Monday, 31 January 2011

Deadly Sanctuary

Author: Sylvia Nobel
Genre: Mystery
Series: 1st book in the Kendall O'Dell series
Series Order:
  1. Deadly Sanctuary (1998)
  2. The Devil's Cradle (1999)
  3. Dark Moon Crossing (2002)
  4. Seeds of Vengeance (2006)
Read on: Kindle 3
First Published: 1998
First Line: "Oh ... my ... God."

Synopsis: Kendall O'Dell moves from a large northern American city to a very small Arizona town hoping that the change in venue will improve her job prospects as well as her asthma. She takes a job at the local newspaper as a reporter to fill in for the former reporter who recently disappeared. When Kendall learns that a couple of missing teens have recently shown up dead in the small town her reporter instincts kick in and she jumps at the chance to figure out why. In the meantime, she meets the handsome and rugged Tally as well as the very rich and charming Eric and has to decide between the two men.

My Thoughts: I found this book on's kindle site for free so I figured I'd download it and give this author a shot. Let's just say I'm glad that it was free. As the first book in a series of 4 books I thought that it would be pretty good (it got good reviews on amazon!) but, sadly, it was just barely an ok read. The characters were cliches and totally one-dimensional (big town girl comes to small town, rich guy who adores Kendall, poor guy with a heart of gold ...) and the mystery was very transparent. I guessed almost immediately at whodunnit and there were not nearly enough twists and turns to keep my interest.

Some of the characters and storylines are too unbelievable. There also seemed to be too many different topics that the author tried to touch on. I don't want to go into any detail because it will give away what little storyline there was but needless to say there was too many issues in one book.

Another issue that I had was that Kendall wasn't believable. For me, the main character (as well as secondary characters) have to be believable. They don't have to be likeable but I have to believe that the main character 'could' be a real person. Kendall isn't that kind of a main character unfortunately. She's supposed to be this big city reporter but she doesn't behave like one. She takes people's word at face value and never questions anything! The attempts of the author to write in the dialect of the townspeople was almost laughable. The character that I liked the most was Ginger's grandmother but unfortunately she had a very small role.

Finally, I absolutely hated the rugged man's nickname. "Tally". I knew a female chocolate lab by that name and the name itself doesn't instill a very masculine, rough and tough guy like he's supposed to be portrayed. I realize it's a nickname based on his last name but I think the author could have come up with something a lot better!

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Creamy Broccoli Slaw

After getting smacked down by the flu for a couple of days I'm back! I'm not 100% but I do have enough energy to add another recipe to my blog! Dedication, I tell ya! The only upside to this flu is that I've caught up on my Nate Berkus shows and even lost 7lbs. But I'm sure once I get back my desire to eat anything more than a glass of cold, flat gingerale and some Cheerios I'm sure I'll gain it all back.
This was a recipe that I found late last week. One of the reasons I've never made a coleslaw is due to the time and trouble of shredding the cabbage. Yes, I can use my food processor but it just seems like to much work. Enter in broccoli slaw! A 'slaw' could not get easier than this, plus it uses the little loved stalk of the broccoli! I found the small bag of broccoli slaw in amongst the packaged bags of salad. I used the President's Choice variety (see pic below).

This slaw has a creamy, sweet taste and you could fool 99% of your family in thinking that's it's made out of cabbage. It's the perfect side dish for hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs, sandwiches ....

340g bag broccoli slaw
1 cup mayonnaise (I used reduced fat)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp horseradish
1 tbsp white vinegar
1/2 tsp celery seeds

In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, sugar, horseradish, white vinegar and celery seeds. Mix well.

Place broccoli slaw in a large bowl. Pour mayonnaise mixture over top and mix well. Refrigerate for at least one hour.

Recipe from:

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Simple Balsamic Roasted Vegetables

Lately I've had a total fixation on roasted vegetables and I'm not sure why. I've always enjoyed vegetables, don't get me wrong, (I prefer veg to fruit any day) but lately I've been craving them! It also may have to do with my new love for the mighty butternut squash. You'd think that I created this squash for the love that I bestow on it lately, but no. Apparently people have been eating this squash for a long time! Where have I been? I used to be partial to just acorn squash but luckily I'm opening up my repertoire of squash to include this new gem.

Growing up I was one of those weird kids who liked brussel sprouts (my sisters were also fans if I remember correctly). Brussels weren't overly common on our dining table but were served enough that we grew accustomed to them and even liked them. Well, since I've learned that roasting them is even better than steaming them I've become a big fan again. They taste amazing in this dish! Sadly, my husband and kids have not jumped whole heartedly on the brussel sprout band wagon (they feel like they've been run over by the brussel sprout band wagon actually) but I have faith that at some point (if I'm persistent in serving them) they'll finally see the light and learn to love them.

Last week when I made this dish I fell in love with it!! That night this was my whole dinner. A big bowl of roasted veggies with Parm on it. Divine! I'm a big carnivore so that's saying something that I can be satisfied with just a meal of veggies! If you're not one for a heaping bowl'o'veg for your entire meal this would also be great as a side dish for pork, chicken or beef.

1 small butternut squash - peeled, seeded and cubed into 1-inch chunks
1 large sweet potato - peeled and cubed into 1-inch chunks
1 large red onion - peeled and quartered
15 small brussel sprouts
1 1/2 cups white mushrooms
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
3 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper - to taste
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated OR feta cheese, crumbled - to garnish

Preheat oven to 475F.

Cut off the ends of each brussel sprout, remove outer layer of leaves. With a small knife, cut a shallow "X" into the end of each brussel sprout.

In a large bowl, combine the squash, sweet potato, onion, brussel sprouts and mushrooms.

In a small bowl, combine thyme, rosemary, olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper. Pour balsamic mixture over vegetables and toss until vegetables are well coated. Spread evenly in a large roasting pan or a large cookie sheet that has an edge. (NOTE: for easier clean up I strongly suggest you line your baking dish with tin foil).

Roast for 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, or until vegetables are cooked through and browned. Sprinkle with more salt and pepper (if needed) and Parmesan cheese.

Yield: 4 side dish servings

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The Queen's Governess

Author: Karen Harper
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 349
First Published: January 2010
First Line: "The Tower of London - May 19, 1536: I could not fathom they were going to kill the queen."

Synopsis: This story is told through the eyes of Katherine "Kat" Ashley, Elizabeth I's royal governess. Katherine Ashley grew up as the daughter of a poor squire in Devon. Suddenly her life takes a huge turn when she is noticed by Thomas Cromwell for her whit and intelligence. At this point in time Cromwell's star is rising in King Henry VIII's court and he requests that Kat come to London and become his spy to help elevate his status even more. Shortly after arriving at court she begins to wait on Queen Anne Boleyn. During this stressful time in court, Kat and the Queen become very close. Right before Anne's execution, Kat agrees to become governess to Anne and Henry's daughter, Princess Elizabeth.

Kat quickly becomes a surrogate mother to Elizabeth and loves the girl as if she were her own. Throughout the tumultuous years of Elizabeth's childhood and teen years they live through nasty court gossip, claims of illegitimacy, assassination attempts and even lengthy imprisonment.

When Elizabeth is finally crowned Queen, Kat is there to offer advice to the young monarch and try to keep her from falling prey to those who wish her harm and even from some poor choices that Elizabeth may make on her own behalf.

My Thoughts: I just love this era in time. There's so much drama, intrigue, scandal and nasty backstabbing. It's like watching Big Brother, Survivor and Dynasty all rolled into one! Never a dull moment with those Tudor's, I tell ya!

I loved that this well-known story, set in 16th century England, is told through the eyes of a servant (Kat Ashley is not a fictional character devised for this book but was actually a part of the actual Tudor history). I have always been a big fan of the HBO series "The Tudors" so I found that as I was reading this book I could easily imagine the characters. With so many wives and courtiers having a face to put to a name helped me keep track of who was who. Although I have to admit that actor Jonathan Rhys Meyer is a whole lot hotter than the real King Henry VIII is described or looked in his portraits! Or is it just me??).
But that is neither here nor there. My point is that even though I knew the storyline and how the book would end there was lots of suspense and action which still kept me riveted.

Like many people, I've read several books by Phillippa Gregory (author of "The Other Boleyn Girl"). While I did enjoy her books I found them a much heavier read than Harper's book. Harper was able to get all of the information and facts into the storyline without having the storyline become overwrought with detail to the detriment of the story. Hard to do (I assume) with a book that details such a rich and well-known history!

I love Harper's writing style and I'm thrilled that I just happened to pick up this book on a whim at the library. I thought that the title sounded interesting. The book force was strong with me that day!

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Chocolate Fruit Pizza

You've gotta love a quick, easy and tasty dessert that will impress your guests. This recipe fits the bill! Not only is it quick and tasty but it's really pretty too! I could see serving this at baby showers or on the patio in the summer.

I also love that it's really versatile. You can easily change it up by changing the fruit or the cookie base. I'd love to try it with more of a brownie base with raspberries on top! Or what about a sugar cookie base with mango, fresh pineapple and kiwi! The variations are limitless!

This is the recipe that the Pampered Chef consultant made at my PC party last night. Needless to say it was a hit! (Side Note: I was much too busy chatting with my friends to take a picture of our pizza so this pic was borrowed from Photobucket. The recipe below uses slightly different fruit but you get the idea).

2 pkgs chocolate chip cookie dough (or make your own homemade recipe)
1 (8oz) pkg cream cheese (light or regular), softened
1/4 cup icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups Cool Whip (thawed) or fresh whipped cream
2 cups strawberries - washed, hulled and sliced
2 bananas, sliced
1 (10oz) can mandarin orange segments, drained
2 kiwis, peeled and sliced
1 cup blueberries, washed
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375F. Roll out cookie dough onto a large cookie sheet (or large stone bar pan if you're a PC nut like me). Bake for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown. Do not overbake. Set aside to cool completely.

Combine cream cheese, icing sugar and vanilla in a bowl. Fold in whipped topping. Spread this mixture onto the cooled cookie.

Arrange sliced bananas, strawberries, kiwi, mandarin oranges and blueberries (or whatever other fruit you choose) on top of the cream cheese layer.

Chocolate layer -- There are two different ways you can do this.
Chocolate Drizzle: Melt chocolate chips in a double boiler and stir until smooth. Add a splash of vegetable oil into the melted chocolate - which makes the chocolate easier to drizzle. Drizzle chocolate over fruit.

Chocolate Shavings: Put chocolate chips into your PC cheese grater (or another good quality hand cheese grater) and grate chocolate over the fruit.

Note: You could make this egg-free by making your own homemade egg-free cookie dough.

Recipe from: The Pampered Chef

Restaurant-Style Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Boy, am I tired. Last night I hosted my first Pampered Chef party in over 8 years. It's been a long time and my kitchen needed to be pimped out with shiny new kitchen gadgets. It was a wonderful evening filled with chatting, wine and food! Needless to say, I'm still a big PC fan and I'm looking forward to picking out all of my free stuff today!
The following recipe is a dip that I made for New Year's Eve. I was a little sceptical when I saw that the author said it tasted just like the dips you'd get at a Kelsey's or other similar restaurant. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed with the texture (very creamy!) and the taste of this easy to prepare make-ahead dip. Plus it's a very easy (and tasty) way to eat the infamously good for you spinach ... in a tasty way!
I would make a few tweaks though. I'm a garlic LOVER so I'd definitely increase that ingredient because I thought that the taste was good but a little too subtle for me. I also increased the fresh Parmesan cheese too. Here's the recipe with my tweaks.
1 (10oz) pkg frozen spinach, thawed and dried well (see Tip below)
1 (14oz) can artichoke hearts, drained
5-6 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups Mozzarella cheese, grated (divided)
1 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated (divided)
1 (8oz) pkg cream cheese, softened and cut into small cubes
1 (14oz) jar Alfredo-style sauce (I used President's Choice 'Alfredo')
salt and pepper, to taste
Place spinach, artichoke hearts and garlic in a food processor. Process until well mixed and fairly fine in texture. Add 1 cup of Mozzarella cheese and 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese; process until blended. Add cubes of softened cream cheese to the food processor and blend well (you may have to scrape the sides of the bowl often throughout the mixing stages).
Pour spinach mixture into a large bowl. Add Alfredo sauce, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix well. Place in an 8x8-inch baking pan and cover with plastic wrap. Place in fridge and allow flavours to blend for a couple of hours.
Preheat oven to 350F. Remove plastic wrap and sprinkle with 1/4 cup of Parmesan and 1/2 cup Mozzarella cheeses. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until dip is heated through. Serve with pita chips, crackers or on slices of toasted sour dough bread.
Tip: I used a very fine colander and squeezed as much water out of the thawed spinach as I could. Then I put the spinach on top of some paper towel (several layers thick) and squeezed out even more.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Extracurricular Activities

After a few weeks of impatiently waiting, my Kindle arrived five days ago!! Needless to say I've been attached to it ever since. In short, I LOVE it! Very easy to use, easy to read, easy to keep track of books ... I was a little leary of using an ereader because I thought that I'd miss the feel of a 'real' book ... nope. Feels so similar that I don't mind at all. In fact, right now I'm reading a paper book and I miss being able to highlight a word and get the definition right away.

Plus, many books that are offered are very reasonably priced. As Canadians we're used to being gouged when it comes to buying books but since all Kindle books are bought through (and Americans pay less for books) even with the exchange I save money. Gotta love that!

The ease of buying a book in under 60 seconds (by using either it's 3G or Wifi) is pretty sweet too. I'm hoping that with the small amount of time it takes to buy an e-book I don't go hog wild and buy books with abandon. Must ... control ... myself! With great e-reader comes great responsibility. In short, there are so many positives (and no negatives as of yet) so, needless to say, I highly recommend it.

This was the first book that I read on my Kindle and I'm looking forward to reading many, many more.

Author: Maggie Barbieri
Genre: Mystery
Series: Murder 101
Series Order:
  1. Murder 101 (2006)
  2. Extracurricular Activities (2007)
  3. Quick Study (2008)
  4. Final Exam (2009)
  5. Third Degree (2010)

First Line: "I have two best friends; one is a nymphomaniac and the other is a priest."

Synopsis: The second book in the Murder 101 series begins shortly after the first book in the series, "Murder 101", ends. College professor Alison Bergeron is still teaching English in a small Bronx town. Alison is still not sure what to do with her potential boyfriend Bobby Crawford who is still technically and legally married to his wife. This, unfortunately, leaves Alison's love life in limbo. Alison is also kept busy by her cheating ex-husband, Ray who doesn't understand that Alison doesn't want anything to do with him.

When Alison finds a mutilated body in her kitchen she's advised by Crawford to keep her nose out of it ... which Alison doesn't heed. She dives into the investigation all the while trying to figure out her social life (or lack thereof)

My Thoughts: This was a decent read with a good amount of suspense but, unfortunately, not nearly as funny as the first book in the series. Now, it's been about 10 months since I read the first book in the series but it honestly felt like I was reading about another character. She wasn't as silly (nor nearly as funny) and didn't have her long list of nervous ailments that plagued her in the first book.

The tension created in the mystery was good (especially at the very end of the book) but the main focus of this book was on Alison's love life. She felt she should stay away from Detective Crawford (even though there was a definite chemistry between them) simply because he was technically married. Personally, I didn't understand what the big issue was. Yes, he's technically married but has been separated from his wife for many years. I just found the author was making a mountain out of a mole hill then dragging us through the mole hill over and over again.

I was also hoping for more involvement from the secondary characters. I've often found that secondary characters can help add humour and move the storyline along. I would have loved to see more of Alison's best friend, Father Kevin, as well as her best friend Max (the nympho).

Then there was an issue Crawford had involving an informant getting killed ... and it had absolutely nothing to do with the storyline. Why put it in the story in the first place? It left me feeling like I missed something.

The ending of the book had some decent tension but overall this was just an OK read. I'm hoping that the third book in the series will get better. I already have it waiting on my nightstand!

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Chicken, Goat Cheese & Caramelized Onion Quesadillas with Avocado Sour Cream

I'm a sucker for a good, 'filled to the edges, crispy on the outside, and maybe a little messy' homemade quesadilla. In my world, pretty much anything goes when it's inside a tortilla!
Last week Brad had to go away on business to Oklahoma. Since it was just the kids and I, we decided to have a quesadilla extravaganza! We had cheese quesadilla for Missy Moo (she's not very adventurous but if she has her beloved sour cream she's happy as a clam). Karate Guy had a cheese and green olive quesadilla and Cub had a Pizzadilla (he aptly named it) filled with pizza sauce, green olives and cheese.
Personally, I was up for something a little more adventurous. I've been hankerin' to use some goat cheese in my fridge. It still astounds me that I have this new found love of fromage de goat. I know! For years I'd tell people it tasted like burnt plastic (no, I have never eaten burnt plastic but the smell just had ode to baked Barbie all over it). Suddenly, in the past month, I adore it! Weird!
Back to my constantly escaping point .... I wanted to make a quesadilla featuring goat cheese. I also had some recently BBQ'd chicken breast that I wanted to incorporate in the quesadilla. After a little brainstorming I came up with this dish. It ... was ... awesome! I even emailed two of my favourite foodies to share in my joy!
The tanginess of the goat cheese was wonderful with the sweetness of the caramelized onions and the freshness of the basil from my indoor herb garden (it's really not as glamourous as it sounds. It's a pot in front of my slider). Along with the great avocado sour cream that I found on Sugar Cooking and we have a winning combination!
Chicken, Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onion Quesadillas with Avocado Sour Cream
Yield: 2 large quesadillas
Caramelized Onions
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 large yellow onions, peeled and sliced
salt and pepper, to taste
2 tsp sugar
In a large skillet, melt the butter in the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook for approximately 5 minutes or until the onions soften. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Stir in the sugar and continue to cook for approximately 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Scrape darkened bits off the bottom of the pan (it's not gross, it's flavour!). Set aside until needed.
Avocado Sour Cream
Recipe from: Sugar Cooking
1 ripe avocado
1/3 cup sour cream
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1 lime, juiced
1/4 tsp onion powder
salt and pepper, to taste
Remove avocado pulp and mash in a small bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Set aside.
vegetable oil
4 large flour tortillas
1 large, fully cooked chicken breast, chopped
1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled
1 1/2 cups marble cheese, grated
1-2 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced (or 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped)
1/4 cup fresh basil, stems removed and chopped
Note: There are numerous ways to cook a quesadilla. You can do it on your BBQ, in the oven or, like I did, on an electric skillet. I'd suggest doing it in an oven (brush outside of tortillas with oil to make them brown). These suckers can be hard to flip!
Heat skillet to medium heat. Brush with oil. Lay one tortilla onto the skillet. Top with half of the: chicken, caramelized onions, goat cheese, marble cheese, tomato and basil. Place another tortilla on top. Cook until bottom tortilla is browned. Brush top tortilla with some oil then carefully flip quesadilla. Mine didn't make a graceful flip but tasted wonderful all the same. Repeat with final quesadilla.
Let quesadillas sit for a couple of minutes then slice using a pizza cutter to cut them into wedges. Serve with avocado sour cream and salsa.

Monday, 10 January 2011

The Book of Eleanor: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine

Title: The Book of Eleanor: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine
Author: Pamela Kaufman
Type: Historical Fiction
Pages: 506
Published: 2002
ISBN #0-609-60906-8

Synopsis: In the early 12th century, 15 year old Eleanor becomes the Duchess of Aquitaine, a wealthy and powerful province in France. Soon after, Eleanor is married to Louis VII of France, a sickly religious fanatic who keeps his young wife under lock and key, fearing that she'll be adulterous. He even takes her on his Crusade in order to keep an eye on her.

Once she is able to have her marriage to Louis annulled, Eleanor hopes to marry her childhood love Baron Rancon but suddenly finds herself violently forced into a marriage to Henry II of England. Their marriage is marred by secrets and escalates into open warfare when Eleanor begins a rebellion against her husband in hopes to save her beloved Aquitaine which Henry covets. Henry vows revenge and imprisons Eleanor for 15 years hoping that she will die in obscurity. While in prison, Eleanor writes her memoires; this book is said to be that memoire.

My Thoughts: I enjoyed this book ... until around page 350 when it the story slowed down dramatically. In the beginning of the book I really enjoyed learning more about France and England in the 12th century -- not an era I've read much about in the past. Typically, when I read historical fiction it has been mostly in Scotland and England. Learning about France and the Crusades was quite interesting. If only Kaufman could have kept up the momentum.

I didn't enjoy the ending at all. It felt like it was just thrown together haphazardly and too abruptly.

My Rating: 2/5 (aka "meh")

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Pizza Pinwheels

This was one of the appetizers that I made for my New Year's fete. I was looking for a finger food that was kid friendly. In my house a child with no or low blood sugar is not a child you want to hang out with! With that in mind I came up with this snack which, while the kids liked them, it was the parents who ate most of them!

These are really easy to prepare and can be prepped ahead of time making it easy for you to socialize with your guests. It's also really easy to change up the flavour by adding various pizza ingredients.

2 (7.5oz) cans pizza sauce
1 1/2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese
2/3 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
48 slices pepperoni
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
2 (8oz) cans refrigerated crescent rolls

In a food processor, combine one can of pizza sauce, mozzarella, Parmesan, pepperoni and spices. Mix until you get a fairly smooth texture.

Lay a large piece of parchment paper on your counter. Unroll one tube of crecent rolls into 4 rectangles. Pinch seams and roll flat.

Using half of the sauce, spoon the mixture over the four rectangles of dough (as close to the edge as you can get). Roll tightly, lengthwise (pinching seams that may come undone).

Place dough logs onto a large plate and place in the refrigerator for at least 1-2 hours. This will help them firm up enough to make slicing easy. Complete the same steps for the second tube of crescent rolls and the remaining sauce.

Preheat oven to 375F. Remove dough logs from fridge and slice into 3/4-inch slices. Place parchment paper on a cookie sheet (it will make clean up a breeze). Lay pinwheels flat on sheet (so you can see the swirl). Bake until golden brown, about 12 minutes. Meanwhile, heat up the second can of sauce for dipping.

Yield: approximately 60 pinwheels

The House In Amalfi

Author: Elizabeth Adler
Genre: Modern Fiction
Pages: 356
First Published: 2005
First Line: "For two years I have lived alone, not allowing even a dog or a cat to intrude on my solitude."

Synopsis: Since Lamour Harrington's husband died two years ago she's put all of her energy into her landscaping business. When she suddenly receives startling news she decides to get away and visit the house that she and her deceased father once lived in on the Amalfi coast of Italy where she has wonderful memories of her childhood.

Once there, Lamour begins to think a lot about her father's sudden death. Was it truly an accidental drowning or is there something more sinister about his death. As Lamour digs into the mystery she meets two strong and mysterious men, both of whom want to keep Lamour from the truth.

My Thoughts: I was drawn to this book in my local library merely based on it's title. I had never heard of the author before but when I saw "Amalfi" I had to pick it up. Brad and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary in Positano - a stunningly beautiful Italian town on the coast which is so beautiful you almost can't believe it's real. Celebrating your marriage while eating a delicious meal, drinking wine while watching the sun set ... it doesn't get much better than that!

As for this book? I liked this book but didn't love it. The best part of the book was the vivid descriptions of Italy. From the daily life in the piazzas of Rome to the quaint, quiet, picturesque towns on the Amalfi coast it made me want to go back ... soon!
What I wasn't fond of was the characters. The main character, Lamour's name was a little too over the top even with the odd family explanation. It was actually distracting to me. She also seemed to be much too naive, and at times plain stupid, for a 38 year old business woman. She drops her life in the States to fly to Italy totally ignoring the fact that she owns her own business but expects to just fly back and forth every few months for work. How does that work exactly with a landscape architecture business when you're an ocean away from your clients and their gardens?
Then there's the little issue of her assuming that after 30 years of never visiting the house she and her father had briefly lived in that she still owned the house. Not a word was mentioned of her ever receiving any tax bills yet she is ticked off when the owner of the next door villa questions her right to live there. Add to that her little escapade involving buying live chickens, carting them in the backseat of her car (sans cages - ew!) and then wondering where she's going to house them. Really?
The overall story was ok but many of her characters were one-dimensional and a little too cliched for my tastes. She had the handsome 64 year old neighbour (who has the body and stamina of a 40 year old - but of course!), his son - the playboy and the neurotic daughter. Then there was the extremely old but exceptionally wise Japanese gardener there to give everyone his sage advice. Think Yoda with a hoe. Sad, but true.
If you want a book that vividly describes the beauty of the Amalfi coast as well as piazzas in Rome then pick this book up. It'll definitely make you want to travel to Italy! If you want a good mystery with strong female characters and secondary characters that help move the storyline along then take a pass on this book.
My Rating: 2/5 stars

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Double Tomato Balsamic Bruschetta

One of my favourite things that I made for New Year's was this bruschetta. It ... was ... divine. There was only one problem though. I had made so many other appetizers (it was an appetizer-only fete) that we didn't have time to dig into this bruschetta. A pity because this was delish!

When I did get to eat this bruschetta it wasn't until the following day and I actually didn't eat it the traditional way. I ended up eating a few spoonfuls because I just couldn't help myself. Is it wrong to take a small bowl of it and eat it on it's own? If it's wrong, I don't want to be right!

This dish brought back a lot of great memories of my 2007 trip to Italy with Brad. There's nothing better than having a dish bring back wonderful memories of sipping wine and eating fresh bruschetta (pronounced 'brus-ketta') in a piazza!

This appetizer definitely has a real freshness to it. I love the hint of balsamic and how the flavours of the the fresh basil and the two types of tomatoes go so well together. With a recipe like this, fresh ingredients are a must. Don't use canned tomatoes when you can use fresh, don't use dried herbs if you can use fresh basil! Don't even get me on the topic of jarred garlic!! Fresh is always better in my book.

Also, the bread you use is very important. You want a loaf that has a dense, open texture so there's room for the garlic and juices to pool a bit. Stay away from soft, squishy breads. Once you have the ingredients this recipe is easy to whip up and impress your guests!

6 roma (plum) tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil) - drained and chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (the best you can find)
1/4 cup fresh basil, stems removed and chopped
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Italian bread, sliced into 3/4-inch slices
2 garlic cloves, whole
1 1/2 cups Mozzarella cheese, grated

In a large bowl, combine roma tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, 4 minced garlic cloves, olive oil, balsamic, basil, salt and pepper. Allow mixture to sit for at least 10 minutes.

Preheat oven (or grill) so it's nice and hot. Place bread slices on a cookie sheet and broil until toasted and pale golden in colour. Watch carefully, it won't take long! Flip and toast the other side.

While the bread is toasting, place garlic cloves on a chopping board and press down on them with the flat side of a large knife until the garlic squishes enough for the skins to crack and peel off easily.

Remove bread from oven (or grill) and immediately rub the garlic hard over one side of the bread. This will lightly flavour the toast.

Divide the tomato mixture evenly over the bread slices. Top with Mozzarella cheese and broil again just until cheese is melted. Serve immediately.

Note: I had so much of the tomato mixture left that I used it in a chicken dish that was amazing! I'll post the recipe soon.

Tip: You could also use this tomato mixture in an omelette, over pasta, over goat cheese on a cracker ....

Recipe inspired from:

I've linked this recipe to: A Little Nosh: Tastetastic Thursday!

2011 Intentions

As soon as New Year's Eve approaches people start asking each other what their New Year's resolutions are going to be. Some people quit smoking, some people aim to lose weight while others vow to read more. To each their own.

Personally, I've never been big on making annual New Year's resolutions. I don't have any major vices (coffee doesn't count, nor does eating those mini Hallowe'en chocolate bars unabashedly) and, quite honestly, I just don't seem to have the long-term will power to meet a bunch of sky-high goals. I can talk myself in and out of almost anything. It's a gift.

I could list off a bunch of huge promises anywhere from losing weight to saving money to promoting world peace. But honestly? I just don't want to. I know I won't stick to it for more than a few weeks. Instead I'm going to call my list "Intentions". The word seems less daunting to me. Semantics? Perhaps.

  1. Walk (or jog, providing my jiggly bits don't bug me) 300km in 2011. Using my Nike+GPS app on my phone it's easy to keep track. In fact I've already walked 5km this year. Yay me! Note: when I say 'walk' I don't mean a leisurely stroll. I usually walk 1km in 9-10 minutes. Just thought I'd put that out there.
  2. Read 8 classic novels. I'm thinking "Emma", "A Tale of Two Cities" ....
  3. Find a recipe that will make me love parsnips (a root vegetable that was the bane of my existence as a child. I l-o-a-t-h-e-d this veg and could pick it out of the most complicated stew my mother would put before me. Maybe that's where my kids get their superhuman ability to pick out the slightest scraps of zucchini?!? Something to ponder.)
  4. Finish my 2007 Italy trip scrapbook. I started that scrapbook with gusto after we got back ... then my enthusiasm fizzled out.
  5. Eat out less. I LOVE to eat out but will try to save my dinners out for truly amazing meals not a quarter chicken dinner at Swiss Chalet.
  6. Increase the number of vegetarian meals in my repertoire.
So there's a small list of things I'm going to give the good old college try. I think the list is totally doable and won't stress me out.

What are your intentions for 2011?

Monday, 3 January 2011

Chocolate Chip Cheeseball

I knew that I was going to be hosting a small New Year's bash so I went on the hunt for a sweet treat to compliment all the savoury dips and finger foods I was planning to serve. I also wanted it kid friendly since we'd have 5 little humans running amongst us.

I was surfing the net on one of my favourite blogs,, when what should I see? But a little piece of heaven that combined two delicious flavours in one gooey treat! I'm talking about cream cheese and chocolate!! Bliss, I tell ya! This treat went over really well with children and adults alike (honestly, how can you go wrong with something that tastes like chocolate chip cheesecake?!).

I made a few tweaks and changes to the recipe (because that's what I do). One of the biggest changes I made was to make two smaller cheeseballs. Instead of making two cheeseballs the same I decided to use mint extract in one ball (instead of vanilla) and thus the Mint Chocolate Cheeseball was born! I also used Oreo Cookie crumbs instead of crushing Teddy Grams. I did this partly because I'm lazy and .... well, that's really the only reason. Oreo crumbs taste the same as crushed chocolate Teddy Grams to me.

Sadly, I didn't get a picture of either cheeseball intact because we wanted to dig in right away! The regular chocolate chip cheeseball, when served on a graham cracker, really reminds me of an extra creamy salute to s'mores. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

12 oz cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup icing sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup mini or regular chocolate chips, divided
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp mint extract
1 cup Oreo cookie crumbs, for rolling
Serve with: graham crackers

In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, icing sugar and brown sugar. Divide mixture in half and put half into another medium-sized bowl. Add vanilla extract to one bowl and combine well. Add mint extract to the other bowl and mix well. Add 1/2 cup of chocolate chips to each bowl and combine. Cover each bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours to help the mixtures firm up enough to roll into a ball. When firm enough roll into balls (it'll still be a fairly messy endeavor -- you may need to slightly grease your hands but I didn't) and wrap in plastic wrap and place back in fridge.

Just before you're ready to serve the cheeseball, place Oreo cookie crumbs on a dinner plate or shallow dish. Place one ball in the Oreo crumbs and roll it around, patting the crumbs lightly into the ball as you go. Repeat with the second ball.

Note: I rolled the cheeseballs in the Oreo cookie crumbs then placed the balls back in the fridge for a few hours until they were needed. Unfortunately, if you roll them too early the crumbs get damp looking and not as appetizing as a drier crumb topping.

Place cheeseballs on a platter and cover with plastic wrap and keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Serve with graham crackers.

Tip: If you only need one cheeseball in the near future, freeze the other ball for later when you take a flying leap off of your New Year's Resolution to stop eating chocolate. You know you'll cave! Why some people pick that resolution I just don't know! Anyway, take the plastic wrapped ball and place it in a freezer bag. Suck out the extra air in the bag with a straw and seal well. Hide it in the back of your freezer behind your mom's Christmas Cake so your family will be none the wiser and you can hoard it all for yourself.

Inspired by: Chocolate Chip Cheeseball at Mel's Kitchen Cafe

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Big Girl

I hope everyone had a wonderful New Years Eve! We had good friends and their kids come over for a fairly annual New Years celebration. This year the focus wasn't so much on the wine but on the food! Yes, I'm not above using guests as guinea pigs to try out new recipes for blog fodder! Needless to say I have at least 5 new recipes I'll be posting soon. One of them, a DELICIOUS bruschetta that I actually didn't get to serve on New Years is at the top of that list. I could barely keep my hands off of it and even had a foodgasm. Oh yes! I found myself thinking of various ways to use said bruschetta topping and came up with a new recipe!

Also, the end of 2010 also means that my deadline for reading 100 books in 2010 was up and I DID IT! Yes, I did *pat on back*. I actually read 101 books in 2010 (the overachiever that I am) and that's not including the seven books that I didn't finish! Was it difficult to read that many books? At times, yes but I'm glad I set a goal and completed it (even if I did complete it only a day or so before the deadline). Will I do it again this year? Nah. But I do think I'll try to read more of the classics this year. I'm sadly behind in that category.

Author: Danielle Steel
Genre: Modern Fiction
Pages: 323
First Published: February 2010
First Line: "Jim Dawson was handsome from the day he was born."

Synopsis: As a young girl, Victoria Dawson knew she was different from her parents and younger sister. While Victoria is considered chubby and blonde, her family is thin and dark. Throughout her childhood and adulthood, Victoria is made to feel inadequate and unloved by her own family.

When Victoria moves out of her parents' house to go to university she still must deal with their lack of support and condemnation for the life choices she makes.

My Thoughts:
I am one of those rare, rare readers who has never before read Danielle Steel. Going into it I was envisioning more of a V.C Andrews/Dynasty beach read. I was surprised when the book was more middle of the road and there were no cat fights involving rich women. Huh, you learn something new everyday. Apparently I was mistaking her for another author? Perhaps Jackie Collins (I'm just guessing because I've never read her books either. I know, right!).

This was a quick read but the word that would sum it up best is ... redundant. I bet if the descriptions of how Victoria felt about being unloved and overweight were taken out of the book you'd have about 50 pages of story left. Sad but true. This reader doesn't have to be spoon-fed the facts over and over and over again. It felt like Ms Steel was using filler to get her page quota instead of adding to the storyline.

One of the main issues that plagues the main character, Victoria, throughout the book is the fact that she's overweight. The reader learns that Victoria is only 25lbs overweight. An extra twenty-five pounds is overweight?!?! Really? To me this doesn't seem enough weight to be deemed 'overweight' or 'obese'. Heck, I'm 20lbs heavier than I was in university and while I admit that weight has shifted on me (sadly not in the places I'd like it to go) and I have more jiggly bits than I used to but I wouldn't consider myself overweight. I think Ms Steel needs a wake up call on the whole definition of "overweight".

Another thing that irked me was that his book showcased weak women. Women who are subservient to their narcissistic husbands, who berate their child, prefer to spend time playing bridge than playing with their kids, who accept cheating husbands, who value dependency on men instead of valuing education and independence of women. What century are we in again?!?!And what does Victoria do to make herself feel so much better about herself (besides yo-yo dieting)? She gets a nose job to increase her self-worth. What!?!?

I was hoping and so looking forward to Victoria to telling off her snotty parents at the end of the book but, sadly, that never happened. She went on her way to make her own life (which is good) but after all of the constant, blatant put downs, favouritism and lack of love from her parents I was hoping for at least a major tongue lashing to her miserable parents. The least that could have happened was for Victoria's mother or sister to see the light but they continued on in their own male-dominated little roles.

Ms Steel had brought a couple of important subjects to the table but didn't seem to get anywhere with them. I think she may have set back the women's movement a wee bit actually.

I'm not going to write off Danielle Steel yet though. I was a little surprised at how much I didn't like this book but from the high praises of her other books I'm willing to give her another try. Can anyone suggest a great read by this author to give me a better understanding of her writing abilities?

My Rating: 2/5 stars

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