Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Creamy Parmesan Mashed Potatoes

As a Tater Lover of the first order I'm always looking for new ways to make the mighty spud. I'm also a HUGE fan of fresh Parmesan cheese so combining these two was a no-brainer. If you're like me you may want to take the time to grate a little extra Parmesan cheese to make up for all of the sampling you'll do of this wonderfully tangy cheese! These potatoes tasted wonderful with the ribs we had last week and they tasted just as good as I ate the leftovers the next day while watching my Nate Berkus. Taters and my Nater ... perfection! You can easily change up this recipe depending on what kind of potato you use. If you' want to add some colour to your side dish then use red potatoes and keep the skins on.

This side dish has a nice tang from the Parmesan and the sour cream and would accompany most meats quite nicely.

1 1/2 lbs potatoes - red or white (peeled or unpeeled)

1/2 cup milk (or half-and-half creamer)

4 tbsp butter

1/4 cup sour cream (I use full 14% fat sour cream)

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 tsp salt

freshly ground black pepper

Garnish - fresh chives (optional)

In a large pot of water, cook potatoes until tender - approximately 25-30 minutes. Drain and return potatoes to the pot. Add milk and butter. Using a hand masher, mash potatoes until you get the desired texture. Do not overbeat or use electric beaters. Depending on the type of potatoes you use they can come out gummy and gross.

Add sour cream, Parmesan cheese and salt & pepper. Mix well. If the potatoes are a little too thick feel free to add some more milk. Sprinkle with fresh chives, if using. Serve immediately.

Still Life With Murder

Author: P.B Ryan Genre: Historical Fiction / Mystery Type: Kindle ebook First Published: July 2010 (Kindle edition), July 2003 (print) Series: 1st book in the Gilded Age Mystery series

Series Order:

  • Still Life With Murder (2003)

  • Death on Beacon Hill (2004)

  • Murder in a Mill Town (2004)

  • Murder on Black Friday (2005)

  • Murder in the North End (2006)

  • A Bucket of Ashes (2007)
First Line: "It's going to be a bad one."

Synopsis: Set in post Civil War Boston, this historical mystery introduces readers to Nell Sweeney. Nell is an assistant to a prominent Boston doctor and is on hand during a difficult birth in the home of a wealthy family. Nell's life changes forever when she is asked by the lady of the house, who has just adopted the baby, to be the baby's governess. Nell jumps at the chance to better her life.

Three years later Nell has gone from being a poor, unconnected Irish waif to living in a beautiful upper class home taking care of the toddler named Grace. In the past few years Nell has also become a close friend and confidante to the lady of the house, Viola Hewitt. When Mrs Hewitt learns that one of her sons, whom she thought killed in the war, is being charged with a serious crime Mrs Hewitt enlists the help of Nell to help clear her son of the charges. Little does Nell realize but she'll be thrown into a world that she desperately wants to forget -- a world of poverty, opium dens and houses of ill repute. Slowly, Nell becomes more and more involved in the mystery surrounding Will Hewitt's criminal charges.

My Thoughts: I quite enjoyed this read that I just happened to buy from the Kindle store based on a few good reviews and, quite honestly, the low price. It had a good, solid mystery and I loved the fact that it took place in the Gilded Era, a time that I don't know too much about.

The book has a good pace and great characters. Nell is a strong and independent woman but her attitude and independence believably fits with the time period. I love the fact that the author alludes to Nell's not so innocent past which really sparked my interest to figure out what she's hiding. Her life story, growing up poor, is briefly discussed and it was interesting to see what life was like for the working poor back then. Nell adores her charge, Grace, but fears that one wrong step (or one secret revealed) could cast her from her place in upper society back to her much more humble beginnings.

Nell's chemistry and banter with Will Hewitt create a good tension and I'm interested to see where it leads. Will is a very dark character who is extremely flawed ... yet the reader and Nell can see a glimmer of promise in him. I'm looking forward to reading more in this series.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Bacon, Tomato & Basil Bisque

With the recent and alarmingly sudden return of Old Man Winter yesterday I felt the need to make a meal for my family that was hearty and warmed our bellies. In our area we had 20cm of the white stuff dumped on us overnight. Needless to say we weren't impressed especially since we had had our bikes out last week and were enjoying seeing an inkling of spring!

Personally, I adore soups so I looked in my pantry and fridge to figure out a new recipe. I had some bacon to use up and a butternut squash just begging to be used. Now, I'm not new to this whole 'feeding the little humans' kind of thing. I know that my Mini Me's would revolt (and potentially draw and quarter me) if I served butternut squash to them and they found out. So I have to resort to a little culinary covert operations to get said squash into my spawn. "I'm hiding the veg because I love you, my darlings."

After some deliberation and a total lack of desire to head out to the food store, I came up with this bisque with the ingredients that I had on hand. Bisque is just a fancy name for a thick, creamy & rich soup that usually contains seafood but can be vegetarian as well. I like calling this soup a bisque because it meets most of those requirements but the word 'bisque' glams it up a bit! I'm but a simple girl - it's the little things that thrill me.

Well, it was a hit with 80% of my family (there's always at least one naysayer in the group, right?). It met a lot of our family's "good meal" criteria. We got a hint of bacon which makes Brad 'King of Bacondom''s day and I was able to hide a few veggies in the soup (thank you immersion hand blender!) which made MY day! As for the little humans? They got homemade bread to dip in said bisque. Give my kids a carb and you'll have a friend for life!

After dinner when I told 7 year old Missy Moo that there was butternut squash in the soup she had just finished her eyes widened and she said "But I don't like butternut squash!". As if by eating said squash she had gone against some kind of child constitution of knowingly eating healthy veggies. Will she be punished by her fellow little humans for consuming illegal veg? Do they have an official tribunal that hands out veggie punishment? Who knows. All I know is that I really enjoyed this soup and it tastes even better the next day! Enjoy!

1 medium butternut squash (approximately 1 1/2-2 cups of cooked squash)
4 slices of bacon, diced
1/4 cup onion, finely diced
1 cup carrot, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (19 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 cup chicken broth
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp white sugar
1 tsp dried basil
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup half-and-half creamer

Peel squash and cut into 1-inch cubes. Steam squash until tender (or you could microwave it or bake it at 350F for about an hour). NOTE: This step can be done ahead of time and kept in the fridge until needed.

In a large pot, cook bacon until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Cook the onion and carrot in the bacon drippings until the onions are soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook for one minute.

Place squash, onion mixture into a blender and blend until smooth - depending on the size of your blender you may have to do it in two batches. Add tomatoes (undrained) and bacon to the blender and continue to blend. If the mixture is too thick add some of the chicken broth to thin it out. Pour this mixture back into the large pot and add the remaining chicken broth, salt, sugar, basil and tomato paste. Stir to combine. Heat over medium-low heat until the soup is hot. If your soup is still a little too chunky (like mine was) use an electric hand immersion blender. Add the half-and-half and heat soup until hot but don't let it boil! Serve immediately with homemade bread.

From: The Baking Bookworm
Yield: 4 servings

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Easy Crab Cakes

Crab cakes are one of those dishes that I've always wanted to try but just haven't gotten around to making. So I hopped on the net and went in search of an 'easy, crab outta the can' kind of recipe that I could throw together with my beloved Homemade Oven Fries for an easy weeknight meal. Canned crab would never be my first choice (fresh is always better) but I'm working with a budget, people!

Brad was very excited when I told him the dish that I had planned. He's an avid seafood lover. The kids were also excited when I told them what I was making (which, I have to admit, shocked me) .... until I explained that I wasn't making the infamous "Crabby Patty" from Spongebob Squarepants fame. If Plankton can't figure out/steal the recipe how could I have gotten a hold of it? Sadly, Spongebob and I are not as tight as my kids think we are so I had to figure out a recipe by myself.

I found a recipe on allrecipes that gave me the basics but I didn't like the amount of certain ingredients (specifically the excessive use of mayo -- the wee crabs would have been bathing it it. Ew.). So, like I usually do, I tweaked and changed a few things and these turned out quite tasty!

This dish is easy enough to whip up on a school/extracurricular activity night when you don't have a lot of time to get the family fed and back out the door. You could prep the crab cakes ahead of time (I would just hold off on rolling them in the dry bread crumbs until just before you cook them).

Easy Crab Cakes
Yield: 5 large patties

3 green onions, chopped
1/3 cup olive oil or grapeseed oil
2 (120g) cans of crabmeat, drained and paper removed
1 egg
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp dry mustard
1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs OR crushed buttery crackers
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
ground black pepper and salt -- to taste
1 cup dry bread crumbs

Combine crabmeat, green onions, egg, mayonnaise, 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, Old Bay Seasoning, salt and pepper. Form into 1/2-inch thick patties (I got 5 good sized patties out of my batch). Coat each patty in dry bread crumbs.

Heat 1/3 cup of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook patties until they are golden brown on each side. Drain briefly on a few layers of paper towel. Serve hot with tartar sauce and homemade oven fries, if desired.

TIP: The next time I make these I'll probably add a teaspoon or two of fresh lemon juice for some added flavour.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Nineteen Minutes

Author: Jodi Picoult
Genre: Modern Fiction
Pages: 453
First Published: 2007
First Line: "By the time you read this, I hope to be dead."

Synopsis: Sterling, New Hampshire is a 'All-American' small town. The peacefulness of the town is rocked when one of it's youth goes on a shooting spree at the local high school killing 10 people and injuring 19 others. This book weaves back and forth from present to the events leading up to the shooting giving the reader various looks into the emotions and thoughts of the main characters.

The story centres around Peter Houghton. From his infancy Peter has been described as a 'challenging baby' compared to his older brother, who could do no wrong. When he starts Kindergarten Peter is excited to meet new kids -- only to have his lunchbox thrown off the moving bus. Peter is quickly made into the butt of jokes and is bullied verbally, physically and emotionally from a young age. The one thing that made public school bearable is his friendship with Josie Cormier. But after an incident happens between the kids their mothers won't allow them to play together anymore resulting in Peter losing his only friend.

Peter's bullying continues on into high school where Peter is targeted by the 'popular crowd' which now includes his only childhood friend, Josie Cormier. Josie is one of the survivors of the shooting but cannot remember anything about the shooting to help police. Is she telling the truth? The reader also gets a look into Josie's life in the popular crowd and all the stresses and loneliness that comes with it.

This is a book that will touch you and I wish it was required reading for parents and high school students. It's a book that shows that even experiences that we think are small to us can greatly effect others, often permenantly. It's a look into the politics of high school and all it's pressures and how those pressures can sometimes lead to dire consequences.

My Thoughts: This was one of those books that just sucked me right in and brought me back to my high school years. I was never the kind of person who wanted to be in the popular crowd. Honestly. I was 'middle of the road' popularity wise. Not picked on but not popular and I was ok with that. Being popular just seemed like too much work plus I had an amazing group of friends who acted like a buffer for all the negative stuff that happens in high school and they made high school enjoyable. Sadly, as this book points out, that's not the case for many kids.

The whole 'survival of the coolest' is clearly shown in this book. The book shows the various groups in high school but I think that the cliques are a little too cliched (the jocks are all gorgeous and dumb while the geeks are total computer nerds with no athletic ability). Overall, Picoult does get her point across -- the whole 'us vs them' mentality and how some kids feel the need to put others down to build themselves up. This book deals with a lot of different issues but I think that Picoult handled them all well. The book deals with bullying, suicidal thoughts, the desire to belong, abuse within a relationship, parents not connecting with their kids ...

One of the things that startled me was how much compassion I had for Peter. He killed 10 people and wounded 19 in a mere 19 minutes! I don't think that his actions were excusable but Picoult was able to show me how a quiet, peaceful kid could be pushed to become a murderer. To see how he was mistreated and abused for YEARS is heart-wrenching. To see how Josie puts up with her own abuse is also touching and sad. Picoult shows the reader that the grass isn't always greener on the other side. Josie finally gets to be popular ... but at what cost? Is she truly happier in her clique? Or does she have more pressure on her than ever before?

As I was reading this book I couldn't help but think back to the relatively recent high school shootings, like Columbine, and wonder if we've really come all that far? I think that there will always be various cliques in high school but it's how those groups socialize around each other and treat each other that is the issue. If we can teach them compassion and respect it'll go a long way in preventing these catastrophes.

I recommend this book. My only beef about this book is that the ending didn't feel complete. It was abrupt and not surprising, unfortunately. But the messages and emotion that this book deals with far outweighs the abrupt ending.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Friday, 18 March 2011

Bacon Dijon Potato Salad

For some reason, last week I had an urge to eat potato salad. Tater Love is a part of my life but I tend to reserve potato salad for hot summer months to go along with burgers, BBQ'd sausages etc. This is not rule set down in stone but it's one of the guidelines I live by. Kind of like not wearing white after Labour Day. I don't question it but I'm not likely to break social conventions just 'cuz. There's gotta be a good reason to go against the grain. This recipe meets that requirement simply because it's soooo darn good!!

So, I didn't question why the potato salad desire hit me, I just gave it to it -- whole hog! Yep, I added Brad's beloved bacon to this potato salad and he LUUUURVED it! Yes, he just didn't love it -- he luuurrrved it! I got a very small bowl of it and he ate the rest as part of his lunches over the next couple of days. In Brad's book bacon makes everything taste better ... with this dish I have to agree!

As with most potato salads there is room to customize potato salad to suit your personal tastes. I'm not a huge fan of celery so I omit it. You could spice this dish up by using a spicier mustard (President's Choice's 'Sweet with Heat' would be a good option) or you can also omit the eggs if you're not a fan. Personally I love eggs in my potato salad!! How can you go wrong with eggs and bacon?!? Enjoy!

2 eggs
1lb potatoes, cubed (skins on or off)
4 tbsp red onion, diced
1 tbsp Dijon (or more to taste)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tbsp white vinegar
5 slices of bacon -- cooked and crumbled

Place eggs in a small pot and cover with water. Heat, on high, until water begins to boil. Remove pot from heat and cover. Let sit for 15 minutes. Drain hot water then cover eggs with cold water. Let sit for 10 minutes. Remove shells and set aside.

Meanwhile, cook the potatoes until tender. Drain.

Place eggs in a large bowl. With a pastry blender, chop up the eggs. Add the potatoes (preferabbly while they're still warm), onion, Dijon, mayonnaise, sour cream and vinegar. Mix well. Sprinkle with bacon before serving.

Yield: 4 servings

From: The Baking Bookworm

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Baked & Breaded Cauliflower

I hope that all my fellow Canadian parents are enjoying March Break with their beloved offspring. My spawn and I have enjoyed bike rides, basketball and two movies so far this week. Some of my mini humans have also planned sleepovers with my parents (yay for grandparents!) and some playdates. Gotta keep busy or anarchy will ensue!

Thankfully, Ontario has been hit with a wave of warmer air and lots of sun making our household get Spring Fever! The snow is starting to melt and we can see spots of grass!! We (ok, I) have visions of garden planning & planting as well as day hikes with my family! Yes, spring is in the air. When Canadians can see an end to winter we start to think of warmer weather and all that it entails.

For me, warmer weather makes me remember that the season that involves showcasing my body in a bathing suit will be upon me sooner than I think. That mental image leads me to think of all of my jiggly bits that I've amassed over the winter in order to keep myself warm against the biting cold. Well, that's what I tell myself but really it's because I've been spending too much time reading a book while nibbling on 'bad for me' treats in the evenings instead of working out. Some people may say I need to get my butt in shape. You say Po-tay-to, I say might as well fry that spud up and call it a fry! --perhaps this is where my issue lies. Huh.

Nevertheless, a boat load of sins can be hidden in winter clothing but the bathing suit shows all kinds of imperfections and dimply flaws! It's times like this that I jump on the old 'gotta eat better and tone up' bandwagon to show off my ultimate bod whilst I sit by my parents' pool this summer.

Enter in ... cauliflower. Yup. I normally really enjoy cauliflower but it's usually covered in a homemade cheesy sauce or in one of my favourite side dishes EVER! This recipe tones down on the fat but still gives the mighty cauliflower flavour and even some crunch! Even people who have previously snubbed the cauliflower may be persuaded to give this recipe a try.

1 small cauliflower - cut into small florets
1 cup bread crumbs
2/3 cup fresh Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 tsp Club House 'La Grille' Vegetable Seasoning (or other dried herbs of your choice)
olive oil or grapeseed oil

Preheat oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with tin foil. Set aside.

Place florets in a large bowl; drizzle with enough oil to just coat the florets.

In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, black pepper and seasoning. Mix well.

Spoon 1/3 of the cauliflower florets into a large Ziploc bag. Pour 1/2 cup of the bread crumb mixture into the bag. Seal and shake until the florets are coated. With a slotted spoon, spoon out the florets and place them on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat for the remaining florets. Don't try to do it all in one shot because the bread crumb mixture will clump and you'll have a hard time coating all of the florets well.

Place cauliflower into the preheated oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4-6 servings
From: The Baking Bookworm

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Confessions of a Prairie Bitch

Author: Alison Arngrim
Pages: 297
Format: Paper Book
Genre: Autobiography
First Published: June 2010
First Line: "The Los Angeles County Fair is probably not the first place you'd go if you were seeking to be forgiven for your sins, but I have a tendency to find strange things in strange places."

Synopsis: Alison Arngrim became a household name when she played the evil, conniving and infamous Nellie Oleson on the long running hit "Little House on the Prairie". With humour and with true candidness, Arngrim tells her life story -- from her lonely childhood, surviving incest, to suddenly becoming famous and being insulted and assaulted for portraying Nellie to her philanthropic work in AIDS charities.

My Thoughts: I wasn't sure what to expect from this autobiography. I had read Melissa Gilbert's memoire last year and liked it but it pales in comparison to this down-to-earth and brutally honest read. This book vividly and humorously describes Arngrim's difficult childhood, her career on the Little House set as well as her accomplished life after her Nellie years.

I loved that Arngrim doesn't hold back or sugar coat her descriptions of her fellow cast mates or even her own family. She hasn't written this book to placate anyone or to name drop (which is the feeling I got while reading Gilbert's memoire). This is a raw, emotional, funny (I think her humour comes from her Canadian parents!), and honest look into Arngrim's life and those who influenced her - both positively and negatively.

One of my favourite parts of this book was Arngrim's behind the scenes look at what life was like on the Little House set. Growing up, Little House was one of my favourite shows so learning some behind the scenes secrets was awesome! From learning why baby Carrie tumbles down the hill in the show's opening sequence, what Michael Landon wore under his pants (yowzers!), to how horrible the Nellie wig was to her poor head, Arngrim brings the reader behind the scenes in Walnut Grove.

I was surprised to learn how close Melissa Gilbert (Laura) and Arngrim were in real life. They'd go from being arch enemies on screen to BFF's in real life. I have to admit that I was a little surprised and let down to learn that my favourite character, Mary Ingalls (played by Melissa Sue Anderson), was actually very sullen, stuck up and downright rude to her fellow castmates (which continues, at least with Arngrim, to this day).

Arngrim paints a very clear picture of how the cast and crew bonded like a real family. She shows how her support within the cast gave her the family ties that she sorely lacked at home. The relationship that I found most touching was the very close bond Arngrim had with Steve Tracy who played her husband Percival on the show. I have to admit that I was a little surprised to hear that the cast are still in touch and even get together regularly to catch up with each other!

Nellie was the original 'mean girl' and Arngrim played her to perfection! Little House just wouldn't have been the same without Arngrim's comedic timing and her ability to bring heart to a truly horrible character. I now have a better appreciation for the much hated Nellie Oleson! Arngrim was instrumental in the development of this infamous TV icon who is known throughout the world (just ask the people in France where Nellie is adored!).

Even with her horrible childhood and the stress of being famous, Arngrim didn't become a child star tragedy like so many young actors. She credits Michael Landon as being a firm and constant force in her childhood. By treating her with respect and expecting a lot from all of the child actors on set (which wasn't the norm at the time) Little House is one of the very few TV shows that can boast that none of their child stars were in the news for drug abuse, issues with the law etc.

I have great respect for how, to this day, Arngrim uses her Nellie notoriety in a very positive way. She is a huge advocate for AIDS causes (she started with AIDS activism when it was in its infancy) and she was instrumental in helping to pass a law in California which greatly increased the jail time for incestors (which was truly pitiful before the law was changed).

Reading this book has left me with a desire to introduce Little House to my own children. I honestly think that, even in a world filled with computers and major movie special effects, that Little House still fills an important family-oriented niche all its own. After getting this sneak peak behind the scenes I know that I will never watch another episode of Little House on the Prairie the same way again. Whether you were a Nellie fan or not, I'm sure you'll become an Alison Arngrim fan after reading this book.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Friday, 11 March 2011

Bean & Bacon Soup

I was planning on posting my Bacon Dijon Potato Salad today but, on the request of my dear Mom, I'm posting this amazing soup. After making it the other night for supper I sent Brad over to my parents' house with a container of this soup to see if they'd like it as much as I did. It was a hit with my peeps over 60 too! My dad, after finishing the soup, asked if I provided free refills and sadly I do not (mainly because I hoarded the leftovers for my own lunch the next day!). It's good to keep them wanting more, isn't it?

This is a nicely spiced soup that's not too heavy. I love pairing beans and bacon together! The bacon flavour is not overpowering but you still get your hit of smoky taste without getting too much fat. I was inspired to make this soup based on a recipe that I found on I tweaked this soup more to our tastes (less spicy, different beans, added spinach and more bacon!!) so now I figure it's my own recipe. If you have picky eaters amongst you who may balk at the thought of eating spinach just chop it up finely and pass it off as 'seasonings'. The less picky eaters know the better.

You can also change up the beans you use. If you're more partial to black beans or prefer just kidney beans then go for it. I did like the addition of the chickpeas which were in the can of mixed beans that I used. You can also choose to puree the entire soup but I prefer seeing some veggies and beans in my soup.

This is a great soup to make on a cold winter day with a nice loaf of freshly (ie from the breadmaker) loaf of bread! With the way winter is hanging on this soup will come in handy!Enjoy!

8 bacon slices, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium onion, diced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
1 red bell pepper, dicedd
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp white sugar
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp Worchestershire sauce
4 cups chicken broth
1 (19oz/540mL) can mixed beans (chick peas, dark red kidney beans, black-eyed peas, white kidney beans, romano beans and baby lima beans)
1 (19oz/540mL) can red kidney beans
1/2 cup baby spinach - stems removed and chopped

In a Dutch oven over medium heat, saute the bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set it on a plate covered with paper towels. Set aside. Drain the fat from the Dutch oven, leaving approximately 2 tbsp of the grease. Add the onions, carrots, red pepper and garlic to the pot. Saute in the bacon grease for 10 minutes.

Add the sugar, ground black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, bay leaf, thyme and Worchestershire sauce to the vegetable mixture. Stir in a small amount of the chicken stock and deglaze the pot (ie scrape off all of the caramelized brown bits from the bottom of the pot. It's not gross, it's amazing flavour!!!).

Add the beans and the remaining chicken stock. Cook for 10-15 minutes on medium heat or until the vegetables are tender.

Using a slotted spoon, remove several large scoops of beans and vegetables from the soup and set them in a bowl. Remove the bay leaf. Using an immersion hand blender (or transfer the remaining soup to a blender) puree the remaining soup in the pot. Return beans and vegetables to the pot. Add more seasoning, if necessary. Stir in the baby spinach and crumbled bacon. Simmer for 10 more minutes.

Serve with fresh bread and a salad for a complete meal.

Recipe inspired by: (Bean, Bacon & Pepper Soup)

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Crispy Parmesan Breaded Tilapia

This is the recipe that won my very informal and very first poll on my Baking Bookworm Facebook page. It was a toss up between this dish and my Bacon Dijon Potato Salad (which, by the way, Brad inhaled and deemed VERY blog worthy!). Since this tilapia recipe received more comments (or votes) on the facebook page it got posted first!!

I'm a big fish lover but I don't particularly like fishy tasting fish. I know, it sounds odd. But I also don't like beef than smells like cow or pork that smells like an old pig either. So I stand by my unfishy tasting fish point!

There are many fish/seafood that I love. I adore salmon, perch, trout, catfish, scallops, crab .... If it swims or scurries along the bottom of the sea I'll pretty much eat it. Even if you're not a fish lover like moi or are in the 'don't like fishy tasting fish' camp with me give tilapia a try. My dear old mom is not a lover 'o fish but tilapia is one fish that she really enjoys. I think it's because tilapia is a very mild fish with a nice, heavier texture. You can easily broil it, BBQ it (on foil) or fry it! Top it with various sauces or breading and it's a great meat choice!

This recipe is liked by 80% of the people in my household (I took an informal poll). Nine year old "Karate Guy" is still not sold on the whole fish idea in general but he will tolerate tilapia. I can ask for no more than that at this point. The fact that he will put it on his fork and eat a bite or two is a big step for him! It doesn't hurt that I also make homemade oven fries which he adores and put his beloved malt vinegar (a boy after me own heart!) on the table. I hope you and yours enjoy this very easy dish!

1 cup dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese
Black pepper and salt, to taste
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1/3 cup olive or grapeseed oil
4 tilapia fillets

Place oven rack in the second highest position.

In a shallow dish combine bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, black pepper, salt, garlic powder and Italian seasoning.

In another shallow dish (a pie plate would work well) pour oil. Dip each tilapia fillet in the oil then in the breading mixture until coated well. Place fillets on a lightly greased baking dish or broiler pan lined with greased tin foil. Broil fish for 3-4 minutes per side or until fish is flaky. Serve with Homemade Oven Fries.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

The Heat

Author: Heather Killough-Walden
Format: e-book (Kindle)
Genre: Supernatural/Mystery
Series: 1st book in the Big Bad Wolf Romance series
Series Order:
  1. The Heat (January 2011)
  2. The Strip (February 2011)
First Line: "Open your legs."

Synopsis: Lily St Claire is a social worker who decides to move back to her Louisiana hometown. Soon after she arrives she sees Daniel Kane - her best friend's older brother whom Lily had a huge, unrequited crush on in high school. Little does she know but Daniel has always had a thing for Lily but on the request of his sister he's stayed away from Lily ... until now.

Daniel is the new Chief of Police in their small town and also happens to be an alpha werewolf. When he learns that Lily is a Dormant (someone predestined to be the mate of a werewolf) all promises to his sister are forgotten and he sets his sights on Lily. Unfortunately another werewolf who is a known murderer has set his sights on Lily as well.

My Thoughts: When I saw this ebook in the Kindle store for only $1 and it included a werewolf romantic triangle I figured I'd give it a shot. There seemed to be so much potential for storylines! I figured it would be a fun read. I wasn't planning on finding a literary treasure ... and I didn't. This book had a lot of potential but felt like it trudged along instead of gripping me from the beginning.

First off - I found this book excessively sexual. I'm talking too close to written porn for my liking. The first line of the book (see above) should have been a huge clue but I guess I just didn't catch on. There is a time and place for a sex scene here or there but it just didn't fit in with the storyline (or characters' relationships).

This book just trudged along without a whole lot happening. Usually there are several smaller issues that the main characters face until the big climax (pun intended) at the end. With this book it felt like the reader was supposed to assume too much. For example, the romance/bond between Daniel and Lily. I just couldn't buy that, after 10 years of not seeing each other at all then meeting up briefly twice, that they have this beautiful, strong love between them. The reader is supposed to just assume that it's normal that he abducts her, goes all sexual wolf on her and that's supposed to make her fall head over "paws" in love with him. Um, no. Lily and Daniel were hardly in the same room with each other for the vast majority of the book and yet we're supposed to think that they have found true love in each other. More detail was given to the love scenes than describing their relationship. For a book that, I assume, is geared more towards female readers I'd think there would be more romance involved.

From the write-up about this book I also thought there'd be more competition for Lily between the two werewolves. A little competition between the guys would have been a nice addition and add some tension between the main characters. Malcolm Cole (the other alpha werewolf) wasn't involved in this story as much as I would have liked. He seemed like the only multi-dimensional character in the whole book.

I've read that this author has other successful and well liked books on the market which surprised me because this book felt like a first book from a very new author. I bought the second book in this series so I figure I'll see if this series gets better. I may give some of her other books a try before throwing in the towel with this author.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Basic Pancake Recipe

It's "Pancake Day"!!

Not that I normally need a reason to eat pancakes but I figured I should know why so many of us indulge in the mighty flapjack on this particular day. Here's what I found out. "Pancake Day" is also known as Mardi Gras (in French speaking areas of the USA) or Shrove Tuesday. Shrove Tuesday is the day before the beginning of Lent - 47 days before Easter when some Christians give up, or abstain, from certain things. Because pancakes are made from butter, eggs and milk (traditionally foods that were given up for Lent) Shrove Tuesday was a one last chance to indulge before giving up some favourite foods for Lent.

I actually made this recipe on Friday night because the kids and I had a hankerin' for BFD (Breakfast For Dinner). I'm giving myself the night off from making dinner tonight so Brad and I are taking the kids to a local church to support their Shrove Tuesday festivities (all proceeds helping the food bank which is always a great charity to help out).

If you're hunkering down at home for your pancake fix, here's my 'go to' pancake/waffle recipe. We're die hard pancake eaters so I always double the recipe. If there are any leftovers (highly unlikely) I pop them into the freezer so I can throw them in the toaster on those busy before school mornings. The following is the recipe with the doubled amounts

Basic Pancake Recipe
Yield: 12-16 pancakes
2 eggs
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups milk (or buttermilk)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp white or brown sugar
vegetable oil

Optional Additions: blueberries, diced apple, chocolate chips

In a large bowl, beat eggs. Add 4 tbsp vegetable oil and milk. Mix well.

Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix then slowly add to wet ingredients.

Heat skillet or electric griddle to medium heat. Pour approximately 1/4 cup of the batter onto the griddle. Cook pancakes until large bubbles form and pop in the centre and the outside edges appear dry. Flip and cook the other side for a minute or two.

Recipe From: "Betty Crockers: Everything You Need to Know to Cook" pg 49

If you're in the mood for some sassier pancakes, give the following recipes a try.

Recipe Poll!

FYI: I have a poll going on my facebook page to determine which recipe I'll post on the blog tomorrow! Check it out and let me know which recipe you'd prefer to see first!!

Friday, 4 March 2011

Gettin' my tech on!

Hello everyone,
For months I've been on the look out for a way to enable everyone to print off my posts, specifically my recipe posts, and I have FINALLY done it! Let me just state that I have never claimed to be in any way shape or form computer saavy. Finding a simple way to let all y'all print out my posts was a daunting task for little old me.

I had searched numerous sites but their instructions were too complicated and the HTML code scared the begeebers out of me. Even my 'in house geek' (lovingly known as Brad) doesn't know much about blogs so he was no help.

I'm patting myself on the back because the print option is up and working!! Woot woot!! The button is within the green rectangle at the bottom of each post (where the comments link is located). You have the option of printing with or without the picture(s) and also have the ability to email recipes to your friends and family if you think they'd like to check out my stuff. Please let me know what you think of this option.

Other news ... I've set up a Facebook page for the blog as well. I'd love to use it as a way to get my blog out there so if you know of others who are interested in hearing my blathering or are in need of some new reads and recipes please forward the info on to them! I'm hoping that with more people checking in on the blog we can spark more discussion about books and all things yummy!!


Thursday, 3 March 2011

Butterscotch Blondies

After dinner last night my 7 year old, Missy Moo, asked if she and I could bake something together. One way to get on my good side is to ask to cook with me! I LOVE cooking with my kids! So we both put our aprons on and got to work finding a new recipe online. Missy Moo had a hankerin' to use butterscotch chips so we thought we'd search for a blondie recipe. We found a great recipe that was very easy and made wonderfully chewy squares that were perfect in the kids' lunches today!
3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups butterscotch chips (See Note below re: peanut-free chips)
1 cups chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan and set aside.
In a large bowl, beat sugars and butter together until well blended. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix well.
In a small bowl, sift the flour, baking soda and salt together. Slowly mix dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Fold in butterscotch chips and nuts (if using).
Pour batter into prepared dish (batter will be very thick). Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Note: For those of us dealing with a severe peanut allergy in the family sometimes it's hard to find peanut-free butterscotch chips. The only brand I've been able to find that are safe is the Walmart brand. Like all food products, please call the number on the back of the package to ensure that they are still peanut-free since food safety can change with little or no warning to consumers.
Recipe from: Your Cup of Cake

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Silent in the Sanctuary

Author: Deanna Raybourn
Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery
Format: ebook (Kindle)
First Published: January 1, 2008
Series: 2nd book in the Lady Julia Grey series
Series Order:
  1. Silent in the Grave (2007)
  2. Silent in the Sanctuary (2008)
  3. Silent on the Moor (2009)
First Line: "Well, I suppose that settles it."

Synopsis: Julia has spent the last 5 months touring around Italy with her two brothers Lysander and Plum trying to relax after her ordeal in "Silent in the Grave". When their father learns of Lysander's marriage to Italian born Violante he orders his children home for Christmas. For the past 5 months Julia has been trying to forget about Nicholas Brisbane. She is shocked when she returns to her family home and discovers that Brisbane is a guest in her father's home for the holidays ... along with Brisbane's fiancee.

When someone is murdered during the festivities and one of Julia's relatives takes the blame Julia is determined to figure out who committed the murder and finds herself working side by side with Brisbane to figure out who the culprit is.

My Thoughts: I want to start off by saying that the first book in the series "Silent in the Grave" was an amazing book (4.5/5 stars) but unforunately this book didn't meet my expectaions. There were a few decent plot twists but the overall feel was one of confusion and expecting more from this book but never really getting it.

The first book in the series was very funny and witty. I adored everything about the first book - from the author's 'voice' and her very funny choice of words to the quirky characters and a good mystery. This book had a couple cute remarks but that was it. The characters weren't portrayed nearly as eccentric as they were in the first book. Mr March, Julia's father, was earlier portrayed as a 'hard as nails' demanding father but when we meet him he's more of a pussy cat. There was also the added confusion because there were too many characters. Several times I had to go back and figure out which male character the author was referring to.

The mystery aspect of the book was ok but not very hard to figure out. It honestly felt like I was reading about a "Clue" game because all of these people are stuck in one place due to a storm and a murder occurs. Who dunnit? Miss Scarlett in the observatory with a wrench? There also seemed to be a lot of extra stuff packed around the mystery which dulled tthe anticipation for me. The murder didn't happen until almost half way through the book and there was this odd addition to the story of two cats having kittens in various odd places in the estate ... why? It just seemed like filler and I expected more substance from this author.

I'm glad this was not the first book in the series. I probably would not have continued on to the next book. That being said, I do plan to read the next book in the series to see where Julia and Brisbane's relationship (or lack thereof) goes. I do have to say that I was impressed that the author continued to use wonderful vocabulary in this sequel. Like the first book I learned a lot of new words (thanks to the dictionary on my Kindle!). I love that she doesn't 'dumb down' her books for her readers!

I do have every confidence that this author can bring her 'A game' for the next book. I'll chalk this book up as a means to an end. I'm only using it as a way to further the relationship between Julia and Brisbane. I was so looking forward to this book but, sadly, it was left disappointed.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Slow Cooker Hot Fudge Banana Split Cake

For the past few months I've been on the hunt for some new slow cooker recipes. I had recently found a minty chocolate slow cooker cake that had my name written all over it so I made it this past Sunday for the family. Weeelll, there was a typo in the recipe apparently. It clearly said to cook this cake for 4 to 4 1/2 hours on High in my slow cooker. Being a 'Type A/follow the rules' kinda gal I did what the recipe said. It was my first time 'baking' a cake in a slow cooker and the recipe was in a magazine so who was I to question it? After 3 hours of cooking, out of my slow cooker wafted a nasty burning smell and, alas, my cake was a black, hardened MESS! I was so not happy and had 3 kids (plus one hubby) who were pretty disappointed.

I'd just like to note that I don't consider myself to be a stupid person. I have loads of edumacation to prove it! You'd think that something in my brain would have kicked in and said "Psst! Laurie, isn't 4 hours on high probably too long to cook a cake?". But no my brain didn't pick up on that little tidbit which leads me to plead the Chocolate Stupidity defence. It's a real defence (in my world). "Chocolate Stupidity" is when the perceived and expected indulgence of chocolaty delight greatly decreases the brain's power to reason and think clearly. Sadly, I had a scorching case of Chocolate Stupidity (as well as Ice Cream Idiocy and Whipped Cream Weak-Mindedness). That's my case and I'm stickin' to it!

That was 2 days ago and I've been haunted by the slow cooker cake debacle ever since! My Type A brain just couldn't get over it! To purge myself of my cake demons I went on the hunt for a better recipe. With some tweaks and some fingers crossed I made another slow cooker cake today ... and it was fan-freakintastically delicious!!!! We're talking foodgasm good!

With this new cake you have the light (not too rich) chocolate cake and underneath the cake is a hot chocolaty sauce (which you pour over the cake when serving). Topped with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and some banana and strawberry slices and you've got a keeper!!!! Phew! Cake Fiasco Demon be gone! I have redeemed myself!

Cooking spray
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
2 tbsp cocoa
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp light olive oil (I used grapeseed oil)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup cocoa
2 tsp instant coffee granules
1 1/2 cups boiling water

2 large bananas, sliced
2 cups strawberries, sliced
Whipped cream
Vanilla ice cream
Maraschino cherries

Spray the slow cooker dish with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, white sugar, 2 tbsp cocoa, baking powder and the salt. In a small bowl, combine milk, olive oil and vanilla. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Scrape batter into the recently greased slow cooker dish and smooth the top.

In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, 1/4 cup cocoa and the instant coffee granules. Whisk in the boiling water. Pour over the cake batter -- do not mix!! It'll look like a giant mud puddle and that's what you want!

Cover and cook on High for approximately 1 hour (or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean). Turn off the crockpot, remove the lid and let the cake cool for 30 minutes.

Scoop out the warm cake and sauce into bowls. Top with banana slices, strawberry slices, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and, of course, a cherry to top it all off!

Recipe inspired by: Rachael Ray's 'Hot Fudge Sundae Cake'
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