Thursday, 30 September 2010

Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff

This is a tasty and easy meal that you can easily whip up in the morning and let it cook all day. The important part of this recipe is to follow the temperature and time of cooking. It's not called a slow cooker for nothing! Stewing beef is a tougher cut of meat but slow cooking it at a low temperature helps to make it more tender.

2lbs cubed stewing beef
2 (10.75oz) cans condensed mushrooms soup
1 small onion, chopped
1 tbsp Worchestershire sauce
1/2 pkg onion soup mix
1 pkg beef bouillon (or 1 bouillon cube)
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
4 oz cream cheese, softened and cut into small cubes
1 large dollop sour cream

Place meat in the slow cooker. In a large bowl, combine soup, onion, Worchestershire sauce, onion soup mix, bouillion and water. Pour soup mixture over meat. Cook on low for 8 hours.

Half an hour before the meat mixture is done, saute mushrooms in a small skillet in the oil. Add the cooked mushrooms to the meat mixture for the last half hour of cooking.

Meanwhile, mix cornstarch with the 2 tbsp water. Pour into slow cooker and also add cream cheese. Stir well, breaking up clumps of cream cheese. Add sour cream right before serving. Serve over egg noodles or mashed potatoes.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Plain Truth

Author: Jodi Picoult
Genre: Modern Fiction
Pages: 406
First Published: 2000
First Line: "She had often dreamed of her little sister floating dead beneath the surface of the ice, but tonight, for the first time, she envisioned Hannah clawing to get out."

Synopsis: In a milking barn in Lancaster, Pennsylvannia a dead newborn is found. This news shocks the small community especially when people learn that 18-year old Katie Fisher, an Amish teen, is the suspected mother of the child and it's murderer. Unfortunately Katie doesn't remember ever being pregnant nor giving birth to a baby.


Defense laywer Ellie Hathaway is visiting her Aunt Leda in Lancaster, PA when she hears of the baby's death. Leda, a former Amish woman who was bannished, is also Katie's aunt and asks Ellie to help in Katie's defense. When Ellie moves onto the Amish farm there is a huge culture shock for Ellie. She now must emerse herself into the Amish way of life in order to defend Katie ... who is adamant that she isn't the mother, nor the murderer of the newborn. As Ellie looks into the murder she learns a lot about herself along the way.


My Thoughts: Even after living near a Mennonite community for more than 20 years I honestly have never researched a lot about them. I see and interact with them on a regular basis, but sadly and embarassingly, I did not truly know what the differences were between Amish and Mennonite ... until today when I began to research it more in depth.


From what I have been able to discover, both Amish and Mennonite believe in similar Christian doctrine but interpret that doctrine differently. Amish tend to follow the doctrine verbatim, separating themselves from the English community and may go as far as having untrimmed beards, hooks and pins instead of buttons, no electricity, horse-drawn transportation etc etc.


Mennonites branched off from this doctrine and can vary from 'old-order' (who use horse-drawn buggies, have no electricity etc) to more modern Mennonites who dress as you or I would, use modern conveniences but still attend a Mennonite church.


Ok now that we've had a meagre crash course in Amish/Mennonite differences let's chat about "Plain Truth". I enjoyed this book and found it interesting looking into the lives of an Amish family and see how they live as well as how this particular family and community dealt with the murder and forgiveness. She also brings to light the false notion that the Amish are unforgiving, saintly and live above reproach - something that the Amish are too humble to attempt and don't strive for. This erroneous view comes from the beliefs of English people.



The story itself was good but predictable. There were a couple of storylines in the book that I wasn't sure why they were included. For example, Katie's sister, Hannah's ghost and the whole ghostbuster theme. Katie's loss could have still been shown without a supernatural element. A supernatural element and Amish just didn't work for me in the same book.


Some of the book was a little unresearched or unrealistic. When one of Katie's friends visits the farm she's wearing in-line skates. Ok, fine. But from what I've witnessed on local farms the laneways aren't paved and Picoult has this girl rollerblading down the lane. Hmmm. Little things like that bug me.

Overall a good book with interesting lessons. I found it interesting to see how the belief systems we're raised with influences how we perceive and interact with the world around us. If you're looking for a good weekend read this is a good pick. If you're looking for something a little deeper and more suspenseful take a pass on this one.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars


Roasted Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup

For the past few weeks I've been itching for the cooler weather to hit Ontario. I'm definitely not asking for winter-like temperatures nor do I miss shovelling snow. I'm talking about "Sweater Weather". A time when you can go for walks to see the leaves change colour wearing a heavy sweater and a light pair of gloves and just barely see your breath. I love this time of year!!

Many people have been asking me to find some crockpot and soup recipes. Yesterday I made this soup and quite enjoyed it. I had never eaten a butternut squash (and no, I wasn't born under a rock) - I'm just more partial to acorn squash. I adore sweet potatoes too so when I found this recipe I knew I had to try it out. I did make some changes to the original recipe that I found though. I feel this soup needed more liquid (it was quite thick originally) and the sweetness from some orange juice to compliment the other flavours.

This soup takes a little longer than most soups but it can be done in steps. Roasting the veggies is an extra step but really brings out the flavours of the vegetables so don't skip this step and just plop the veggies into the liquid to simmer. I had my veggies roasting in my oven while I went to pick up the kids from school then set them aside until I was ready to make the soup. With the help of one of my trusty bread machines this makes for an easy meal for busy week nights.

Not only is this a good tasting soup but it's is packed with vitamins A and C. Served with a salad and homemade bread it was a wonderfully warm and filling meal.

1 medium butternut squash - peeled, seeds removed and cubed
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped (I used a large handful of baby carrots)
Drizzle of oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
15oz low-sodium vegetable broth or chicken broth
1 cup water
1/2 cup orange juice
1 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper, to taste
orange zest for garnish (optional)


Preheat oven to 400F. In a large bowl, toss squash, sweet potato and carrot with olive oil, salt and pepper ensuring that all of the veggies are coated in the oil. Place veggie mixture, in a single layer, on a large baking sheet and roast for 40-45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove veggies from oven and set aside.


In a large pot, heat 1 tbsp oil. Add onion and cook until tender. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes. Stir in roasted veggie mixture and cook for 5 minutes.

Add in the broth, water, orange juice and soy sauce. Add cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir well. Cook soup for 20 minutes. Using a hand blender puree soup. If you don't have a hand blender, transfer soup, in small batches, to your blender and puree.

Serve soup hot (add extra salt and freshly ground black pepper if needed) and garnish with orange zest. Freeze leftovers.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

A-Maizing Corn & Bacon Chowder

I don't know about where you live but around here it's been raining hard non-stop for hours. When it's a dark and dreary day I tend to want to make something hot and filling and this soup hits the spot! It's also a bonus that it meets one of hubby Brad's criteria for a good meal merely because it contains bacon (which, according to him, makes most meals taste better). I have to kind of agree with him for the most part. We do love our bacon!

I've been asked by a few people to get more soup/stew/crockpot recipes on the blog and I'm working on it. Unfortunately I got home from a lovely breakfast with friends a little too late to put on the crockpot beef stroganoff that I had planned so I'll make that dish tomorrow.

Until then, enjoy this soup recipe. It has a nice sweet flavour and the bacon nicely compliments it. Serve with a green salad and homemade bread.

6 bacon slices,
1 onion, chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/2 cup water
2 cups milk
2 (14.5oz) cans cream-style corn
1 (15.25oz) can whole kernel corn
1/2 tsp salt
to taste freshly ground black pepper

Fry bacon in a Dutch oven (large soup pot) until crisp; remove and reserve 2 tbsp of bacon drippings. Crumble bacon and set aside.

Saute onion in reserved drippings until tender; add potatoes and water. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Stir in milk, corn, salt and pepper; continue to cook, stirring frequently until heated through. Sprinkle crumbled bacon over individual bowls before serving.

Alternative: You could used cooked, diced ham in place of the bacon but I'd mix it into the soup instead of setting it on top of each bowl.

Recipe originally from: allrecipes.com

Monday, 27 September 2010

Whatcha Reading?

I've been quickly (and usually enjoyably) reading several light mysteries. I have come to really like Heather Webber's 'Lucy Valentine' series (most recently "Deeply, Desperately"). They aren't heavy reads and I like that she keeps her storyline going at a nice pace and I also enjoy the supernatural element.

Right now I'm reading "Plain Truth" by Jodi Picoult. It's about a young Amish woman who gives birth and kills her newborn ... but doesn't remember doing it. So far it's a good read and I keep looking forward to Picoult's usual big twist at the end.

Up next? Well I have to read "Mennonite in a Little Black Dress" for my new book club. I have never been involved in a book club before so it will be interesting to see how I fare in the discussion. We've given each other a month to read the book (waaaay too much time for me to read one book) so I'm waiting until a few days before so I can read it and not get it confused with other books I will read. I already have my book selection picked and look forward to hosting in a few months.

I also have oodles of books from my Fairy Bookmother so I think I'll start there. I've put myself on a Library Time-Out (had to be done) so I can read the piles (literally) that I have in my bedroom of 'yet to be read' books. Have I mentioned that I have a reading addiction?

So what have you all read? Someone posted anonymously on an earlier Reading Poll that they had read (and loved) "The Secret Garden". If you haven't picked it up yet I highly recommend it. A great historical fiction read based in 3 eras.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Deeply, Desperately

Author: Heather Webber
Genre: Light Mystery / Supernatural
Pages: 302
First Published: August 2010
Series: 2nd book in the Lucy Valentine series
Series Order (read in order):
  1. Truly, Madly (2009)
  2. Deeply, Desperately (2010)
  3. Absolutely, Positively (2011)

Synopsis: In this second installment of the Lucy Valentine series we find Lucy trying to get her new "Lost Loves" business off the ground. Lucy uses her psychic power of finding lost things in order to help people find loved ones they've lost touch with. With the help of PI and boyfriend Sean and annoying reporter Preston, Lucy tries to find the lost love of a war vet as well as helping the local police find a woman who has been missing for 2 years.

My Thoughts: If you're in the mood for a fast-paced book that has some romance with a light mystery this is a good pick. It's not high literature but is perfect for a cold, rainy day snuggled up with a cuppa hot chocolate.

The 'mystery' part of this series isn't a huge whodunnit but smaller mysteries. I actually don't mind it because Webber has a knack for keeping the reader engaged and the storyline moving along. I read this book in a day and a half (which is really good for me).

We see more of Lucy's family dynamics in this book and without giving too much away there are some interesting twists to Lucy's family life. The banter back and forth between Lucy, her mother and Dovie is amusing as well as how Preston and Lucy talk to each other. I hope, in future books, there will be more verbal sparring between Preston and Lucy. It was a little too mild for my tastes.

Overall a good, light read. I look forward to reading the third book in the series when it comes out early next year.

My Rating: 4/5 stars


Thursday, 23 September 2010

Killer Mousse

Author: Melinda Wells
Pages: 293
Genre: Light Mystery
First Published: February 2008
Series: 1st book in the "Della Cooks" series
Series Order:
  1. "Killer Mousse" (2008)
  2. "Death Takes the Cake" "(2009)
  3. "The Proof is in the Pudding" (2010)
First Line: "Through my earpiece, I heard the director's voice: "Take your place, Della. thirty seconds to air ....""


Synopsis: Della Carmichael is the new host of her own cooking show. Her first live show is going according to plan until her predecessor, Mimi Bond, offers to taste test the chocolate mousse Della made on the show. When Mimi drops dead on air Della needs to figure out who poisoned her mousse so that she can clear her name and keep her new job.

My Thoughts: Going into this book I knew it was going to be one of those light mysteries. Nothing too taxing -- a nice, easy read. It was an easy read with several potential culprits but overall I didn't love it.

The romance between Nicholas and Della seems odd and unbelievable. For being a widow of 2 years and never dating to all of a sudden hopping into bed with a guy she really doesn't like just doesn't seem realistic or believable. It seemed forced and too sudden for me.

But the main issue I had with the book was that the author went into too much trivial detail that didn't have an effect on the overall mystery. For example, when Della gets a new kitten the author brings the reader into the supermarket to buy kitty litter, food etc. Why? It has no relevance to the storyline and only serves as page filler. This happens in several instances including Della delivering a baby on a freeway as well as having the reader read about Della picking up her dog's poop on one of her many walks. Really? Do I need to know that? I'd prefer more whodunit and suspense than the monotony of daily life.

My Rating: 1/5 stars

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Sun-Dried Tomato Basil Pesto

For the past few days I've been looking at my humongous basil plant in my veggie garden and was planning on freezing some in ice cube trays to use in sauces etc during the winter months. But then I spied a jar of sun-dried tomatoes in my pantry (one of my vices) and all thoughts of simply freezing plain old basil went out the window and I was off in search of a red pesto recipe.

I have never made pesto before because most include pine nuts which are a big no-no for people who have peanut allergies. So I've always stayed away from pesto ... until today! After finding this gem of a recipe I decided to omit the pine nuts and carry on with the recipe as is. Glad I did. My kitchen smells amazing right now and it took all of my will power not to keep 'sampling' the pesto! Needless to say I'm so excited to eat it over some fresh pasta for dinner!

I was also amazed at how easy it was to make. Seriously, if you have a salad spinner and a food processor you're good to go for making pesto! Below is a picture of the basil, sun-dried tomatoes and garlic ready to go for a spin!


Here's a picture of the resulting pesto. Disclaimer: the pesto smells and tastes much better than it looks.

1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
3 cups fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
.
Remove stems from basil and rinse well. Using a salad spinner, remove as much moisture from the basil as possible.
.
In a food processor, process sun-dried tomatoes, basil and garlic - pulsing the motor until the mixture is coarsely chopped. Add Parmesan cheese and 1/4 cup of olive oil; process for 10 seconds. With the motor running, add the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, salt and pepper. Scrape down sides of the processor bowl and process the mixture until it is well combined.

Serve over hot pasta sprinkled with extra fresh Parmesan cheese or spread on toasted french bread and serve as an appetizer.
.

Update (evening of Sept 22/10): So I did my very best and didn't inhale the pesto this afternoon even though I honestly think it was calling my name (*pat on back*). For dinner I fed the kids something easy (they didn't want to partake in my wonderful pesto and, quite frankly, I didn't want to share) and made myself some fusilli to go with my pesto. Well let me tell you -- it .... was .... awesome! I think I had a foodgasm ... twice. De-lish! Now I'm trying to figure out other ways to eat my pesto. Guess what I'll be making more of tomorrow so I can freeze it? I think I have a problem.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Chosen

Author: Chandra Hoffman
Genre: Modern fiction
Pages: 304
First Published: August 2010
First Line: "Chloe Pinter is trying to develop a taste for coffee."

Synopsis: This story centres around Chloe Pinter, a adoption case worker and three couples. Francie and John McAdoo are an older and wealthy couple wanting to adopt. Paul and Eva Nova were involved at the adoption centre but were able to conceive on their own. Finally, there is Penny and Jason, a poor, troubled young couple who want to give up their baby.

When a baby is kidnapped all three couples are thrown into the nightmare and are forced to look at what they really and truly want for their families.

My Thoughts: From the reviews of some people you'd think that this was an amazing book. It had a great premise but honestly it just didn't work. I was surprised that the story didn't gel because the author actually worked in adoption before writing this novel.

Except for Chloe, the main character, the characters were all intolerable. You can, and probably should have, a character or two who upsets you in order to spur on the storyline. But in this case, I didn't like any of the characters. They all seemed too cliched -- were either too boring or too offensive than necessary. I didn't even know who I wanted to end up with the baby ... none of the couples seemed like stellar parenting material. I had to force myself to read the last half of the book. I don't recommend it.

My Rating: 2/5 stars

Monday, 20 September 2010

Creamy Cauliflower & Cheddar Soup

 
Updated: October 25, 2011
 
Mmmmm. Nothin' says fall like soup! Thick or thin, full of meat or vegetarian, broth or creamy. So many ways to make soup!!

This weekend we celebrated Missy Moo's 7th birthday so I let her choose what I'd make for dinner. What did she pick? My Creamy Cauliflower and Cheddar Soup with homemade bread and Caesar salad. Her brothers were shocked that she didn't use this golden opportunity to ask for homemade pizza or hamburgers or pancakes ...... Nope. The girl wanted to dip homemade bread into this thick and cheesy soup! That's my girl!

This is a recipe that I found years ago (I'm talking 1995) in the Milk Calendar. It's easy to make and tastes wonderful alongside some thick slices of bread and a salad. The original recipe calls for homemade croutons to be placed on top of each bowl of soup. I tend to skip that step because, quite frankly, a few croutons on each bowl isn't enough carb for our carb addicted family. We love to dip chunks of bread into our soup. Go big or go home!

You can also easily switch things up and use broccoli instead of the cauliflower. Last night I didn't have enough broccoli so I used 3 carrots from my garden and chopped them really fine and it worked like a charm ... and looked really pretty with orange and green flecks in the soup.

2 tbsp butter or margarine
1/2 cup onion, chopped finely
3 cups cauliflower, coarsely chopped
1 (10oz) can chicken broth
1/4 cup flour
2 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, grated (I use old cheddar)
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in large saucepan; saute onion until tender. Stir in cauliflower and chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Cover; reduce heat and simmer for 12-15 minutes or until cauliflower is tender.

Smoothly combine flour and milk with a small whisk. Add to saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture boils and thickens. Remove from heat. Add cheese and stir until melted. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Optional Step: In order to minimize the groans from the people under 4 feet tall at my table, I usually blend the soup with my electric hand blender to make the veggies 'disappear'. If you prefer a chunkier soup omit this step.

Garlic Croutons
3 slices of bread
butter
garlic powder

While the cauliflower is cooking in the chicken broth, heat a medium-sized skillet.  Meanwhile, butter both sides of each slice of bread.  With a knife, cut each piece of bread into 1-inch cubes.  Spray the skillet lightly with oil.  Fry the bread cubes in the skillet until one side is browned.  Sprinkle bread cubes with garlic powder, if desired.  Flip bread cubes and toast the other side.  Top each bowl of soup with several croutons.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Truly, Madly

Author: Heather Webber
Type: e-book (read on my iPhone)
Genre: Supernatural, mystery
Series: 1st book in the Lucy Valentine series
Series Order:
  1. Truly, Madly (2010)
  2. Deeply, Desperately (2010)
  3. Absolutely, Positively (2011)
First Line: "There comes a time in every girl's life when she realizes her father isn't perfect."

Synopsis: Lucy Valentine's family is famous for their knack of match-making (think e-harmony) and have a very successful business, Valentine Inc. When Lucy's parents have to leave suddenly she's grudgingly put in charge of the business. Unfortunately Lucy doesn't have her parents' ability to match up couples. Legend has it that her family was blessed by Cupid himself and given the ability to read the colour of people's auras in order to match people with their true love. Sadly, Lucy lost her ability to read auras years ago and was left only with the psychic ability to find lost things. Lucy doesn't see much of a benefit to her power and hides it from all but a few people in her life.

When Lucy shakes hands with a new client she has a vision of a lost engagement ring on the hand of a corpse. The client tells Lucy that the ring belonged to his long-lost love, Jennifer, who disappeared years before. Lucy is determined to help the client find his lost love. She asks for help from Sean, a handsome private eye to track down Jennifer as well as find the murderer of the corpse.

My Thoughts: I bought this e-book a few weeks ago on amazon.com. I was lounging around and bored so I went book shopping on my phone. It's really dangerous to make shopping a mere click and I'm surprised that I haven't bought more books for my phone ... but I digress.

When I shop on amazon I love using the 'what other people bought' feature. It's a great way to find new authors with similar writing styles. Anyway, that's how I found this book. I didn't have huge expectations for the book but figured that since it had received good reviews from readers I'd at least have a light and hopefully enjoyable read.

I was nicely surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. I had recently read another book by the same author ("A Hoe Lot of Trouble") and liked but didn't love it. This book captured my attention right from the beginning. It has a good mystery, good supernatural element and a nice, slow-paced romance (and I'm predicting possible future love triangle). The characters were all well-rounded and even the secondary characters kept my interest and weren't superfluous. I'd actually love to see more from Lucy's odd-ball parents and her overbearing and sneaky grandmother, Dovie.

The only negative that I can think of for this book (as well as the other books in the series) would be the titles. The title wouldn't catch my eye nor does it really describe what the book's about ... at all. I had a hard time remembering the title of the book because the three books in the series are similarly named. Just a little beef ... a wee moo, if you will.

I'm looking forward to reading the second book in the series (which I have in my 'to read' pile) to see where the author goes with Lucy and how she deals with the fact that now people know about her once secret power to find lost things. This is not a hard core deep mystery. But if you're in the mood for a light, easy, escapist-type book this is a good one to try.


My Rating: 4/5 stars




Saucy Meatloaf

This is, hands down, one of 9 year old Karate Guy's favourite meals. For some reason he adores ground beef -- especially in loaf or ball form. Apparently it tastes better when in those shapes. Who knew?!?

I would have posted a picture of tonight's meatloaf but, quite honestly, I don't think meatloaf takes a good picture ... ever. While it's a really tasty dish, sadly it's just not that pretty.

This is my favourite meatloaf recipe. I remember as a child hating meatloaf with a passion. It would sit on my plate for what seemed like hours (probably more like a 1/2 hour) until it was cold and practically inedible. It wasn't until I found this recipe about 10 years ago that I actually started to like it. The BBQ sauce is simple to make and has a great flavour that spices up a dish that, let's face it, can be pretty blaw on it's own. In a pinch you can also just use store-bought BBQ sauce but I prefer homemade when possible.

It's also a really easy dish to make for those busy nights that we all have. You can prepare the meat mixture ahead of time (just leave it in the fridge). Pour the sauce over it right before popping it in the oven. Try making this with ground turkey as well.

1lb lean ground beef
1 small onion, chopped finely
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
salt and pepper to taste

BBQ Sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup water
1 tsp dry mustard
1/2 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350F. In a large bowl, combine beef, onion, egg, bread crumbs, salt and pepper. I use my hands to mix the ingredients well. Place in a 9x5-inch loaf pan (or an 11x7-inch baking dish). I prefer the 11x7-inch dish because the meat mixture isn't as thick.

In a 2 cup measuring cup, mix ketchup, water, dry mustard and brown sugar with a small whisk. Pour over meat and bake for 1 hour. Drain off fat. Serve with mashed potatoes.

Yield: 4-5 servings

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Sizzling Sixteen

Author: Janet Evanovich
Genre: Suspense/Mystery/Humour
Pages: 306
Series: 16th book in the Stephanie Plum series
First Published: June 2010
First Line: "My Uncle Pip died and left me his lucky bottle."
One Word Review: Fizzled

Synopsis: When Stephanie's cousin and boss, Vinnie, is held for ransom Stephanie has to find a way to get Vinnie back even if it's just to ensure that she has a job in the near future. Stephanie also has the added encouragement of family guilt and loyalty to spur her on in her search. Vinnie gave her a job as a Bounty Hunter when she needed a job the most so with the help of Lula and office manager Connie the trio set off to find Vinnie and ultimately find a way to pay off the mobster who's holding him.

My Thoughts: I wouldn't call this book "sizzling" ... more like fizzled out. When I first got my hands on the Stephanie Plum series about 10 years ago I could not stop reading or giggling over Evanovich's wonderfully quirky series. Sadly, the quirkiness and the overall writing have gone downhill from the 12th book onwards.

While this book did have a couple humourous moments (fueled by Grandma Mazur) overall it wasn't nearly as funny as the first dozen books in the series. Grandma Mazur and Lula have usually been the characters who have made me laugh out loud (literally) but they were boring and predictable this time around (Lula loves to eat, Grandma loves funerals - we get it). There was more donut and fried chicken eating than actual mystery solving!! Grandma didn't even really have any mishaps at the local funeral parlour for goodness sakes! She's known for that!

Sadly, this book was a big disappointment. The mystery itself wasn't great and the humour just wasn't there. I found myself skimming through the last third of the book just to get through it ... definitely not a good sign. The whole "Ranger vs Morelli" thing has to come to a conclusion soon (personally I'd choose Ranger) - it's getting old.

If you're looking for a wonderful, easy-to-read, funny mystery series please pick this series up but start with "One for the Money" and read them in order. It truly is a wonderful series ... at least for the first dozen books. One of the redeeming factors with this book is that Evanovich opens up a scenario that may change the whole back drop of the series. I'll probably read #17 when it comes out to see how that pans out but I fear that it's time for Stephanie to call it quits.

My Rating: 2/5 stars

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Thin Rich Pretty

Author: Beth Harbison
Genre: Chick Lit
Pages: 342
First Published: 2010
First Line: ""I don't want to do this," Holly Kazanov said half to herself as she stood on the lakeside next to the rickety wooden rowboat that Counselor Brittany was holding for her."

Synopsis: Thin Rich Pretty is the story of three women - Holly, Nicola and Lexi. Twenty years previously they had attended the same summer camp as 13 year old girls. Holly and Nicola became close friends but were considered outsiders at the camp. Lexi was a spoiled rich girl who hung out with the popular girls who enjoyed tormenting those around them. The story volleys back and forth from when the women were 13 years old and to present day and shows how they each deal with their own personal issues.

My Thoughts: This book is about learning to accept oneself and not trying to please others before making sure you're happy with yourself. These characters quickly learn that the grass is not always greener on the other side.

It had a good message but overall it was a highly predictable book. You see the three women deal with their own personal issues (weight, looks and wealth) as adults and see how some of the things backfire.

Holly learns the hard way about how our own view of ourselves can hinder us. She sees herself as heavier than she actually is and uses that image to prevent her from taking necessary risks to ensure her own happiness. Nicola learns that being pretty just like everyone else isn't all it's cracked up to be and Lexi learns, the hard way, how to take pride in her accomplishments

In the end, predictably, the women make amends, fix their problems and learn to empower themselves and love themselves for who they are not who they think they should be.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

I Can See You

Author: Karen Rose
Genre: Romantic Suspense/Mystery
Pages: 606
First Published: 2009
First Line: "She was shy."

Synopsis: Several years ago Eve Wilson was the victim of two vicious crimes which left her disfigured. In order to cope she retreated into the virtual world on on-line role-playing games. Years later she's now a psychology grad student she's studying the effects of intensive exposure to these type of games on people. When she learns that the test subjects in her study are committing suicide she, along with Detective Noah Webster, are determined to figure out why and how they can stop it from happening again. Eve and Noah soon figure out that Eve's study has caught the attention of a serial killer who kills and tortures these innocent women while making the crime scenes look like suicide. The killer is also bent on destroying Eve herself.

My Thoughts: This book was one of the books I just happened to grab at the local library based only on the look of it's cover. I'm glad I did because this book keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire 600+ pages -- which is not an easy feat. It did feel, at times, a titch too long or perhaps I was just impatient and wanted to know whodunnit before the author was ready to tell me! Overall this was a really good read which I whipped through in a little over 2 days. Rose's writing reminded me a lot of James Patterson's style of writing (aka very easy to read, suspenseful, hard-to-put down). There is a romantic element to the book but it, thankfully, doesn't overpower the main storyline.

Lots of potential suspects along the way. I kept changing my mind as to who the killer could be. There were a few characters that I got the feeling had been involved in some of Rose's previous books and when I looked into it further I was right. I wouldn't say that you have to read her previous books beforehand (her books aren't considered a series) but I look forward to reading more of Rose's books to see how Eve met up with some of the secondary characters from her past.

Noah and Eve are good far-from-perfect main characters with their own hang-ups and issues they need to deal with. The romance between them is a little on the cheesy side at times but overall they make a good couple and you want to root for them.


My Rating: 4/5 stars




Monday, 13 September 2010

Chocolate Chip Muffins

This past week hasn't been a stellar week for amazing recipes for me. I've tried a few new recipes and they weren't horrible but they weren't 'blog worthy'. I've been on some other blogs and have been surprised when they post a recipe that they hated. Not just didn't love but said was a stinker.

It's kind of like someone taking some food out of their fridge, smelling it, making a wrinkled up 'this is so nasty!' kind of face then turning to you and saying "smell this, it's so gross!". Tempting but 'no'. If something is that gross I'll take your word for it!

So the only kind of recipes that I'll put on my blog are recipes that my family and I love and have received the coveted "Blog Worthy" title of distinction. This recipe I found yesterday and made for my offspring for their nutrition breaks at school. They are a nice light but moist muffin and you can easily substitute the chocolate chips or add other ingredients if you choose (diced apple and cinnamon, blueberries, pecans ....).

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup mashed, ripe bananas (I used 3 small bananas)
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In another bowl, combine egg, oil, sour cream and vanilla. Stir gently into dry ingredients and mix until just moistened. Add bananas. Fold in chocolate chips.

Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full. Bake for 22-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely. Store in an air-tight container or freeze for later use.

Recipe Adapted from: allrecipes.com

Friday, 10 September 2010

Tuna Casserole


Tuna casserole has always been a comfort food for me. Not only is it easy and can be made ahead of time but I love the tangy flavour of the tuna combined with the creaminess of the sour cream and mayo. Even as a kid, when it was so not cool to like tuna casserole I enjoyed it. I've been making this dish since Brad and I were married.

With the weather becoming cooler I made tuna casserole last night (much to the chagrin of my kids). With this casserole you can easily change up the veggies you add to it ... but unfortunately it's not easy to hide the veggies from the suspicious eyes of children. My kids can sniff out a piece of zucchini at 100 yards. :(
Now that I've made this casserole it feels like fall now (my favourite season!). I cannot wait to start making stews, chilis, crockpot meals ....

3 cups egg noodles, uncooked
1 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup celery, chopped finely
1/3 cup green or yellow onions, chopped
1/2 cup carrot, finely diced (see Note below)
1/2 zucchini, sliced thinly
1 small tomato, seeded and diced
2 cans (6 1/2oz each) tuna, drained well and flaked with a fork
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
2/3 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 tsp thyme
2 tsp mustard
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350F. Cook egg noodles according to package directions.

In a small skillet, heat oil and saute celery, onions, carrot and zucchini until al dente. Drain noodles.
 
In a large bowl combine: noodles, vegetable mixture, tomato, tuna, cheddar cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, thyme and mustard. Combine well. Put into a casserole dish. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until heated through.
 
Note: I used my Pampered Chef Chopper to cut up the veggies. It helps you take out your daily frustrations on the veggies, you get a work out and it takes a lot less time than it would if you used a wee knife.
Note 2: You can easily make this casserole the night before. Just make sure you heat it through well enough. You may have to add on a few minutes. This casserole freezes really well too.
 

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Matters of the Blood

Author: Maria Lima
Genre: Supernatural/Mystery
Pages: 324
Series: 1st book in the "Blood Lines" series
Series Order:
  1. Matters of the Blood (2005)
  2. Blood Bargain (2008)
  3. Blood Kin (2009)
  4. Blood Heat (2010)

First Line: "I know the dead and the dead know me."

Synopsis: Keira Kelly is part of a large supernatural family. Unfortunately most of her family has hightailed it to Canada to live leaving her to babysit her annoying cousin Marty -- who had the bad luck to be born 100% human -- back in Rio Seco, Texas.

Recently Keira has been having nightmares involving the murder of Marty. Add to that the fact that her ex-lover Sheriff Carlton Larson is back in town and Keira's day just got a whole lot worse. When old friend Adam Walker comes into town sinister things start happening and Keira is afraid it has something to do with Adam. Bodies are starting to pile up and Keira finds herself in the middle of a mess while she's undergoing her changes to becoming a mature supernatural.

My Thoughts: I'm always on the lookout for new authors, especially new supernatural authors. I thought I had found a great new author and series but I'm not certain. Overall, it was a decent storyline with good suspense (especially at the end) but it did feel like it was more about Keira's love life with a supernatural element being secondary (which I wasn't expecting).

It was too disorienting trying to piece together Keira's history. For example, when Adam Walker comes into the picture the author alludes to a relationship between the two but it was so vague that I felt like I had missed reading a previous book. I hate that which is why I always read books in order.

I felt the same way when the author discussed Keira's supernatural powers. The book starts out with a great first line "I know the dead and the dead know me" ... but the author never really says why she knows the dead. It's alluded that Keira is "death's assistant" but it wasn't really discussed in detail about what exactly she did. Sounds like she was a supernatural Dr Kevorkian but no details are given. Is she a necromancer or not? Inquiring minds want to know! Too many unanswered questions for my liking.

Don't get me wrong. It was a good read but I expected more along the lines of Kelley Armstrong's writing (I'm totally biased towards Armstrong and love how she describes and explains the supernatural. Perhaps she has ruined me for all other supernatural authors?!?). I may pick up the second book in this series but, let's put it this way ........ I'm not on pins and needles to find out where the storyline goes.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Crockpot Pulled Pork with Root Beer BBQ Sauce

I've been enjoying my fair share of root beer lately (I'm wild and crazy, I know) so when I saw that this roast was actually cooked in root beer it was like fate was telling me to make this dish. Plus the combination of root beer and oinker intrigued me.

I have searched the net high and low to figure out why on earth root beer is used as the liquid to cook this roast in. Some sites say that pops/sodas like Coke or root beer can tenderize meat. I wasn't able to confirm this information and may have to chalk it up to some guy accidentally spilling some root beer into his wife's crockpot then finding out that it produced a great dish.

The why isn't as important as the end product though, right? This was definitely a good meal and even Karate Guy who was highly suspicious of this dish really enjoyed it. He called it pork sloppy joes -- and he'd be correct. It was messy enough not to fall off the bun and the meat was really tender. I ended up cooking my roast for 9 hours then kept the meat with the BBQ sauce warmed for another 45 minutes, or until Brad came home with the buns I texted him to bring home.

1 large onion - sliced thinly, rings cut in half
2-3lb boneless pork loin roast
1 (12oz/355mL) can root beer
1 bottle (425mL) BBQ sauce (I used 'Sensations by Compliments' Original')
Large hamburger buns

Place onion pieces into the bottom of the crock pot. Put roast on top of onions. Pour root beer over the roast. Cook, on low, for minimum of 8 hours but preferrably 9-10 hours.

Remove roast from crockpot and set on a large cutting board. Using two forks shred the meat until it is in thin, bite-sized pieces.

Pour root beer liquid in crockpot through a strainer to remove all the floaties. Set juices aside.

Put shredded meat back into crockpot and pour BBQ sauce over meat and onion mixture. Mix well. Cover crock pot and keep temperature on low setting. If meat mixture isn't juicy enough add some of the liquid (root beer) -- I added 1/2 cup to my meat tonight.

Meanwhile, separate hamburger buns and lay on a large cookie sheet. Broil, on high, until golden brown. Scoop meat onto each bun and serve with a green salad or coleslaw.

Recipe adapted from : Mennonite Girls Can Cook

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Weekly Reading Poll

Ahhh, the first day of school. Although we had a great summer together I'm glad to have my little darlings busy at school once again. Several times this morning I thought I could hear parents humming the song from the infamous Staples commercial while dropping off their kids "It's the MOST wonderful time of the year". I swear I saw some parents giddy with happiness and more than one with a spring in their step.

Yesterday we all got prepped for the first day of school. Backpacks and lunch bags out, pencil cases filled ... I also started baking. I don't know what it is with me but I love to bake for my kids' lunches at school. I love them having something that I made while they're away from me. So, after reading a recent post from Mommydoodle about how she made my Chocolate Brownie Bites I knew I had to make them for our family too. Luckily we didn't inhale them yesterday afternoon but it wasn't without some major self-control! They are tasty little morsels. If you' re in the mood for a "Two Bite Brownie" try them!!

I know that my kids are looking forward to seeing their friends daily and getting back into a schedule is appealing to me. So what did I do with my quiet, peaceful house today? Did I did sit on my hiney and read a new book that I cracked open last night? Guilty!! But then my guilt smacked me upside the head and I figured I should take the dog for a walk and do a few loads of laundry. Yes, I'm living the dream. I know that some people think that being a stay-at-home mom is all about the glitz and the glamour ... sadly, they are disillusioned. Actually, I love getting all my proverbial ducks in a row and having my house clean .... at least until 3:30 when my darlings come home and clutter it up again.

As for books? I'll be reviewing a supernatural mystery called "Matters of the Blood" by Maria Lima. It's the first book in the "Blood Lines" series. Pretty good. I also read "Reinventing Mona" and found it kind of a let down.

What have you all been reading this past week? Was it good? What are you planning on reading next? Next up for me? "Thin, Rich, Pretty" by Beth Harbison.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Reinventing Mona

Author: Jennifer Coburn
Genre: Chick Lit
Pages: 336
First Published: 2005
First Line: "It was the first truly impulsive decision I'd ever made."

Synopsis: Mona is a 30 year old woman who has never done anything spectacular in her life. When the company she works for offers early retirement she jumps at the chance to take some time off from engineering and see what she'd like to change about herself.

One of Mona's main goals is to win the heart of Adam Ziegler, her grandmother's accountant, who she has loved from a far for 7 years. The problem is, Mona is so meek and quiet that she really has had no experience with men. She decides to hire Mike "The Dog" Dougherty, author of a male advice column to give her tips into the male psyche. Mike is a "man's man" in the most rude, egotistical and misogynistic way. Mike designs several stunts in order to make Mona appear more enticing to Adam. Along the way Mona has her best friend and therapist Greta whispering her doubts about this plan and trying to get Mona to find happiness outside of a relationship with a man. Mona also meets up with colourful characters in her quest to get Adam and make her life perfectly complete. Mona learns quickly that what you expect and what you get are not always the same.

My Thoughts: This was a decent chick lit read. It started off a little too slow for my liking but overall was just ok. The plot was predictable but the characters were quirky and quite varied (from a stripper, to an elderly captain ...) and the ending was a little too abrupt for me.

The idea for the storyline was good (woman finding herself and learning to stand on her own) but the execution fell a little flat. The book was touted as a funny chick lit read with lots of laughs but the funny parts, to me, were only mildly amusing (if that).

The pace was good and kept my interest but I guess I was hoping for more. It felt like the author touched on a good point but never got down and dirty with explaining things. With a title that has "Reinventing" in it I expected more of a metamorphosis to happen. Not for Mona to lose 10lbs, find a man, get a slightly bigger backbone (as opposed to the non-existent one she had before) and end up with the guy you expect from the beginning. Her very troubled past was mentioned many times throughout the book but, for some reason, I never felt like the author dealt with the aftermath of Mona's childhood well. Some of Mona's decisions were merely silly and not really based in reality, which I find off putting. Overall, just an OK read.

My Rating: 2.5 stars

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Pork Skewers with Molasses and Dijon Glaze

In the summer, heck most of the year, I'm always on the lookout for new BBQ recipes. We use our BBQ year round - come rain, snow or hail Brad is out there grillin' up a storm. A few times he's even had to chip ice off the BBQ in order to even open it. Gotta love Canadian winters!

When I saw this recipe on Cookin' Canuck's blog, I knew it would be perfect for our dinner that night. Not only do I usually have a pork tenderloin hanging around in the fridge or freezer but the ingredients for the glaze are items that I typically have on hand too.

I loved using the skewers and found the meat to be very tender and the glaze a nice slightly sweet flavour.

1 (1 1/4lb) pork tenderloin, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
3 tbsp molasses
1/3 cup Dijon mustard
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh sage (optional)
Pinch kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
12-14 wooden skewers, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes
olive oil

Preheat BBQ to high.

In a medium bowl, whisk together molasses, Dijon, honey, sage (if using), salt and pepper. Spoon 3 tbsp of the glaze into a separate bowl. Set aside

Place 2 slices of pork side-by-side between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound with the smooth side of a meat mallet or a rolling pin until thin. Thread each piece of pork onto a skewer, arranging them so that they lay flat. If it will help, you can thread the pork onto two side-by-side skewers to help the meat lay flat. I put two pieces of pork on each skewer.

Brush both sides of pork lightly with olive oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Place on grill and cook for 2-3 minutes per side, basting each side with the molasses glaze. Brush with the reserved glaze before serving. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Recipe from: Cookin' Canuck

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Water For Elephants


Author: Sara Gruen
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 331
Published: 2006
First Line: "Only three people were left under the red and white awning of the grease joint: Grady, me and the fry cook."

Synopsis: Jacob Jankowski's entire life falls apart around him in a matter of days. Left penniless and alone he finds himself, quite accidentally, on a circus train. Thrown into the hectic life of the circus filled with performers and freaks Jacob uses his skills as a veterinary student to make himself useful.

Shortly after arriving Jacob sees the beautiful Marlena, the star of the equestrian act as well as Marlena's emotionally turbulent husband and cruel animal trainer, August. Jacob falls in love with Marlena and needs to find a way to deal with his feelings while making a new life within this new, strange environment.

My Thoughts: After hearing so much praise I got on the "Water for Elephants" train (pun intended) to see what all the fuss was about. Rumour has it there's a movie in the works with none other than Reece Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson for the lead roles so we're talking lots of press for this book.

Well, I kind of enjoyed the ride but not nearly as much as I would have hoped. I thought that the era and setting Gruen picked for her story were fascinating. Depression era and the circus?!? Wonderfully colourful, tempestuous time. Sadly, I found the storyline too predictable. Boy loses everything, boy falls in love with unattainable girl, boy surmounts various obstacles to get girl (including her evil husband).... The ending was smelling of fromage too with it's highly unlikely (in my opinion) ending for the elderly Jacob.

The story did get intense towards the end ... but that was the highlight of the book. Other than the ending the story meanders along just barely keeping this reader's interest. I enjoyed the modern day ramblings of elderly Jacob more than the main storyline ... not a good sign.

I think my biggest issue with the book had to do with the characters. The characters were shallow and expected. The 'bad guys" (cue twirling of handle bar moustaches and deep 'bwah ha ha' laughing) Uncle Al and August are too typical. There's money hungry Uncle Al who will literally do anything to make a buck. Then there's evil August who is not only abusive to the animals, but to his young wife and is hated by all who meet him. He isn't given one redeeming quality.

Jacob, by contrast, is the innocent (in more ways than one) man with a love for animals and a need to save everyone. Then there's the crusty angry little person who actually has the heart of gold. *sigh* No character seemed to surprise me, let's put it that way. It also didn't help that I just didn't buy the whole 'Jacob falls hopelessly in love with Marlena after seeing her once' thing. I guess I'm just not a romantic at heart?!?

My final beef with this book was the overly anthropomorphized animals. I agree that certain animals (chimps, elephants etc) are quite intelligent but I think Gruen went over and above (and perhaps into the realm of fantasy) when she describes how Jacob knows, with just looking into the eyes of the lion or elephant, exactly what that animal is thinking/feeling. Dr Doolittle? I think not.

At times I felt I was reading to get to the next 'good part' which typically isn't a good thing. I don't regret reading this book but I wasn't as taken with it as I thought I would be.

My Rating: 2.5 stars



Weekly Book Poll - week of August 30th

It's been a good week for books for yours truly. I read a wonderful book called "Secret Daughter" by Shilpa Somaya Gowda. What a great read. I loved the author's style of writing and she kept the storyline interesting which made it an enjoyable but quick read. I highly recommend reading this book. Thanks to my Fairy Bookmother for dropping this gem off to me.

I literally just finished "Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen. I had heard a lot about this book but really didn't have any idea of what it was about ... except for perhaps parched pachyderms(say that phrase 3 times fast!). While it was an interesting look into life in a circus in the early 1900's I wouldn't say I loved the book. It was good ... but not great. Why is it that highy acclaimed books and I don't usually mix?!?

Next up? That's a hard call. I have so many to choose from. I still have a small pile of books from my fairy bookmother to read (including "Thin, Rich, Pretty" by Beth Harbison) as well as 5 books from various libraries. If that weren't enough books, the kids and I went to the bigger library system we belong to today and I picked up 6 new paperbacks to add to my ever growing 'to read' pile. I found a new supernatural/chick lit type book series that I'm going to start. It's from author Vicki Lewis Thompson and the first book in the series is called "Casual Hex". I also have a book called "The Last Pope" by Luis Miguel Rocha which sounds like a very intriguing DaVinci Code-type read.

While perusing the library today in all my glory I asked 10 year old "Cub" to pick out a book for me. I find it interesting to see what books my kids think I'll like. He picked out "Mad Dogs" by James Grady (huh!) because he liked the title and thought I needed to try reading CIA Agent/James Bond type reads. He's currently reading the second book in the young James Bond series by Charlie Higson (if you have kids ages 8 years+ who like spy-type books check this series out. I'll try to get Cub to review the book on My Little Bookworms).

So, what is everyone reading for their last week of summer vacation?? Any great reads? Any stinkers? What do you have in your 'to read' piles??

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