Monday, November 29, 2010

Chicken, Bacon, Spinach & Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta in a Creamy Garlic Sauce

What a wonderful weekend! My menfolk were off on a Cub/Scout camp together which just left Missy Moo and myself to have a total girl-fest! Two days filled with eating ice cream, time with girlfriends, shopping, going out to dinner and even a movie. Bliss!

Yesterday Missy Moo and I went to see the new Disney movie "Tangled". It was a great movie filled with lots of laughs from the secondary characters and almost got me choked up (me of little tears!). I would say that if you have a sensitive youngester (I'm talking 5 and under) there were a few chase scenes that were intense and they did talk about hanging (and even showed a noose). That's probably why it's rated PG and not G.

Anyway, after my menfolk came home and showered (a bunch of guys/boys in a cabin sans showers for 2 nights does not an olfactory treat make!) the men sat down to watch the Grey Cup (Canadian Super Bowl) and I got to work making this dish for Brad and I to enjoy.

It featured Brad's favourite ingredient, bacon. His mantra has always been 'bacon makes everything better' and with this dish I have to agree. By using only 6 slices we got the bacon flavour that we loved without eating a pound of bacon in one sitting. Our family can pack away a lot of bacon if we're not careful!

This dish came together beautifully and was really easy too. I had Brad BBQ the chicken breasts while I was cooking the bacon which just made my job easier. You can saute the chicken along with the bacon if you prefer (might make the chicken a little too greasy though). You can also use precooked chicken breasts (the kinds you'd use for salads to make your life even easier) or use leftover cooked chicken.

This is a colourful dish with lots of flavours that compliment each other well. It's also a great way to add spinach to a dish (you can pass it off to kids as 'spices' if you chop it up finely enough). If you're not a fan of sun-dried tomatoes (is there such a person?!?) then try substituting fresh, diced tomatoes instead.

2 chicken breasts, cooked and sliced
6 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 lb rotini
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 cup half'n'half creamer
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, drained and sliced
3/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
1 handful of baby spinach, stems trimmed and coarsely chopped
to taste - fresh black pepper and salt

Cook rotini in salted water. Drain, rinse with cold water and set aside.

In a large skillet, cook bacon until almost crispy (I don't like mine dried out). Remove bacon to a plate lined with paper towel and set aside. Remove all but approximately 2 tbsp of the bacon fat from the skillet.

Add onion, garlic and mushrooms to the skillet and cook until onions are transparent. Scrape up all the bacon bits from the bottom of the pan. They're not gross, they're flavour!!! Add creamer and simmer for a few minutes. Add the cooked bacon, sun-dried tomatoes and Parmesan; stir well. Add spinach to the mixture and cook until wilted. Add pasta and toss well. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Garnish with more fresh Parmesan cheese.

Yield: 3 servings

Thursday, November 25, 2010

My Favourite Things

This pre-Christmas time of year is my favourite time of year. It's cold outside, we have the fireplace on and I look forward to my bake-a-thons as Christmas approaches. There are not many things better than smelling fresh baking while snow falls outside as I'm inside spending time with my family. My personal bliss!

With the Christmas holidays fast approaching it got me thinking of another Christmas pastime that I look forward to (but Brad cringes at) ... watching "The Sound of Music"! Could there BE a better way to spend an afternoon than with Julie Andrews belting out well-loved and well-known musical numbers? Brad whole-heartedly disagrees (sadly he must not have the Julie gene).

So here I was thinking all things Julie when I began to hum (it's inevitable) the song "My Favourite Things" which then lead me to writing a little ditty based on the song but with some of MY favourite things. Useless Tidbit: I find it amusing to change the lyrics to well-known songs.

Dame Julie may like raindrops on roses and a nice doorbell but I have other ideas. Here's my version ....

Baking some muffins and snuggling "fresh" babies,
Drinking my coffee while chatting with m'ladies,
Drooling o'er diamonds on top of some rings,
There are a few of my favourite things!

Cream coloured linens and crisp oatmeal cookies,
Watching "Big Bang" and films sans furry Wookies,
Looking at model homes with all their bling,
There are a few of my favourite things!

Damon in "Diaries" and Shemar when he's shirtless,
Seeing my home really ordered and dirtless,
Travelling to Europe with Brad in the spring,
These are a few of my favourite things!

When the kids fight,
Or when a meal bites,
When I'm feeling sad,
I simply remember my favourite things,
And then I don't feeeeeeeel, so baaaaaaaaaad!

I'm such a geek. While I don't think that David Foster will be knocking at my door to collaborate on a song anytime soon at least my lyrics make me smile. That's all that really counts, right?

So, what are some of YOUR favourite things?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Still Missing

Author: Chevy Stevens
Genre: Modern Fiction
Pages: 340
Quick Review: disturbing & compelling
First Line: "You know, Doc, you're not the first shrink I've seen since I got back."

Synopsis: Realtor Annie O'Sullivan is just closing up the open house she's been at all afternoon when a man approaches her and asks to have a quick look at the house. Annie agrees and it's a decision that will change to course of her life. Annie is abducted and held hostage by this deranged man who abuses her both mentally and physically for a year.

There are two parts to Annie's story. The first details the year Annie was in held in captivity by this mad man. The second describes the nightmare that she lives through once she escapes (as told via discussions with her psychiatrist). Once freed she helps the police track down the real identity of her captor (she named The Freak) and how he came to choose her to abduct.

My Thoughts: I had heard great reviews of this book from one of my oldest friends (who has very similar book tastes to my own) as well as my Fairy Bookmother. After reading it I was surprised to learn that this was the author's debut novel. A huge undertaking for a first timer but done with wonderful execution and feeling.

It was also one of my possible choices for my book club selection. While I loved this book I think that the raw and brutal nature of the book would have been too much for my book club.

This is one of those books that you'll find hard to put down. At times I felt like I was reading with one hand in front of my eyes because I wanted to know what happened ... but at the same time I didn't want to read about the hell Annie went through. Does that make any sense?

From the write up on the book jacket the reader is prepared that it isn't going to be a feel good kind of book so the abuse that is inflicted on Annie isn't a surprise. But it is truly heartbreaking to see what Annie endures while held against her will in that small mountain cabin and it's equally disturbing to see how that abuse affects her once she's freed. We see Annie struggle with her newfound fame and even more importantly how she learns to live and survive after the abuse.

The author has a wonderful understanding and ability to voice Annie's inner thoughts which makes Annie feel real and believable. You know that the horror and mental abuse Annie suffered through aren't going to be overcome quickly or by the end of the book but will be part of Annie for the rest of her life.

This story is filled with twists and turns that make the reader keep guessing who is behind Annie's kidnapping until the very end. The story is raw and vivid and shows the underbelly of humanity, and sadly, what some people are capable of doing to others.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

Here in Canada there are certain signs that we use to determine if winter is getting close. These signs are indisputable facts of nature -- Canadian Geese fly south, many of our elderly follow them down to the southern States (although the geese have the added benefit of bypassing the pat downs and body scans at the airport ... I think), snow shovels are dug out of the basement and hung in the garage in preparation, snowblowers are tuned up and the mighty slow cookers come out. If we're going to have to deal with cold weather we're definitely going to need a hot, filling meal to get us through (a glass of wine never hurt either)! There's nothing like coming home to the smell of bread in the bread machine and this wonderful stew in the crockpot and knowing that all you have to do is serve it up!!

This stew is one of my comfort meals. I actually thought that I had posted the recipe already but when two friends of mine requested a stew recipe I found out that I hadn't posted it yet. So here it is!

This is a simple, yet filling meal that doesn't take much prep in the morning. There are two ways I make this stew and the only difference involves the taters. A) I parboil the potatoes. But usually, with 3 kids getting ready for school in the morning, time is of the essence. I usually opt for B) I don't parboil the potatoes but make sure that they are on the bottom of the crockpot and totally submersed in the liquid.

Tip: If you cut up your carrots, celery and onion the night before (keep the carrots and celery immersed in some cold water) it makes prep in the morning easy. Then it's just a matter of throwing it all together. 10 hours later you have a complete meal that goes really well with crusty bread to dip with. It's also perfect to reheat for lunch the next day.

2lbs stewing beef (1-inch pieces)
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp Worchestershire sauce
1 onion, chopped
1 (10.25oz) can beef broth (1 1/2 cups)
3 potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 cup frozen peas

Parboil the potatoes until almost tender.

Place meat in the slow cooker. In a small bowl, combine flour, salt and pepper. Pour flour mixture over meat and mix until meat is coated. Add remaining ingredients. Mix well. Cover and cook on LOW heat for 10-12 hours (or 6 hours on high). Stir thoroughly. Remove bay leaf and serve.

Yield: 6 servings

Picture From: Beth

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mozart's Sister

Author: Nancy Moser
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: E-book (Kindle for iPhone)

Synopsis: Wolfgang and his sister Nannerl were raised from birth to love and excel at music. At a young age their parents toured their children around Europe to play for royalty. Wolfgang received many accolades but sadly, Nannerl was always in the background wanting to get acceptance and acclaim in her own right from her audience and especially from her father. Nannerl learns first hand the inequality of the sexes in the 18th century.

My Thoughts: I've always had a love for Baroque music and really enjoy playing it on the piano. Mozart is one of my favourites and I especially loved seeing the movie "Amadeus" waaay back in the 80's that featured Mozart's life. When I saw the title for this book in the Kindle store it intrigued me that the focus wasn't on Wolfgang but on his practically uknown older sister.

This is a good historical fiction novel and my only gripe was that it lagged quite a bit in the middle. There is only so much one can write about illness, travel, Nannerl deferring to her father's demands time and again ... before it becomes redundant and boring. Truth be told, Nannerl's life probably was quite boring (not being able to do the one thing she loved and excelled at) .... but I don't necessarily want to read a lot about the boring parts of her life. I did enjoy the last third of the book but wish the middle third of the book was just as interesting. I think the final third of the book was more interesting because we finally see a personality in Nanneral emerge. Until then, she's so meek that she's almost non-existent.

What I did find fascinating was getting a glimpse into the life of a woman during the 1700's who was extremely talented ... yet almost forgotten. For the simple fact that she was born a girl, her talent was wasted playing second fiddle to her younger brother. She was a level-headed woman who was always obedient to her father. I could empathize with her situation but there were several times when I would have wanted her to make different choices and put herself first. Since the author used letters written by the Mozart family to each other Moser had little leeway in which to write how Nannerl's life unfolds.

Even though I know how Wolfgang's life ends I still found it interesting to have a 'behind the scenes' view that his family had of his wild ways towards the end of his life. A good read, but not a great one.


My Rating: 3/5 stars

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Random Reading Poll

I know that Christmas (and for my American friends, Thanksgiving) is coming upon us really soon. We're making mad dashes to the mall in hopes of getting ahead on our gift shopping (is that even possible?). Sadly, that time spent wandering around the mall searching for inspiration eats into our beloved reading time.

I know that my reading has slowed down quite a bit over the last week. Not only am I in full Christmas Gift Getting mode but I've recently got on the 'gotta decorate my home before I totally go nuts' train. After a lovely coffee and chat regarding home decor with my friends A and K I've been itching to do some DIY kind of decorating. You know, go to a thrift store pick up a table for next to nothing then transform it into something that Nate Berkus would love to own. Sadly, me of little attention span, usually loses steam half way through a project (this is where Brad usually comes in to finish up the job). I am willing to settle for just painting my dreary laundry room so we'll see what I can come up with.

Back to reading .... I'm currently reading "Mozart's Sister" by Nancy Moser. I bought the ebook for my iPhone for only $2 so I can't complain too much that I don't love it. I've always loved Baroque music and I've been fascinated by Mozart ever since I saw the movie "Amadeus" waaaay back in Grade 8 (I think). I thought that learning how his talent influenced his family would be really interesting. It kind of is but not to the extent I was hoping.

Up next? My FBM (Fairy Bookmother) gave me a stack of books yesterday and a few caught my eye right off the bat. If I remember correctly my FBM has highly recommended me to read "The Good Daughters" by Joyce Maynard. Looks like a book that I'd love. I also saw "The Boy in the Moon" by Ian Brown as well as "Kiss Me, Kill Me" by Maggie Shayne and "The Weight of Silence" by Heatehr Gudenkauf. So many books, so little time (in between runs to the mall!).

So what are you all reading? Found any new authors? I'd love to get some new 'faces' on here so if you know of other people who love to read please refer them to my blog. If you've been lurking on my blog please let us know what you're reading!!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Honey-Mustard Oatmeal Bread

Let me start off by saying that I'm a self-proclaimed carb addict. I cannot resist (nor do I even try to resist) a piece of warm crusty bread. It's just not in my DNA make-up to pass up fresh bread (I equally love it's cousins doughnut, bun, roll, biscuit and the flaky french cousin, croissant).

That said, I've usually shied away from baking yeast breads. Partly because of the time it takes to make yeast breads but mainly because there are a few steps you have to do which means you're stuck around home to ensure your bread rises. There's also the added fear of 'what if it doesn't rise and I've just spent 4 hours making a brick for dinner".

I made this yeast bread waaaay back when Brad and I were first married. Back when he was my one and only guinea pig for my kitchen creations. This recipe comes from one of my first recipe books that my Aunt Nancy gave me when I got married called "Betty Crockers New Cookbook: Everything You Need To Know To Cook ". Since then they've had at least one new installment of this cookbook published which just shows how long I've been married.

The bread turned out really well when I made it the first time and it turned out well again. In fact, when Brad saw the bread cooling on my wire rack he tentatively approached me and said "I don't want to insult you ...." (note to men, not a good way to start a conversation with a woman wielding a bread knife) ".... in case you spent hours making it but did you buy that bread?" I took it as a compliment! He could picture my loaf in a bakery? Yay! Yup, I made it for you dearest (and to feed the carb monster who dwells within me).

This yeast bread doesn't get much easier. You just need to take the time to let it rise, knead it and have it rise again. My first rise didn't fare so well so this loaf was actually a little smaller than the first time I made it but it still tasted good (it was a little heavier than it need be but still great for eating).

If you're a newbie at yeast breads give this one a try. Served alongside potato ham soup would be wonderful!

3-3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or bread flour
1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup honey
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp butter or margarine, softened
1 package regular or quick active dry yeast
1 cup very warm water (120 to 130 degrees)
1 large egg
1 egg white, slightly beaten
1 tbsp water
garnish quick-cooking oats

Mix 1 1/2 cups of the flour, 1/2 cup oats, salt, honey, mustard, butter and yeast in a large bowl. Add 1 cup warm water. Beat with an electric mixter on low speed for 1 minute, scraping bowl frequently. Beat on medium speed 1 minute, scraping bowl frequently. Beat in egg. Stir in enough remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, to make dough easy to handle.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead about 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Place in a greased bowl and turn greased side up. Cover and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour or until doubled in size. Dough is ready if indentation remains when touched. TIP: To make a warm spot in my kitchen for the dough to rise, I turned on my oven to 250F while I was mixing the dough. I turned off the oven put the bowl inside and left the oven open a little.

Grease bottom and side of a pie plate, 9x1-1/4 inches, with shortening.

Punch down dough (show that dough whose boss!). Shape dough into a ball. Place in pie plate; flatten slightly. Mix egg white and 1 tbsp water; brush on loaf. Sprinkle with oats. Cover and let rise in warm place for 45-60 minutes or until double.

Heat oven to 375F. Bake for 35 minutes or until loaf sounds hollow when tapped and is deep golden brown. Remove from pan to wire rack; cool.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Tangy Roasted Red Potatoes

Like I've mentioned before I consider myself a tangy, salty person. Doesn't conjure up a nice image of me, does it? What I mean is if I'm given the choice between picking a cupcake to eat or a plate of fries covered in cheese and bacon I'll pick the tater every time. Oh no, I can hear the 'boos' and 'hisses' from the Sweet Tooth faction. Don't judge me too harshly! It's not that I don't like a good cupcake or slice of apple pie once in awhile but I prefer salty foods ... and when they're also tangy I just can't help myself!

Tonight I was on the hunt for a good potato side dish recipe that I could pop into the oven while I was chatting with the kids after school. This recipe fit the bill and tasted sublime!

This was an amazing side dish that had a great tang (thanks to the fresh lemon juice) and the butter and Parmesan are such great compliments they made it even better! It was so good that I ended up eating the remaining few pieces as I was cleaning up the kitchen. Note: the pieces of cooked Parmesan and garlic left in the bottom of the pan are AMAZING when they're sopped up with the remaining potato pieces. Just a tip. Enjoy!


2lbs red potatoes, quartered
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 tsp garlic, minced (I used 2 large cloves)
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1 lemon, juiced (approximately 5 tbsp lemon juice)
1/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 375F. Place potatoes in an 8x8-inch glass baking dish.

In a medium bowl, mix melted butter, garlic, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Pour over potatoes and mix well, making sure the potatoes are coated. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over potatoes.

Cover and bake for 30 minutes, stirring after 15 minutes. Remove cover and cook an additional 20-30 minutes or until potatoes are browned and tender. Put potatoes into a serving dish, ensuring that your also get the cooked garlic and Parmesan bits of heaven from the bottom of the glass dish.

Note: I didn't quite have a whole hour to cook these taters. After I tossed them with the Parmesan cheese I popped them into the microwave for about 3 minutes on high to kick start the cooking process. After that little warm up I popped them in the oven for the rest of the baking time. Worked like a charm.

Yield: 4 servings

Note: This dish was inspired by a recipe from Allrecipes.com

Fire Burn & Cauldron Bubble

I have not forsaken my blog! I'm back. With a weekend full of migraines (ew!), weather too beautiful to stay indoors and computer problems I had a hard time getting down to business to write this book review. Today I'm feeling much better, it's cloudy and cool and my 'puter is back up and running so here goes ....

Author: H.P Mallory
Genre: Supernatural/Romance
Type: E-book read on Kindle for iPhone
Series: 1st book in the Jolie Wilkins series

Synopsis: Jolie Wilkins runs a run-of-the-mill fortune telling shop. Business isn't booming and Jolie is barely scraping by. One day Rand Balfour, a strikingly handsome warlock, walks in and hires Jolie to help him solve a 100 year old murder. He sees Jolie as an untapped source of supernatural power. With his help Jolie learns how to go back in time to see who committed the murder and ends up bringing the murdered person back to life. News of Jolie's supernatural ability sends shock waves through the supernatural community. When an evil witch wants to get her hands on Jolie and her powers, Jolie learns that her life is now at risk and a war of good versus evil has started in the supernatural world with Jolie in the middle of it.

My Thoughts: This book was highly rated on Amazon.com so I figured I'd get it for my Kindle app. Unfortunately I don't agree with the majority. While this book wasn't a waste of my time it wasn't a book that I loved (or even liked that much).

This book did have some great ideas for storylines and even some good characters but I didn't feel like the author took advantage and used those ideas to their potential. Jolie has a cool supernatural power (bringing back supernaturals from the dead) but it's barely touched on other than the fact that evil forces want to use her powers. I guess I was hoping for more action in this book but I got more 'romance' (is that what you'd call it?) and too much "who will Jolie pick to be with?" type writing. She had men from all over the place suddenly wanting her. From warlocks and werewolves, to fairy kings and vampires!

We also delve into the age old love triangle (but this one involves warlock vs werewolf) which was too similar to Twilight for my tastes (not to mention that this author also uses the name Bella for a main character). I know that the main love interest is supposed to be Rand but I didn't want Jolie to be with him (call me contentious with a capital C) but I much preferred Sinjin the dangerous/bad boy vampire who has a soft spot for Jolie. If you're going to go supernatural why not go for the bad boy supernatural (case in point - evil Damon from Vampire Diaries! But I digress ....)?

I did have some gripes about the writing in the book. First let me say that I'm not a prude and I understand that swearing and crude language are necessary in certain situations. It's when it's used 'just cuz' or to sound cool that I don't like it. There were many examples to pick from - here are a few:
  1. instead of having Jolie say that her elbow was hurting her the author has Jolie say "my elbow's still throbbing like a bitch."
  2. There were a few examples where I wondered if a 14 year old had written the book (note: that comment is not meant to insult 14 year olds I just picked an age). For example, "Ryder was a craptastic teacher" and "I needed to look as good as possible, much though I didn't want to see the asshole, bastard, jerk-head ...". Is the author in the 9th grade?
  3. Then we get into the 'C'mon, did we have to go there?" level of crudeness that just wasn't necessary to get the point across. "I tried to feel happy for her, but it was tough given the fact that my love life sucked balls." Nice mental picture! That beauty of literary savvy is only surpassed by "He looked like a wet dream come to life." Charming. Is this supposed to be the 'romance' part of the "paranormal romance"? Somehow I can't see Miss Elizabeth Bennett saying the same thing about Mr Darcy. Or is just me?
My Rating: 2/5 stars (aka meh)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Applescotch Spice Muffins


I'm always on the hunt for a new, 'as healthy as possible without sacrificing taste', light apple muffin. Sadly, my track record for making tasty apple muffins isn't very good. They always tended to be bland and/or dense. Until this recipe! I decided to take the bull by the horns and make my own recipe and boy is this a keeper!

For a muffin that has whole wheat flour in it, it's certainly light and has a nice spicy flavour to it that my whole family loved. In fact the 18 muffins I made a couple of days ago are all gone and these were requested for school lunches. It didnt' hurt that I kind of bribed the kids with the butterscotch chips in order to get them to try an apple muffin. The chips did add a nice sweetness to the muffin and with only 1/2 cup between 18 muffins I don't think it hurt the overall healthiness too much.

Next time I make these I'm going to try to increase the whole wheat flour to 3/4 cup and see how that affects the lightness of the muffin. Enjoy!

1/2 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 medium tart apple (ie MacIntosh) - peeled, cored and finely diced
1/2 cup butterscotch chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Line muffin tins with paper liners or grease well.

In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until smooth. Add vanilla and applesauce.

In a medium bowl, combine flours, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, baking powder and baking soda. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and slowly mix until just combined. Fold in diced apple and butterscotch chips gently. (Note: overmixing will create tough, dense muffins)

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean. Cool on wire racks. Keep in a well-sealed container or freeze.


Yield: 18 small muffins

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Leftover Roast Beef on a Bed of Garlic Mashed Potatoes


I'm one of those people who, after a big dinner of roast beast (be it beef, turkey etc), tries to covet the leftover meat. I am not shy about my love of leftover meat (nor are my extended family members who have been known to bring their own tupperware). We are all fans of open-faced roast beef sandwiches smothered in gravy. De-lish!
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Now to this recipe. Let me start by saying that leftover roast beef has never tasted so good. I made the German-style Crockpot Beef Roast the other night for the specific purpose of making this corresponding recipe from the Taste of Home website.
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The picture above doesn't do the dish justice and just highlights my lack of photographic skills. If you love gravy, really tender meat with tonnes of mushrooms and onions all over a bed of mashed potatoes then give this a try. The beef was even more flavourful than the first night and still just as tender.
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The only changes I made were: I added the green beans because I think the dish needed some colour. I increased the garlic to 5 cloves (3 for the potatoes! With garlic - go big or go home) and I used fresh rosemary which I chopped so I didn't get any complaints about pine needles being in the food - sigh). The original dish also used roasted potatoes which I felt didn't really go with the gravy drenched meat so I used garlic mashed potatoes (plus they hold the gravy better anyway). Enjoy!
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2lbs potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 garlic cloves
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup milk
1 cup fresh green beans, trimmed and cut in half
2 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
1lb fresh, sliced button mushrooms
1/4 cup butter, cubed
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped (or 1 tsp dried rosemary)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/3 cup dry red wine (or beef broth) -- I used wine
2 cups cubed, cooked roast beef
1 (10oz/284mL) can beef gravy

In a large pot of salted water, cook potatoes and 3 whole garlic cloves until tender. Add 2 tbsp butter and milk. With an electric mixer, beat potatoes until no longer lumpy. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan with a steamer insert, steam green beans until al dente, approximately 7 minutes. Set aside.

Meanwhile, melt 1/4 cup butter in a large skillet. Saute onion and mushrooms until tender. Add the garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper; cook for 1 minute. Stir in wine. Add beef, gravy and green beans; heat through. Serve over mashed potatoes.

Original Recipe from: Tasteofhome.com

Monday, November 8, 2010

German-Style Slow Cooker Beef Roast


As I've posted before beef roasts were my Achilles Heel, the bane of my existence, the recipe that just wouldn't work out ... you get my point. But this year I took the bull by the horns (pun intended!) and finally overcame my fear of the beef roast.
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This is a VERY easy roast to make but the trick is to cook it a long time, on low heat and use a cheap blade beef roast (I'm talking only $15 for a 4lb roast). Better quality roasts just don't cut it for this recipe.
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I found this recipe in the only magazine I get, Taste of Home. The reason I made the roast wasn't actually for this specific recipe ... but for the corresponding recipe in the magazine that used the leftovers. I was actually going to invite my mother-in-law and my parents for dinner Friday night when I made this roast then quickly decided against it because I'd end up with no leftovers. How bad is that?!?
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I actually made the leftover recipe last night and it got two BIG thumbs up from Brad ... the kids weren't nearly as excited which just shows how good it really was. My kids, God love'em, think chicken fingers are fine dining -- something that I know they'll grow out of soon (I hope!). I'll post the leftover recipe asap. For now, enjoy this really easy recipe that has a gravy that actually smells and tastes like you used red wine ... when you really only used a bottle of beer and ketchup! Served over mashed potatoes with a side of steamed green beans and it was delicious!
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Note: The only change I made was to substitute cornstarch for the flour as the thickening agent. In my parents' house (even to this day) my parents have a debate about how to thicken gravy. My dad swears up and down that flour and water is the way to go while my mother is adamant that cornstarch should be used so you don't have lumps. I adore my dad but have to side with my mom ... cornstarch is my preferred method as well. I'm sure the issue will rear it's head again this Christmas ... but if this is the only major issue my parents have after 40 years of marriage I'd say they're doing pretty well. :)

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1 - 4lb boneless blade (aka chuck) roast
1 tsp black pepper
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 - 12oz bottle of beer
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup packed brown sugar

Gravy Thickening Ingredients
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water

Cut the roast in half; sprinkle with pepper. Place onion slices on bottom of a 5-qt slow cooker. Place roast pieces on top of onion. (see picture above)

In a medium bowl, combine beer, ketchup and brown sugar; pour over roast. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or until meat is tender. No peaking ... keep the lid closed!

Remove meat to a serving platter and cover with foil to keep warm. Skim fat from the cooking juices. I poured the juices through a sieve to remove the onions as well. Place liquid in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.

Combine cornstarch and water in a measuring up and mix until smooth. Gradually stir into the juices. Bring to a boil, stirring often, until thickened. Serve alongside roast and mashed potatoes.

Yield: 10 servings (or 5 if you want to keep the leftovers for the corresponding recipe)

Original Recipe from: Taste of Home

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Valentine Murder

Author: Leslie Meier
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Pages: 350
Series: 5th book in the Lucy Stone series
Series Order:
  1. "Mistletoe Murder" (1991)
  2. "Tippy-Toe Murder" (1994)
  3. "Trick or Treat Murder" (1996)
  4. "Back to School Murder" (1997)

(Note: there are currently 17 books in the series. For more information check out this site)

First Line: "On the day she died, Bitsy Howell didn't want to get out of bed."

Synopsis: Lucy Stone, and the rest of the inhabitants of Tinker's Cove, Maine, are getting ready for Valentine's Day. In between baking pink cupcakes for her kids' school parties Lucy is also getting ready for her first meeting as a director on the local library board.

When Lucy finds the librarian shot to death the board assumes that she was killed by an outsider but the police think otherwise. Detective Horowitz has set his sights on Lucy as the key witness. Now Lucy has to clear her name and figure out who would have wanted the librarian dead.

My Thoughts: This was not a great mystery. First of all, I wasn't sure why it was called Valentine Murder. Yes, it was Valentine's Day around the time the story began but it didn't play any role really in the overall story.

It was humourous reading about how 'new' the internet was back then and reading how the 'fancy' decor was described (which would now be classified as 'ew') back in the early 90's. The main character was likeable but forgettable. I don't think I'll be picking up another Lucy Stone book for awhile.

My Rating: 2/5 stars


Bitten (re-read)


I'm not a reader who tends to re-read a lot of her books. Maybe it's because I'm more of a library user than a book buyer. But! There is something to be said about re-reading one of your favourites. Without sounding too corny it's like meeting up with an old friend. OK, that was kind of cheesy ... but it's true. After reading the first 10 books in the series it was great to remember back to how it all began when we first were introduced to Elena. I feel the exact same way about the Harry Potter series (which I've read 4 times now).
.
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Genre: Supernatural
Series: 1st book in the 'Women of the Underworld' series
Series Order:
  1. "Bitten" (2001)
  2. "Stolen" (2002)
  3. "Dime Store Magic" (2003)
  4. "Industrial Magic" (2004)
  5. "Haunted" (2005)
  6. "Broken" (2006)
  7. "No Humans Involved" (2007)
  8. "Personal Demon" (2008)
  9. "Living With the Dead" (2008)
  10. "Frostbitten" (2009)
  11. "Waking the Witch" (2010)
  12. "Spellbound" (2011)

First Line: "I have to."

Synopsis: Elena is the only known female werewolf. She used to live with The Pack in New York state but moved back to her hometown of Toronto to try to live a normal life. She no longer wants her life to revolve around being a werewolf. Since moving back to Toronto she has a job as a journalist and even a live-in boyfriend. Except for occasionally changing into a werewolf, unbeknownst to her boyfriend, she's living a normal life.

For the past few years the Pack has left her on her own hoping that she'll make the decision to return to them. Now the Pack has contacted her asking for her help. A group of Mutts (non-pack werewolves) has been turning some of the worst human criminals into werewolves. These new werewolves are randomly killing humans in New York state and The Pack needs Elena's help to get rid of them.

Elena grudgingly returns to the Pack and has to face her former lover, Clay. In the meantime, Elena starts to come to terms with her werewolf side. She did not, and would never, choose to be a werewolf. That choice was decided for her. Can she learn to forgive and embrace her inner were or will she turn her back once again on the Pack?

My Thoughts: This was my second time reading this book and it was still an amazing read. Like I mentioned in my previous book review, Armstrong has the wonderful ability to make the thought of supernaturals living amongst us almost plausible. I love the fact that Canadian author Armstrong has included vivid descriptions of Toronto in this book (not sure why the book couldn't have been based in Toronto?). I also love the fact that Armstrong writes strong women as the main characters. No wimpy, undecisive "Bella-esque" main characters (sorry "Twilight", you're an enjoyable story but bad role model for young women). But I digress ....

"Bitten" is a book that I originally read back in November 2006 and was my very first book review posting here on my blog. It was my first foray (Harry Potter excluded) into the world of supernatural books. "Bitten" is the first book in Armstrong's highly popular 'Women of the Underworld' series. The entire series is filled with loads of action, suspense, mystery and romance (not the cheesy kind). Armstrong is the rare kind of writer who can attract readers who favour various different genres and bring them all together to enjoy a heck of a good read.

One thing I found really interesting with this series is that it doesn't just focus on one main character for the entire series. The series starts off with the first two books revolving around Elena's life and the other werewolves around her. But in the second book, "Stolen", we're introduced to a young witch named Savannah. The next book then follows the life of Savannah and her guardian, Paige, who is also a witch. Armstrong uses earlier books to introduce new characters for her future books (which include necromancers, spirits, vampires ...). Older characters, such as Elena and Clay, are brought into future books as secondary characters. Cool idea, eh?

This book can easily be place in the 'hard to put down' category. If you're looking to try supernatural (or if you're a supernatural junkie, like myself) give this series a try. I've introduced this series to several people - all of whom really enjoyed it.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Grocery Store Etiquette 101

Welcome to Grocery Store Etiquette 101. Today we're going to learn about how to properly behave while food shopping.

One of the benefits of being a stay-at-home mom is the fact that I can food shop during weekdays. I'm one of those rare people who enjoy food shopping. Walking down the aisles whilst sipping my morning java - it's a nice, calm time for me.

It's calm and relaxing unless I make the mistake and go food shopping after 5pm on a weeknight or, heaven forbid, on a weekend. If you're not properly attired in full battle gear you're in for a nasty surprise. The gloves come off during weekend food shopping. It's not the tranquil place that I frequent but a war zone where it's each person for herself!

Normally intelligent people can walk into a food store on a Saturday morning and as soon as they put their hands on the cart they turn into total idiots who have the IQ of a box of Wheetabix! Honestly! The food store is the Bermuda Triangle of common sense!

During these, thankfully rare and trying, times of weekend food shopping I have come to realize that there are certain kinds of food shoppers that tick me off. Personally, I think I'm a respectful shopper. I get my food without getting in other people's way and I usually have a smile on my face (in a friendly way, not the creepy 'perma grin') and a kind word to all.

Here's a list of some of the types of shoppers that get on my last frayed nerve.

  1. Aisle Blocker -- "Let me park my cart here and look at the other side of the aisle. Those other people will be more than happy to wait for me!" I have the biggest issue with these people. They keep their cart on one side of the aisle while blocking the other side with their own fine selves. They need to treat a food store aisle like a road. Two single lanes going opposite directions. If you're going to pull over - get right over and stay with your cart. I'm surprised there haven't been incidents of 'shopping aisle rage' reported more frequently.
  2. The Friend Finder -- "Oh my GOSH! I can't believe we're food shopping at the same time! What are the odds?! How are the kids? How's Ted? Who does your hair? ...." These people are so overjoyed that they see a friend in the food store that they both proceed to giggle and chit chat right in the middle of the aisle. For the love of all that is good and holy, get out of my way! As a polite Canadian 'sorry, excuse me' is my first method of defense to get through The Friends. After that I resort to snotty remarks made under my breath and will then gripe to Brad when I get home. It's how it's done here in Canada. I don't make the rules. Anyway, in our local store these Friend Finders are either those super bubbly uber moms or, more often than not, university and college students who are stocking up on their supply of Ramen noodles and Diet Coke. Socialize at the bar people, not the food store. Move it!
  3. Overly Detailed Shopper -- "I'd like 5 slices of Black Forest Ham 1/10" thick, 3 slices of Swiss cheese, 5/8lb of summer sausage put in three separate but equally distributed bags ....". You know this kind of shopper. The woman who stands at the deli counter asking to inspect each and every piece of ham that is sliced to ensure that each of her slices are the same thickness. If the thickness varies even slightly her Granny panties will indeed knot up! And this is a beef coming from an anal person like myself! I love order but there's a time and place and the deli counter is not that place. Just let the girl cut your cold cuts and move on, sister! I've got grapes that have turned into raisins I've been waiting so long!
  4. The Slow Shopper -- "I'm in no hurry. I'm going to walk slow and take in the wonder that is the food store." I realize that sometimes I like to meander through the aisles and look at things (especially in the Super Centres' clothing and house wares aisles) but when I'm ready to food shop I'm on a mission! I don't peruse the pasta (nothing's changed in pasta for how many decades?). I don't scrutinize squash or thoroughly examine the evaporated milk. Some things you can just pick up and walk on, my friend!
  5. Cell Phone Addict -- "Hi Jill! Can you believe what happened on 'Jersey Shore' last night?!? I know!! Tell me all your favourite parts!" The Cell Phone Addict is closely related to the Slow Shopper. This is the kind of person who answers their cell and proceeds to ramble down the aisles not caring who is behind them. Can the call wait 15 minutes? Is 'The Situation's antics that important at this particular time in the day? Probably not ... ever.
  6. Old Mother Hubbard and her gang -- "Jimmy don't take the can on the bottom of the stack!" "Abby stop running down the aisle!" "No you can NOT have a cookie!!" Food shopping with kids is a whole other ball of wax. I have three kids and I always prided myself on the fact that I could take three young kids food shopping, get my groceries and out the automatic doors before a meltdown (well, most of the time anyway). It's all about the planning! If at all possible food shop ALONE! If you can't and have to bring your offspring make sure to bring snacks and cheap toys (because you know they'll get lost) to keep them busy. It's not rocket science! Don't have your kids running down the aisle playing tag or squishing the bakery items! C'mon!
  7. Shadow Guy -- "Oh good. I'm next in line!!" When I'm at the cashier with my order and I'm watching him/her ring it through I always have my cart out in front of me so the bagger can have access. What I don't like is when the next person in line doesn't give me the personal space that I require. Does standing right beside me with our arms almost touching make the cashier go faster? No! So back up off me! I need to enter my PIN for my debit card and I don't want his eyes (or any other part of him) near me when I do it.
  8. The Crappy Bagger -- As a self-proclaimed anal person I realize that it is pure gold when you can find a food bagger who does his/her job well. I'm not talking about the guy who throws whatever the cashier hands him into a bag. I'm talking about the pros who know that I don't want a can of spaghetti sauce thrown on my bananas. That I don't want my ice cream beside my roasted chicken from the deli. At the food store I frequent I've come to distinguish the awesome baggers from those who just don't have their heart in it. I'd rather bag my own than let them touch my zucchini! In all honestly I often do start to bag my own or use Self Check out which can be kinda fun.
  9. Chronic Plastic Bag User -- C'mon people! We're all trying to live greener, aren't we? I have 5 bins and oodles of cloth bags that I bring to food shop. Do I occasionally arrive at the food store only to find that Brad has removed my bins and not replaced them (pet peeve)? Yes, but very rarely. I'm talking about the people who buy 10+ bags regularly. Money's just flying out of their pockets to buy the bags. Bring a bin and save a tree.

This blathering is not meant to get you down about food shopping during rush hour. No! There is a way to create harmony during rush hour food shopping. It can be done! We just need to work together so that no one gets beaten down with a can of Alphagetti for blocking an aisle. We're not animals, people! Here are some tips:

  • Get in, get out -- Make a list BEFORE you go food shopping. Personally, I keep a great app on my iPhone aptly (pun intended) named Groceries. I always have it with me to update. I embrace my inner geek freely and openly.
  • Share the road -- Don't be an aisle hog. We all have the same goal! Let me pass!
  • Respect -- it goes a long way. If we all respect each other no one has to get hurt during our weekly shopping trip.

So, what are your biggest pet peeves while food shopping? Any horror stories?


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cranberry Orange Scones

One of my favourite flavour combinations is definitely the mighty cranberry and orange. They just go together like PB and J, baked potatoes and sour cream, me and coffee .... you get the picture.

These even passed my 'will the kids eat it?' test. I'm a big cranberry fan but I wasn't sure if their tartness would be something my kids would like. Two out of three kids give it a thumbs up and even requested these in their lunches today.

If there is one tip I can give you it's to use frozen cranberries (I keep several bags in my deep freeze for cranberry emergencies). Using a sharp knife and a tight grip, cut each cranberry in half. That way they won't explode while baking.

These little gems go great with your morning coffee/tea. They have a nice crunchy top (with the added flavour from the wonderful glaze) and a light centre. You can serve them with butter but I prefer them on their own.



Yield: 12 scones

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup butter, chilled and cubed

3/4 cup fresh, frozen cranberries, coarsely chopped

1 tbsp finely grated orange zest

1 egg, beaten

3/4 cup buttermilk (or 3/4 cup milk plus 1 tbsp white vinegar and let sit for 5 minutes)

Glaze

1 tbsp orange zest (I chopped it very fine after I zested the orange)

3 tbsp orange juice (I juiced the orange I used for the zest for the OJ needed)

3/4 cup icing sugar

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients for the scones. Cut in butter with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Mix in orange zest and cranberries.

Combine buttermilk and egg; add to dry ingredients and mix gently until just combined.

Drop by large spoonfuls onto a baking sheet lined with parchment.

Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Combine glaze ingredients and mix.

Cool scones slightly, then drizzle with glaze. Don't be stingy with the glaze ... it's awesome. Serve warm alongside a cuppa joe and one of your best girlfriends for some chat.

Reading Poll - What are YOU reading??

This past week has been a slower reading week for me. With Hallowe'en and great weather I was pretty busy. I was outside quite a bit and finally winterized my gardens. Note to self: Black Eyed Susan vine looks great growing up a lattice on the side of my house ... but pulling it down and unwinding all the tendrills is far from fun.

Brad was in his glory getting his 'Man Hut' (big tool shed) and the garage ready for the winter (ie. tidying it up, storing stuff and vacuuming it out -- yes, he vacuums his garage. What can I say we're both Type A/anal). I don't pretend to understand men's love for their garages and tool sheds. I just nod and smile.

So, what have I been reading in my downtime? As I posted earlier I read a wonderful book called "In My Hands" by Irene Gut Opdyke. If you're into books based during WWII this is hands-down one of the best books I've read in a long time. Emotional and inspiring.

For the past few days I've been re-reading "Bitten" by Canadian author Kelley Armstrong. Armstrong is in the top 3 of my 'wanna meet that author' list. Love this author! I originally read this first book in her 'Women of the Underworld' series back in November 2006. There are 13 books in the series and it's wonderfully written with romance, action, supernatural, mystery, suspense and has a great and varied cast. The series starts off with the first two books being about Elena and Clay and their werewolf pack. But during the second book you meet some new characters (ie a young witch) which the next book is about and so on. Good storylines, strong characters (from werewolves to witches, necromancers and spirits) ... and I love that it's partly based in good old Toronto. This was my first foray into supernatural books and I highly recommend this series. I'll do a new book review for this book in the next few days. "Bitten" was one of my first posts last year but looking back it's a sad, sad review so I'll update it.

Up next? Well it's my turn to pick the book for my book club and I've finally narrowed my choice down. I wasn't sure if I wanted to get them to read "Bitten" to introduce the supernatural genre or pick a totally new book. I'll be telling my book club about my pick when we meet at my place this Sunday.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Easy Buttermilk Biscuits

I made these biscuits last week to accompany the Pizza Pasta Bake that I had frozen and reheated for an easy week night dinner. I thought some hot, fresh biscuits would counteract the negative thoughts and sighs that would undoubtedly be whizzing around in my kids' heads at the thought of dreaded leftovers. I was right. These were a nice treat and served with some butter they were divine. Crispy on the outside and fluffy in the centre.

To save time I put the dry ingredients together in a bowl and got everything ready so that once the casserole was heated through I could take it out of the oven, increase the oven temperature and bake these little gems as I got the rest of dinner ready.

Yield: 10 biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup shortening
3/4 cup buttermilk (or 3/4 cup milk plus 1 tbsp white vinegar and let sit for 5 min.)

Preheat oven to 450F.

In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; cut in the shortening with a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in buttermilk, mix lightly and knead dough gently.

Roll out to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with a 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter and place on a lightly greased baking sheet.

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm with butter.

Recipe originally from: Taste of Home

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