Synopsis & My Thoughts: Like other "Chicken Soup" books, this book is filled with 'lift-me-up' type short stories. Personally, I don't think this kind of book is my thing.

At first the stories made me go "awww" and have pride in my country (not that I needed help in that area!) ... but after a few stories (MANY of which were hockey based) it got old quickly. I think a big part of my not liking the book was the fact that I didn't know the authors of the stories.

I did read ahead a bit so that I could read Kurt Browning's story. It was the best story that I read from this book. I don't think I'll be picking up another Chicken Soup book. I guess I'm just not a fan of chicken soup.

My Rating: 0/5

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Mark's Lasagna

I made this lasagna today and invited my sister Jennifer, her 3 kids and my mother-in-law over for dinner. With lasagna ... the more, the merrier (this way my family doesn't have to eat left-overs all week!). I received this recipe from my sister, Jennifer. It's actually her brother-in-law Mark's recipe and it was the only lasagna that her kids would eat. With that kind of praise from a couple of 6 year old twins, I had to try it myself since my own kids aren't big on lasagna.

This lasagna was a simpler version than the lasagna I typically make. By simple, I mean that there weren't lots of chopped veggies (mushrooms, onions, peppers etc) ... which is probably why the kids gobbled it up! I loved the texture of the ricotta cheese and the fact that it wasn't a really thick lasagna -- this leaves more room for salad and garlic bread!!

The next time I make it I think I'll add some finely diced mushrooms and onion and see if I can still fool the kids. Also, instead of the fresh parsley, I"ll finely dice up some spinach for some added vitamins .... and so I can chuckle when my spinach fearing kids ask for seconds of a dish with the dreaded spinach in it!

By the way, 2 of my kids gobbled this lasagna up (amidst all of the giggles coming from the kids table I wasn't sure how much food was actually being eaten) so it's two thumbs up for this lasagna!!

1 lb lean ground beef
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups Ricotta cheese
2 1/2 cups Mozzarella cheese, grated (divided)
1/2 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated (divided)
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 (700mL) jar spagetti sauce
1 1/2 cups water
approx. 12 oven-ready lasagna noodles

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large skillet, cook meat and garlic until meat is no longer pink. Drain off grease. Stir in pasta sauce and water. Mixture will be fairly runny.

In a medium bowl, combine ricotta cheese, 1 1/4 cups mozzarella cheese, 1/4 cup Parmesan, parsley and egg. Mix well and set aside.

Spread 1 cup of meat sauce in the bottom of a 9x13-inch pan. Top with approximately 4 lasagna noodles then 1/3 of the ricotta mixture. Repeat layers two more times. If you don't get the same number of layers, don't worry. As long as you have at least 2 repetitions of each layer you're fine.
Top with last 4 noodles and remainder of meat sauce. Sprinkle with 1 1/4 cups of mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Cover with a piece of greased tin foil (greased side down!) and bake for 1 hour. Remove foil and bake for another 20 minutes. Let sit for 15 minutes then serve. Enjoy!

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Murder 101

Title: Murder 101
Author: Maggie Barbieri
Genre: Mystery, Humour, Romance
Pages: 298
Quick Review: Loved it!
First Line: "Your ass looks great in that dress."
Series: First book in the Murder 101 Mystery series

Synopsis: Alison Bergeron is an English professor at St Thomas, a Catholic college just outside New York city limits. Alison considers herself "Queen of the Nerds" -- in her thirties, 5 foot 10 inches tall, an intelligent woman who is also clumsy and often finds herself saying whatever inappropriate comment pops into her head, faints, cries or pukes when under stress ... she may be right about her self-imposed title.

Alison's life is anything but quiet -- dealing with her recent divorce from her philandering husband, Ray, to having her car stolen are just the tip of the iceberg. One evening she gets a visit from two NYC detectives who tell her that a student, Kathy Miceli, has been found dead in Alison's car. To add fuel to the fire, Kathy's family has mob connections.

Suddenly Alison finds herself as the main suspect in the murder. Alison decides to take matters into her own hands in order to clear her name ... which leads to tension between her and Detective Crawford.

My Thoughts: I had picked up this book at the library based on the book cover and title alone. I'm very glad I did. This debut book by Barbieri was a really good read that has a great blend of romance, humour and some suspense.

Barbieri was able to have a main character that is smart and a regular sort of girl who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many main female characters seem to be made from the same cookie cutter ... but not Alison. She's a quirky gal complete with real emotions and doesn't see herself as 'anything special'. She's just a woman trying to get over her recently finalized divorce and have a normal life. The fact that Alison handles her stress by often vomitting, fainting or crying can get a little old at times but it can also be viewed as how some people would handle what Alison is facing (and it makes for some humourous situations).

Crawford is a regular sort of guy who isn't just a hunk with a nice face. The romance between them isn't over-the-top either but still happens at a nice pace. I loved the banter between Alison and Crawford and made me giggle out loud in several parts. Also, the romance between Alison and Crawford seemed very believable and I liked the fact that it wasn't rushed.

The one character I wasn't thrilled with was Max, Alison's best friend. Her character, to me, came off as more annoying and self-centred. I couldn't picture Alison being friends with a person liked Max.

Barbieri was able to finish the book with TWO cliffhangers that make me want to run out and read the next book in the series. While this book is labelled as a mystery I think that it's more of a funny romance with a splash of mystery thrown in. I'd love to see a bit more mystery in the next book ... which I'm definitely planning on reading.

My Rating: 4.5/5

Order of Series:

1. Murder 101

2. Extracurricular Activities

3. Quick Study

4. Final Exam

Friday, 19 March 2010

Winter Denial ... again!

What an absolutely beautiful day here in Ontario. Wow! You'd think it was late April but no! It was 16C (61F) here today (and has been that temp all week!) and it was so sunny! Gorgeous! The kids are all on their bikes (as of 2 days ago we are now a 'no training wheels' family ... thank you, thank you very much!), people out walking and saying 'hi' to each other, bird singing, men pulling out their lawnmowers, people putting laundry on the line .... It was a veritable utopia of happy Canadians.

What I've just described happens every year. It is a phenomenon here in Canada I'd like to call "Winter Denial". Even though we Canadians are very intelligent people, each year at the first sign of warmer weather we all whip off our coats, put away our mitts and snow shovels and start talking about the fact that Spring has arrived. When will we learn? Spring is not here ... it's just playing with us. Toying with our emotions only to tear us down a notch when it leaves and sends back the old curmudgeon Winter to give us some more snow.

Maybe this happens so that we appreciate Spring even more? Perhaps. Do I wish that this warm weather continued? You bet your faux fur-lined toque you do! Don't get me wrong. Canadians, for the most part, love their winter. We do! Admit it! If we could only get it to snow from December 20th to February 28th that would be great. Perfection would be for it not to snow on roads or sidewalks but we can't have everything, right?

So, take off your shorts - yes! - I saw several people out in their shorts this week (notice that I did not say "out and about" because here in Canada we do not say that term and I don't know who started that rumour). But I digress .... those Canadians who had shorts on today can put them away for a few more weeks because, like clockwork, Mother Nature is playing with us good natured and highly humourous Canadians because she knows we can take it.

Enjoy this good weather while you can my fellow Canucks .... because there's snow in the forcast for Monday.

<<-- Apparently I was a bit premature with my forecast. This is the view from my kitchen as of Saturday March 20/10. Told you so! Winter is back.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

What should I read next??

I'm always on the hunt for the next great read. I love to walk around libraries and Chapters hoping I'll find something wonderful that I can rave about on here. But for the last couple of weeks I've been kind of at a loss for what to read. I feel like I'm stuck in "Meh" book purgatory! So .... I thought I'd pick all of your brains to give me some ideas of what to read next!

I've been focusing lately on supernatural and Young Adult books but I'm open to any genre. I love historical fiction, biographies, modern fiction, mysteries .... I figure I'll randomly pick one of the books suggested. There's a good chance that I may have already read the book that is suggested. In that case, I'll let you pick another suggestion. This request may be harder than you think ... I've read a lot of books! Once I pick a book to read I'll read it then I'll post my review and let you all know what I thought about it.

So, will you help me?? What do you think I should read next?? I'd love to see lots and lots of suggestions!!!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Ricotta, Spinach & Bacon Stuffed Chicken

I came up with this recipe after having a hankerin' for some of my favourite flavours - sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, bacon and chicken. I actually had a harder time coming up with a title for this dish than actually making it. Should I call it "Mediterranean Stuffed Chicken", Piggies Wrapped in a Poultry Blanket" ... ??? So many of my favourite flavours in this one dish. :)

This recipe takes a bit of patience. Putting the filling onto the chicken breasts then rolling them up takes a bit of time ... but the end result is worth it. Not only is the filling beautiful with the colours of the spinach, tomatoes and olives but it tastes wonderful too!

Serve with garlic mashed potatoes (because you can NEVER get enough garlic!) and steamed green beans. Yum!

Yield: 4 servings

4 chicken breasts, pounded into 1/2-inch thickness
1 1/2 cups fresh baby spinach, stems removed
237g (1/2 container) ricotta cheese
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 strips of bacon, cooked and diced
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (oil packed), drained well and finely diced
1/8 cup black olives, finely diced (optional)
1/2 cup cheddar or mozzarella cheese, grated
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp basil
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup olive oil

Preheat oven to 375F.

In a medium glass bowl, microwave spinach on high for 3 minutes (stirring after each minute). Press spinach between some paper towel to remove excess water. Chop finely. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, garlic, bacon, sun-dried tomatoes, olives (if using), cheddar cheese, oregano and basil. Mix well and set aside. (Tip: Make this mixture ahead of time to allow the flavours to blend - preferrably 1 hour).

Pour olive oil in a shallow bowl. In another shallow bowl, pour bread crumbs.

Place a large spoonful of the ricotta mixture onto each chicken breast. Roll so that the mixture is covered by the chicken; secure with toothpicks if necessary. Carefully dip each chicken breast in olive oil, then bread crumbs. Place seam side down in a large baking dish. If there is extra ricotta mixture, sprinkle over each chicken breast before baking.

Bake for 40 minutes. Increase heat to 450F and broil for a few minutes or until browned. Keep an eye on it while it's broiling!

Tip for Pounding Chicken Breasts: Place chicken breasts in between two pieces of plastic wrap. Place on a cutting board and pound until desired thickness.

The Vampire Diaries - The Awakening

Title : The Vampire Diaries - The Awakening

Author : L. J. Smith

Type : Supernatural / Young Adult

Pages: 253

Published : June 2007

Synopsis : Elena is the blonde, beautiful popular girl at her local high school. Used to getting whatever she wants she's not amused when she's snubbed by the new guy at school, Stefan Salvatore. As the new guy in a small town Stefan is under the microscope and has his own secrets to keep hidden. Stefan is a vampire who is constantly trying to go against his vampire's inner need to kill ... which is one of the reasons why he tries to keep Elena away from him.

My Thoughts : I'm a fan of the TV show that's based on this book series. It's a good show with a fair amount of action and some teen angst thrown in for good measure. This book, in my humble opinion, did not compare.
Maybe it's because I already had a picture of what the characters looked like because of the actors used in the show. Elena, in the show, is a dark haired beauty who, although being very popular is also very kind. In the book she's a blonde stuck-up snob who is used to being queen of the high school. Who wants to relate to a main character when they can't find anything to like about them? And why make Elena in the TV series the polar opposite? Maybe to make her more like her counterpart Bella from the hugely popular"Twilight" series? Hmmm? Even the secondary characters in Vampire Diaries (ie Bonnie or Vicki) don't match up in their physical traits or their personalities.
My favourite character in the series (who, by the way, isn't even in this book much) is Damon. He's a true vampire and isn't as wishy-washy as Stefan. I think there's a way make Stefan's struggle between being a vampire and not killing ... but I don't think Smith has been able to do it. Stefan comes off as wimpy. A wimpy vampire? I don't think so.

The storyline was very slow-going and almost came to a halt at one point. Even though it's written for teens doesn't mean that the storyline and suspense has to be lacking. I only read the first book in the series and didn't even bother with the second part of the book ("The Struggle"). Based on what I just read ... I think I'll stick with the TV show.

My Rating : 1/5

Monday, 15 March 2010

The Bad Penny

Title: The Bad Penny

Author: Katie Flynn

Type: Historical Fiction

Pages: 484

Published: 2002

Synopsis: Late one night in the 1930's in Liverpool, England midwife Patty Peel is called to a delivery in a poor section of town. When the mother dies during childbirth and the father tells Patty to get rid of the baby Patty takes the baby girl with the idea of giving her to a local orphanage. After remembering her own childhood growing up in a state run orphanage Patty cannot let the baby girl have the same fate.

Patty decides to raise the baby as her own but that doesn't come without difficulties. Patty has few friends and is afraid of most men. Patty is also ostracized by some of her neighbours, namely Derek Knight, for being an unwed mother. Can Patty properly raise this baby girl on her own? Does she have any idea of how much her life will change?

My Thoughts: This book felt very much like a Josephine Cox novel -- an easy read, decent characters, a bit of romance, some kind of misunderstanding that resolves itself etc. It's an uncomplicated read that's a bit predictable but still enjoyable. I liked how the book went back and forth from Patty's adult life to her childhood in an orphanage ... you got to see where Patty came from and why she mistrusted men and disliked orphanages so much.

Patty Peel is a good main character. It was nice seeing a strong female lead character that could hold her own especially when dealing with the men in her life.

My Rating: 3/5

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Encouraging Reading in the Next Generation

I just posted another new quote that I love. It's from Emilie Buchwald (co-founder of Milkweed Editions- a non-profit publishing company) and it states: "Children are made readers on the laps of their parents". I love it ... because it's so true.

When my first child, "Cub" was born I told my husband that one of my goals as a mother was to instill a love of reading in my kids. Since my husband cannot be considered a "reader" (he's read 2 books for entertainment in our almost 13 years of marriage) I knew that the responsibility of creating a future generation of readers in our family fell squarely on my shoulders. That's fine ... I was up to the challenge.

Reading has been an important part of my life since I was about 11 years old. Up until then I wasn't a diehard reader but once I got a hold of Nancy Drew I was officially bit by the Reading Bug. Even today, seeing those yellow spines gives me very fond memories of reading. I want to be able to hand down that feeling to my kids.

It was important to me for my kids to see that I loved reading. I clearly remember many, many night feedings when I'd pull out a book to keep myself from nodding off half way through a feeding. I was astounded at how many books I read in the wee hours of the morning while feeding my children!

During those early years I'd read children's books to my kids even when they were very young babies. They didn't understand the words that I was reading but they saw me holding a book and I liked them listening to my voice. I could have read a cookbook to them and they wouldn't have known the difference. It was time on Mommy's lap for a snuggle and some listening.

Thankfully, the reading bug bit my kids very early on. At the age of only 2, "Cub" would insist on either my husband or I reading the same 2 books to him at naptime and at bedtime. Those books were "Hilda Crumb's Hats" and the classic Dr Seuss "Mr Brown Can Moo, Can You?". At the time I'd inwardly groan because there were so many other books that I personally wanted to share with him but read his favourites we did!! Even now, 8 years later I can still recite both books almost perfectly! "Missy Moo" loves books about Christmas ... even in June. Bring it on. At least she's wanting to read!

So how do get your kids to be readers??? The simple and easy answer is - daily reading. Starting at an early age parents can set up daily times to read to their children. In our family we especially liked right before bedtimes because it was a way to calm the kids down for some quiet time and it was nice to get some cuddle time in too.

As kids get older, you can get them to read to you. Local libraries have oodles of beginner reader books for kids to sink their teeth into. Even if they read one page and you read the next it helps. Usborne has great books that help young readers share the reading with their parents. The kids read the writing on the top of the page (about a sentence or so that is easy reading) and the parents read the bottom of each page which is more difficult.

It's also vital that kids see their parents reading for their own pleasure. Kids copy what they see (good and bad). My kids know that reading is something that I love to do and is something that I feel I need to do daily.

Some days I feel like I overdid it instilling a love of reading in my kids. When I have to tell "Karate Guy", who is 8 years old, to "PUT DOWN THE BOOK or you'll be late for school!!" my husband just chuckles and says that I was the one who wished my kids to be avid readers. Touche! Oh well, I think the obvious benefits of having 3 avid readers outweighs the occasional rush to school in the morning. :)

Question for you: So .... have you been able to instill the love of reading in your kids? How did you do it? Have you been a book lover since you were a child?

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Best Basic Blondies

Lately I've been on the lookout for a new square recipe. I didn't want anything too chocolatey because I already have an amazing brownie recipe. I also didn't need a recipe that made tonnes. A nice 8x8-inch pan would be enough our family.

I found a blog called Whipped, and BOY did I find a good Blondie recipe. Originally the recipe was from a cookbook (that is now in my Wish List on - hint hint to my kids for Mother's Day). The book is called "Mom's Big Book of Baking " by Lauren Chattman. These are very easy to make and nice and moist t'boot. I decided to add a half cup each of semi-sweet chocolate chips and white chocolate chips (which, come on, make many things taste even better!). For those without a nut allergy in the family I think the pecans would add a lot of flavour and texture to this square.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup pecans, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8x8-inch with foil (make sure you get right in the corners well) and ensure that you have 1-inch extra hanging over the edge (makes lifting out the squares really easy). Grease bottom of foil and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Mix and set aside.

In another medium-sized bowl, melt butter in microwave. Add brown sugar; mix well. Beat the slightly beaten egg and vanilla into the brown sugar mixture. Mix well. Stir in flour mixture just until blended (over mixing will produce a tough square). Fold in chocolate chips and pecans (if using).

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until just set in centre. The top of the blondies will look shiny but dry. Cool completely on a wire rack. Once cool, grab the edges of the foil and lift out the Blondies and cut them on a cutting board. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days (that is, if you can keep your family away from them that long! Note Missy Moo trying to get in on the Blondie action!).

I hope you and yours enjoy these ... me and mine sure did!

Thursday, 11 March 2010

The Trouble With Magic

Title: The Trouble With Magic
Author: Madelyn Alt
Type: Supernatural/mystery
Series: Book 1 in the "Bewitching Mystery" series
Pages: 261

Synopsis: Maggie O'Neil decides to change things up in her life and leave her collections job. She takes a job at the local antiques shop and enjoys the quieter pace of the shop. Even though Maggie really likes her new boss, Felicity Dow, she still has a hard time accepting the news that Felicity is a witch. When Felicity becomes the centre of attention during a local murder Maggie decides to help prove her boss's innocence.

My Thoughts: This was a decent mystery and a nice easy read. I enjoy some supernatural books and I think I was hoping for more supernatural content. There were little teasers but not a whole lot of magic goin' on.

The book gave the feeling of the author setting up future smaller storylines and relationships between the characters. It will be interesting to see how the relationships pan out especially between Maggie and the two men in her life. It has a Stephanie Plum feel to those relationships -- one black leather wearing 'bad' boy and one 'good guy' who's the cop. Overall a good read. I'll read the next book in the series and see how I feel about the series after the relationships are more developed.

My Rating: 3/5 (a good read)

Awesome Banana Muffins

I know that I posted my own favourite banana bread/muffin recipe a few days ago but since then I've come across another. I had been on-line scrounging around for some new muffin recipes when I came across a blog of a fellow Canadian blogger. On her blog she has lots of great 'tried and true' recipes including her Awesome Banana Muffin recipe. With only 8 ingredients even the most novice of bakers can whip up a batch of these. They are very moist and have a wonderful banana flavour (that only gets better the next day ... if you're able to keep your husband and kids away from them long enough to see!).

3 or 4 large bananas, mashed (I used 4)
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix the mashed banana, sugar, egg and melted butter together. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix together the baking soda, baking powder, salt and flour. Mix wet and dry ingredients together (making sure not to mix too much or your muffins will be dense). Gently fold in chocolate chips or walnuts, if using. Pour into greased or papered muffin tins and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until tops of muffins are golden.

Yield: This recipe makes 12 good sized muffins. They also freeze really well.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

The Sleeping Beauty Proposal

Title: The Sleeping Beauty Proposal
Author: Sarah Strohmeyer
Type: Chick Lit
Pages: 308
Published: 2007

Synopsis: Genie Michaels has a comfortable life. She is 36 years old has a good job as a college admissions officer, a decent apartment that she shares with her diabetic cat and has been dating her boyfriend, Hugh, for 4 years. When Hugh suddenly proposes marriage to the 'love of his life' while on a radio programme you'd think that Genie would be thrilled. Except that he didn't propose to Genie, but to another woman. All of Genie's family, friends and colleagues assume that Hugh proposed to Genie. Now that Hugh is going off to England for the summer how will Genie handle telling everyone the truth?!?

Genie's best friend Patty has an idea. Why not let everyone keep thinking that she's getting married to Hugh? In the meantime, she can rake in the shower gifts and enjoy being engaged for awhile at least.

Up until now, Genie's life has been on hold. As Patty say's it's like Genie's been sleeping through her whole life waiting for her prince to come save her. Genie doesn't need saving anymore. Suddenly she's doing the things that she should have done years ago. She gets out of her cramped basement apartment and buys a house, gets a better job and even gets herself a pretty diamond engagement ring (it's cubic zirconia, but still!). She learns that she never needed her Prince Charming to come to her rescue ... but what happens when her Prince does show up and tells everyone the truth?

My Thoughts: After reading "The Cinderella Pact" from Strohmeyer (and really enjoying it) I was excited to read this book. "The Sleeping Beauty Proposal" was a good read ... but not great. While I liked the message the book gave (that women don't need to be married or with a man to have a fulfilling and enjoyable life) the storyline itself fell flat. It was predictable (like most Chick Lit) but it still lacked some oomph.

Maybe it was because there were a lot of different characters and it felt like you never really got to know most of them well enough. I would have liked to see more from Patty, Genie's brother Todd, her ex-boyfriend Steve or even her quirky family.

If you're looking for an easy read, this book is good but if you want a really good book from Strohmeyer you have to read "The Cinderella Pact".

My Rating: 3/5

Peanuty S'More Squares

I thought that title would get your attention.

You know how some recipes you make taste good ... then there are others that knock your socks off?? Let's just say that after I made these squares this afternoon, I was barefoot. Man, these were good! My kids even finished their dinners in order to get another taste of these squares! Practically unheard of!

I originally found the basis for this recipe on another blog. That blogger found it in a cookbook by Esther Shank called "Taste of Home Holiday Get-Together 2006". The original recipe used more of a cake base but I prefer a lighter base with a simple crumb mixture since this is such a rich dessert. The recipe below has all of my tweaks added to it. If you have someone in your family who is allergic to peanuts (like we do) look at the note below for the safe substitutions.

1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 cup Oreo cookie crumbs
6 tbsp butter or margarine, melted
4 cups miniature marshmallows

3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup peanut butter (** See Note below **)
2 tbsp butter or margarine
1 1/2 cups Rice Krispie cereal

Preheat oven to 325F. Line a 9x9-inch baking pan with foil.

Mix together the crumbs and the melted butter. Pour into prepared pan and pat down. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven.

Set oven to broil. Sprinkle marshmallows over crumb base. Return pan to oven until marshmallows have softened (remember to watch carefully! It doesn't take long for the marshmallows to start to brown). Remove from oven. Using a knife dipped in water, smooth down the marshmallow, if it's too puffy.

In a double boiler, add chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter. Bring water in lower part of boiler to a boil and stir chocolate mixture constantly until it is smooth. Remove from heat and stir in Rice Krispies. Pour over marshmallow layer. Chill squares. Do not be tempted to cut the squares until the chocolate has set or it will make a huge mess.

NOTE: Since we have a severe peanut allergy in our family I made necessary adjustments to make this recipe safe. Instead of peanut butter I used Freenut Butter (the BEST peanut butter substitute out there - the closest to peanut butter you'll get!) and I also added 2 pinches of salt.

SUBSTITUTE: The original recipe used 2 cups of graham cracker crumbs instead of the mixture of Oreo and graham. I ran out of graham cracker crumbs so I added the Oreo crumbs to make up the difference. Turned out quite well, if I do say so myself! You can't go wrong with peanut butter and chocolate!

World's BEST Chocolate Easter Eggs

For a few Easters my sister, Jennifer, has made homemade Easter eggs (a la Laura Secord). You know the ones. When they're sliced these eggs have a white cream filling with a sweet yellow centre that ressembles the egg yolk and a chocolate shell. Delicious ... and so sweet it'll put you into a sugar coma!

Just make sure you give yourselves enough time to make this treat. There's a lot of drying involved and takes over 24 hours to make. But they are worth it if you have a serious sweet tooth! I promised this recipe to my friend Kelly. Hope you all enjoy it.

1 cup butter, softened
2 tsp salt
4 tsp vanilla
1 can sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk)
10 cups icing sugar
1 tsp yellow food colouring
1 lb semi-sweet chocolate

In a large bowl, beat butter, salt and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add condensed milk; mix. Beat in sugar and blend until stiff. Knead until smooth.

Set aside 2/3 of the mixture. To the remaining mixture add the yellow food colouring. Blend well. Divide yellow and white mixtures into either 16 or 24 pieces (depending on how large you want your eggs to be). Shape yellow pieces into balls. Mold white mixture around yellow balls and create an egg shape. Dry on paper towels, at room temperature, for 24 hours.

Melt chocolate in a double boiler until smooth. Dip eggs in chocolate. Paraffin was may be added and melted with the chocolate to prevent the chocolate from melting in your hands. Once dipped, cool at room temperature. Refrigerate after cooled.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

KITCHEN TIP: Mashing bananas

Today I had 4 large bananas sitting on death row on my counter. The poor things were quite brown and just begging to be put out of their misery. Usually I'll just pop them into my ever growing banana stash in my freezer (kind of like a last minute reprieve for these old bananas). But tonight was Sunday night and everyone knows that Sunday night in our house means that I bake some muffins for the kids' lunches for the upcoming school week. There would be no reprieve for those bananas tonight!

Usually when I mash bananas I just use a fork. It works fairly well but the bananas tend to shift all over the bowl and I end up chasing them around.

Tonight I had a better idea pop into my head. Instead of using a fork I used my pastry blender. Worked like a charm! I was able to mash the bananas quicker and they were just as smooth as if I had used a fork. Plus it's a good use for your pastry blender which isn't a kitchen tool that gets used enough.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

The Best Banana Bread

I kind of have a reputation in my family for hoarding old bananas.  At one point I had forty (yup, 4-0) bananas hunkered down in my freezer just begging to be used in something delicious.  Forty is an insane number to have on hand so in order to keep my banana herd to a minimum I routinely make this banana bread/cake.  No matter which form I bake it in this is my favourite banana bread recipe -- great flavour, moist and good texture make it a go-to cake for our family. It also freezes really well so you can keep a loaf for later. 

If you choose to bake this bread in a 9x13-inch pan instead of loaves I highly recommend topping this cake with the Maple Icing recipe here on my site.  It sounds a little odd but bananas and maple are a match made in heaven. 

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tbsp baking soda
Pinch salt
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs
4 ripe bananas, mashed
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour two 9x5-inch loaf pans. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Mix and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter, sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Mix in bananas. Add flour mixture, alternately with buttermilk to the creamed mixture. Stir in nuts, if using. Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of each loaf comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Tip: You can also make this recipe into two 9-inch round cakes OR a 9x13-inch can -- just decrease the baking time to approximately 30 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean).

Originally from: (A-Number-1 Banana Cake)

Maple Icing

I got this recipe from my sister-in-law several years ago. At one of our family do's she had brought a banana cake that had a good 1/4 inch of this amazing icing. Even though there is no actual maple anything in it, this sure does remind me of maple candy. Mmmm. And who would have thought that maple and banana would taste so good together (not me, apparently!). Check out my Best Banana Bread recipe (bake it as a 9x13-inch cake) to use under this icing since I'm almost positive that it isn't appropriate to just eat this delicious icing all on it's own. Is it?

1/4 cup butter (no substitutes)
1/2 cup milk
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 1/4 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cup icing sugar

In a medium saucepan, combine butter, milk and brown sugar. Bring to boil. Boil for a minimum of 3 minutes; stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add vanilla and icing sugar; with a small whisk, beat until smooth. Allow icing to cool before icing cake.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The Wives of Bath

Title: The Wives of Bath
Author: Wendy Holden
Type: Chick Lit
Pages: 468
Published April 2005

Synopsis: This book tells the story of two couples, Hugo & Amanda and Jake & Alice, who have escaped their busy lives in London to live in the quieter town of Bath. The two couples are polar opposites but happen to be part of the same prenatal group. There is no love lost between the two women who had worked together in their previous jobs.

Spoiled celebrity journalist Amanda loses her job (thanks to Alice) in New York and decides that trendy thing for her to do would be to go home to her husband, Hugo, and start a family. She sees a new baby as the 'must have' accessory. Hugo and Amanda deal with parenthood the same way they deal with everything else ... they throw money at it in the form of private hospitals where Amanda can have an elective C-section (she's much too posh to push!), to baby nurses and everything money can buy.

Then there's environmentalist Jake and his wife Alice who married suddenly after having a quick fling at a wedding. Living with this 'eco-facist' has proved to be very difficult for easy going Alice who is not used to being so environmentally aware. It takes some getting used to sharing bath water, having toilet planters in her front yard or dealing with her worm farm which is filled with anorexic worms!

Hugo learns the hard way that his wife is not cut out for motherhood when he is left to care for their child on his own. When Hugo and Alice meet up again by chance, Alice offers to help Hugo overcome some of his parenting obstacles which leads to a whole other set of issues for these two couples.

My Thoughts: This was a very good and easy read even if the storyline is fairly predictable. Holden made some of her main characters into stereotypes (the career woman who hates kids, the eco-facist ...). At times the characters seem to be stuck in their respective sterotypes a bit too much. Two of the characters (Jake and Amanda) were so maddening and steamrolled over their spouses that I honestly started to hate them. Whether you're a first time dad who can't put a diaper on his own child, to the guilt a new mom faces when constantly being asked "you mean you DON'T make your own organic babyfood??" I think many people will be able to relate to some aspects of the characters (I shudder to think if anyone totally relates to Jake or Amanda!).

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

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Moist Raisin Bran Muffins

I have always had a fondness for a good, moist bran muffin. As a child I felt like I had to hide this hankerin' from other kids because ... what kid loves bran?!?! My Nana loved bran ... but she was old and was supposed to, right?? ;)

Well, I still love bran muffins (and I'm now no longer embarassed to say so!). There's something about a muffin that can still taste good even without any spices added. I do have some stipulations though. I do not like recipes that use Bran cereal as the base. They seem heavy and using wheat bran is just as easy ... and cheaper than using an expensive cereal. I just keep it in a large Ziploc in my freezer and use it as needed.

I also love to add some fruit, dried cranberries or raisins (aka 'nature's candy') for some extra flair. One of my favourite muffins at our local coffee shop is their Blueberry Cranberry Bran. Mmmmm. Maybe next time I'll tweak this recipe to make those!

So, I went on a search for a good, moist bran muffin ... and I found it! I just ate one (ok, maybe two) of my test batch and they are g-o-o-d! One of the reasons Cub doesn't like eating bran muffins with raisins is because sometimes the raisins are too hard or chewy. It's hard pushing 'nature's candy' when they taste and look like petrified brown things. This recipe combats that issue by simmering the raisins in a liquid mixture of brown sugar, lemon juice and water.

Raisin Mixture Ingredients
1 to 1 1/2 cups raisins (I used 1 cup)
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup hot water
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice (fresh is best)
3 tbsp butter or margarine

Batter Ingredients
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 1/4 cup natural wheat bran
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375F.

In a medium saucepan, combine raisin mixture ingredients. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow time for it to cool down a bit.

In a large bowl, combine brown sugar, egg and salt. Add the slightly cooled raisin mixture then stir in bran.

In a medium bowl, combine flour and baking soda. Add it to the bran mixture but do not stir. Pour buttermilk over flour mixture and gently fold into the bran mixture until combined. Do not overmix!!!

Pour batter into paper lined muffin tins. Bake for 20 minutes.

Makes approximately 18-21 medium-sized muffins.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Made to be Broken

Title: Made To Be Broken
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Series: 2nd book in the Nadia Stafford series
Type: Suspense
Pages: 416
Published: February 2009

Synopsis: Nadia Stafford seems to be a typical Ontario lodge owner to those living in her small town in eastern Ontario. She brought a lot of fodder for the local gossips when they found out that she is an ex-cop who left the force in disgrace years ago. What they don't know is that Nadia (aka Dee) earns some extra money as a hitwoman for a New York mob.

When a local girl and her baby goes missing in the woods no one in Nadia's small town seems to care. They figure the girl was up to no good since she was from a 'no good' family. Everyone seems content to think that she just ran off. The missing girl brings up bad memories for Nadia about a loss she's never gotten over. With the help of her mentor, Jack, she starts to investigate the case and quickly becomes obsessed with figuring out what happened.

My Thoughts: I'm a huge Kelley Armstrong fan (loved her Women of the Underworld series). This Nadia Stafford series is good but doesn't seem to have as much oopmph as her other series. It seemed to take awhile to get going (which I'm not used to when reading a book by Armstrong. Usually you're hooked by page 10!).

I LOVE the fact that Kelley has written the book to be based in Canada and frequently mentions areas like the Kawarthas. Good to show some Canadian pride! I also was intrigued by the 'will they, won't they romance' between two of the characters and it will be interesting to see how that pans out in future books.

I hope that, in the future, Armstrong will put a bit more action in the book. I know that statement seems odd because the book deals with hired killers! The first 2/3 of the book was good but I wanted the storyline to move along at a faster pace. You kind of knew all along why the girl disappeared and I suspected the motive right away. I would have wanted more mystery and plot twists surrounding why this girl and her baby went missing in the woods.

My Rating: 3/5 (aka a good read)

Monday, 1 March 2010

Creamy Frozen Raspberry Pie

I was perusing through my latest Taste of Home magazine (pg 16 - March/April 2010) and found this recipe that I put on my 'have to try' list. It's like a frozen yogurt pie with an Oreo crust. Very creamy, simple to make and I love that you can prep in in advance if you have company coming. By the way, the picture I used for this posting is from the Taste of Home website. Our family dug into ours before I could get a good picture of it!

This is a nice, mild dessert but for my tastes I prefer a bit more flavour. Next time I'd fold in about 1 cup of frozen fruit to give it some more punch. This is a very versatile recipe and can easily be changed depending on what juice concentrate you decide to use. Strawberries would be great with the Oreo crust ... or what about using orange juice concentrate with small chunks of mandarin oranges?!?!? Mmmm. Orange and chocolate together. Maybe I'll have to make another pie later his week to give it a try ;)

1 cup Oreo cookie crumbs
2 tbsp butter, melted
1 can (11 1/2oz) frozen raspberry juice concentrate, thawed
1 pkg (8 oz) cream cheese, cubed and softened
2 tbsp icing sugar
4 cups whipped topping (I used a whole container) ** thaw it first **
Chocolate curls or grated chocolate for garnish

In a small bowl, combine Oreo crumbs and melted butter. Press onto the bottom of a greased 9-inch springform pan. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the concentrate, cream cheese and sugar. Cover and process until smooth; pour into a large bowl and fold in whipped topping. Pour over crust. Cover and freeze for 4 hours or until firm.

Remove from freezer 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with chocolate curls or grated chocolate. Run a knife around the edges of the pan before removing the sides. Freeze leftovers (if you have any!).

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