Monday, 28 February 2011

Roasted Veggie Quesadillas


I adore roasted veggies. Throw them in between two tortillas and add some cheese and I'm a very happy girl. Saturday night I need a quick meal that was easy for little old me. I only had two kids with me at home and they opted for traditional (if not blaw) cheese quesadillas for supper. I needed a little more oomph in my meal! I've had a rough week dealing with some pretty nasty tendonitis in my wrist so I need a pick-me-up meal. Unfortunately I didn't think ahead and realized, at the last minute, that this was a meal that I'd need to use a knife and fork with. Well, the pain afterwards was worth it. This was a nicely flavoured vegetarian meal that hit the spot. If you're looking for an easy meal idea this is it.

1 cup button mushrooms, cleaned
1/2 zucchini, sliced
1 red onion, sliced
1/2 red pepper, cut into small chunks
1-2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
2 large tortillas
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
3/4 cup marble cheese, grated
1 roma tomato, seeded and chopped
2 tbsp fresh basil - stems removed and chopped


Preheat oven to 375F. In a large bowl combine mushrooms, zucchini, onion and red pepper. Toss with olive oil and balsamic vinegar ensuring that the veggies are lightly coated in the oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast veggies in the preheated oven for approximately 30 minutes or until nice roasted.

Pour a tiny amount of oil onto the griddle and swish it around with a brush. Place the two tortillas onto the griddle. Spoon half of the roasted veggies onto one half of each tortilla (leave the other half bare because we'll be folding it over the veggies). Sprinkle feta, marble cheese, tomato and basil over the roasted veggies. When tortilla has browned nicely fold the other half of each tortilla over the veggies. Serve with sour cream and guacamole!

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Homemade Oven Fries


Throughout my life I know I've eaten more than my fair share of potatoes (and I'm totally OK with that). In fact, my love of the spud is well known by my friends and family! It's because of this love (gluttony) that I like to think of myself as having a PhD in Potato, with a minor in french fries. I ... adore ... chip wagon fries. When I was pregnant with Cub twelve years ago I had a craving like no other for chip wagon fries. I've always been a Potatoaholic but this was a desire for the spud so deep that I had Brad drive me around God's creation in search of a chip wagon/fry van .... in April. Um, ya. Sadly (yet not surprisingly) we weren't successful in our (my) search. If I had had this recipe (or less Pregnancy Brain) I could have made my own fine self a heaping plate'o'potatoey goodness in the comfort of our own home! Live and learn.

One might ask why I don't just buy one of those home deep fryers. Brad and I have a unspoken rule about not buying one of those machines. The reason? We don't trust ourselves. We have no will power and we'd be deep frying pickles, Mars Bars, dirt from the ground. Just cuz we could!

The kitchen gadget that I do cherish though is my dear Nana's old french fry maker (see picture above). Didn't everyone's Nana have a french fry maker?!?! Or perhaps that's where my Mom and I get our addiction to the spud? Something to ponder. Anyway, this delicious little contraption is metal and old ... and cuts the best fries ever! I highly recommend getting one (preferrably not one of the plastic varieties because I just can't see them holding up to the hardiness of the mighty spud). If you don't have one of these beauties then you can just use a knife. Make sure you try to make your fries as uniform as possible to help them cook evenly.

This recipe is a very easy way to get the taste of deep fried skin-on fries while greatly decreasing the artery clogging oils so that I can live another day to eat another potato!! If you love New York Fries in the mall give this recipe a try. There is never a fry standing when I make these! So easy, yet sooooo goooood! Enjoy!


4 large Russet potatoes (baking potatoes), scrubbed (we leave the skins on)
Vegetable oil
Salt

Preheat oven to 400F.

Using a fry cutter (see top picture) place each potato into the hopper and push down on the handle until the potato comes out the other side in fry form. If the potato is too big cut it to fit.

Place fry pieces into a large bowl of water while you continue to cut more fries. Drain water from fries using a large colander and rinse them with cold water. Drizzle oil over potatoes. Use just enough to lightly coat them (they shouldn't be swimming in it!). Sprinkle salt over them liberally.

Pour fries onto a baking sheet. Try to make sure each fry has contact with the baking sheet (this will help them brown nicely). Place in oven and bake for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and flip fries. Return pan to oven and bake for another 12-15 minutes or until fries are tender and browned. Depending on how much oil you used you may want to drain the fries on several layers of paper towel before serving. Serve with ketchup and malt vinegar!!!

Yield: 4 servings for non-Potatoaholics (perhaps 2-3 servings for spud lovers)



Saturday, 19 February 2011

Sarah's Key

Author: Tatiana De Rosnay
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 293
First Published: September 2008
First Line: "Paris, July 1942 -- The girl was the first to hear the loud pounding on the door."

Synopsis: July 1942 was a very dark time in France's history. It was during this time that 13,000 Jewish men, women and children were rounded up and forced against their will to stay in the Velodrome d'Hiver (an indoor bicycle track and stadium). These people were kept there for eight tortuous days with the only food and water being provided by Quakers and the Red Cross. Those Jews who survived the eight days of confinement were shipped in cattle cars to transition camps and then on to death camps, like Auschwitz. One of the most shocking revelations about the round-up (besides it's secret name "Operations Spring Breeze") is that it was the French authorities, acting under the orders of the Third Reich, who physically collected the Jews and shipped them off to their certain deaths.

Author de Rosnay writes a wonderful novel that switches back and forth from 1942 to present time. The storyline set in the past focuses on 10 year old Sarah Starzynski. She, along with her parents, are forcibly taken out of their home by the French police. Seeing that it's the French police taking them Sarah and her parents believe they are just being led for questioning. Before Sarah leaves the house she locks her 4 year old brother Michel in a hidden cupboard, pocketing the key and promises to come back for him once the questioning by the police is finished.

The storyline set in present time revolves around journalist Julia Jarmond. Originally from the US she has lived in Paris for over 25 years and is married and the mother of an 11 year old daughter. With the 60th anniversary of the Vel d'Hiv (short for Velodrome d'Hiver) fast approaching Julia's boss asks her to cover the story. As Julia digs into the past she begins to be consumed with the past, especially when she learns the connection her husband's family has to the round-up of the Jews in 1942. With many people opposed to rehashing the black mark on France's past Julia struggles to get to the truth about what really happened to Sarah Starzynski.

My Thoughts: I have always had a desire to learn about the Holocaust. Where this desire comes from I can't say exactly. Sadly, I'm not as well-versed in the history of WWII as I would like to be. Like many people I had no idea that the Vel d'Hiv round-up ever happened. That's embarassing to admit after reading this book.

This novel is a startling look into a very frightening and disturbing time in world history. It clearly shows the dichotomy between those who helped the Jews (disregarding the danger they put themselves in) and those who showed indifference or outright helped the Nazis round-up their Jewish neighbours. It's sad to think that over 13,000 Jewish Parisians literally disappeared overnight (over 4,000 of them children 12 years of age and under) .... and that today the event is not remembered by many (me included). That only 400 of those Jews survived the round-up is heart breaking.

I think it's important to read certain books, even when they make us sad or uncomfortable. As the Holocaust retreats into history it's more important that ever to remember the attrocities that occured so we don't feel indifferent to it and can stop these kinds of things from happening again.

As for how the story was told? I enjoyed the book's format -- how the story alternated between the past and present. Although I didn't like it when, two thirds of the way through, the reader is no longer given Sarah's viewpoint and must rely on Julia to complete the story. I do confess that I did enjoy reading about Sarah's life much more than Julia's. Sarah's story was touching, scary emotional and powerful which was in stark contrast to Julia's tribulations regarding her failing marriage. At times, during the last third of the book (which centred around Julia's character), I did find it lagged and the ending was not all that surprising.

Overall I do recommend this book which was a very enjoyable and well-written book. I look forward to reading "A Secret Kept" which was given to my by my Fairy Bookmother recently.

I'm glad I picked up this book and can now say that I'm no longer ignorant about what happened long ago in the Vel d'Hiver.

Zakhor. Al Tichkah.
Remember. Never forget.

My Rating: 4/5 stars



Friday, 18 February 2011

Easy Cheesy Chicken Enchiladas

Everyone has heard the old adage 'the way to a man's heart is through his stomach'. In our house that 'way' is paved in chicken enchiladas. Yes, one of Brad's favourite meals is my Easy Cheesy Chicken Enchiladas.
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For the past few weeks Brad has been having a busy, stressful time at work. I, as loving and supportive wife extraordinaire, wanted to put a smile on his face and a spring in his step so I thought I'd make his favourite meal.
Even though it's one of Brad's favourite meals it's not a meal that I commonly make. It's a little time consuming (lots of chopping) but it's an easy meal that is 'relatively' embraced by the kids (the green peppers and onions throw them for a loop. Add in the fact that there is a *gasp* SAUCE all over the meal and I'm surprised they don't have full out conniptions!).
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Note: As I've mentioned before my kids are firmly in the 'different foods shall not touch each other' camp. "Cub" has made a conserted effort to step out of the camp once in awhile but the other two are still wary of foods cavorting with each other on their plates.

The sauce on these enchiladas, to me, is the best part. The way it softens the tortillas is delicious! These also reheat really well making them great for lunch the next day.
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1 (10.75oz) can condensed tomato soup
1 (10.75oz) can condensed cheddar cheese soup
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp taco seasoning (or to taste)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1/2 sweet red pepper, chopped
2 cups boneless, skinless raw chicken breasts or fillets, cut into 1-inch pieces (see tip below)
3/4 cup salsa
6 jalapeno slices, chopped (optional)
10 large flour tortillas

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a medium bowl, combine soups, milk and taco seasoning. Spread 1/2 cup of the soup mixture over the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking dish. Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat oil. Saute onion, peppers and chicken until chicken is no longer pink. Transfer chicken mixture to a large bowl and add salsa and jalapeno slices (if using). Mix well.

Spoon 3 tbsp of the chicken mixture down the middle of a tortilla. Fold up the bottom of the tortillas half-way up; fold left side towards the middle followed by the right-side. Place rolled tortillas seam-side down in the baking dish. Repeat with remaining tortillas (you may not use all 10 tortillas or may have excess chicken mixture. That's ok.). Pour remaining soup mixture over rolled tortillas, ensuring that all of the tortillas are covered by the soup (this will keep the tortillas from drying out during baking). If you have any chicken mixture left over sprinkle it over the rolled tortillas. Cover with foil and bake for 25-30 minutes or until hot.

Serve with sour cream.

Tip: Handling raw chicken is not one of my favourite things to handle so I found a slightly easier and quicker way. Instead of boneless, skinless chicken breasts I used chicken fillets (think raw chicken fingers without the breading). Much easier to cut up and only marginally more expensive.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Double Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

The other day as I was walking down the produce aisle I happened upon some zucchini. I've always had a fondness for the zucchini. In the summer I usually go crazy for it trying to throw it in as many recipes as I can find. Personally, I LOVE it sliced, marinated then grilled on the BBQ.

Sadly my children have long suffered from Zucchini Aversion. It's a common ailment among children. In our family it developed when they were quite young and apparently the only cure is becoming an adult (even then some people aren't cured and have a lifelong affliction). Sad but true. It's symptoms include: scrunched up nose, 'ew' sounds emitting from one's mouth to outright refusal to eat said zucchini.

I think the zucchini gets a bad rap. There's honestly not a whole lot of flavour in the zuc yet it gets picked on and picked out of endless meals! My kids can spot it in a dish in 10 seconds flat! Yet, it's cousin the cucumber gets all the kudos and is eaten almost daily in our home. Not only are cucs eaten on their own but in salads, wraps and even pickled! The glory of the cuc knows no boundaries while the zucchini gets no respect!

While I haven't given up the fight to get my kids to love the mighty zucchini I do know their Aversion will continue into the near (quite possibly far) future. So that leaves me with two options. Either I can forget about the zucchini or be devious and hide it in foods my kids like. I choose the Dark Side!

This is where this recipe comes in handy. I've hidden the nutritious deliciousness of the zucchini in a chocolate muffin ... that also has whole wheat flour and unsweetened applesauce to cut the fat. *Cue evil laugh: Bwah ha ha!!!*

Note: If I was more on the ball I would have chopped up the zucchini even finer to hide it more from prying eyes. My food processor made it into thin strings of zucchini (think zucchini spaghetti) which Karate Kid and Missy Moo were quick to notice. If you look closely at the top of the muffin in the picture you can see a string of zucchini. What am I new?!? I should know better.

Well, eleven year old Cub (and Brad) loved these muffins and I think the other two would have loved them if they weren't so preoccupied with knowing that zucchini lurked in the chocolatey goodness.

These muffins are amazingly moist and light for a muffin that has a cup of whole wheat flour. They also have a delightfully rounded top making them look more like a cupcake. They freeze well which are a big bonus for kids' lunches. Enjoy!

Double Chocolate Zucchini Muffins
Yield: 12 muffins

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce (one of those individual applesauce containers will do)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 cup shredded zucchini
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease muffin tin or use paper liners. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Sift cocoa into flour mixture. Add cinnamon and nutmeg. Mix well and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine eggs, milk, oil, applesauce and vanilla. Pour wet ingredients into dry mixture. Mix until just combined. Overmixing will produce tougher textured muffins (I cannot state this enough). Gently fold in the zucchini and chocolate chips.

Using a large melon baller (or two spoons) fill muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Out of Time: A Paranormal Romance

Author: Monique Martin
Genre: Supernatural / Romance
Type: ebook (Kindle)
First Published: February 2010
First Line: "The nightmares had come again."

Synopsis: Professor Simon Cross has spent his life researching vampires and other supernatural beings while avoiding any romantic relationships that might get in the way of his work. One night Simon and his assistant Elizabeth West are mysteriously transported to 1920's New York City. Stuck in this new time and place Simon and Elizabeth pretend to be married, get jobs at a speakeasy and try to figure out how to get back to their own time. In the meantime Elizabeth has caught the eye of the local gangster. Unable to get back until the next solar eclipse, 6 weeks away, the two must learn how to survive in an era much different than their own.

My Thoughts: When I first saw that this book had to do with time travel and supernatural I was very excited. I'm a huge "Outlander" (Diana Gabaldon) fan and I'm also a lover of supernatural books so this book seemed perfect for me.

While it was a cute and easy read it was just OK. The banter was cute and there was some sexual tension between Simon and Elizabeth but it wasn't gradual or believable enough for me. I think a lot of it had to do with the twenty year age difference between Simon and Elizabeth and their very different personalities. I know that love happens at all ages and that it's de rigeur with Ashton & Demi and Michael and Catherine but I just didn't feel that connection between the two main characters. Elizabeth felt too flighty and immature for me to believe that a stoic college professor would fall in love with her. I guess after reading about couples like Elizabeth and Nathaniel ("Into the Wilderness" series by S. Donati) and Claire & Jamie ("Outlander" by D. Gabaldon) I expect more of a deep and intense kind of romance. It also got a little old (and felt a little high school-ish) when the reader has to read over and over about how Simon loves Elizabeth but doesn't show his true feelings and visa versa. Just get on with it already! They spent more time worrying about their secret feelings for each other than being freaked out that they've gone 70 years back in time!

The appearance of the vampire character two-thirds of the way through the book seemed like overkill. Up until that part the story was an ok time travel romance. The introduction of this new character seemed to be included just because vampires are currently 'in'. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy a nice supernatural vampire book like the next gal but in this story omitting that aspect, in my opinion, would have been a better choice. Not all bad guys have to bear fangs. Plus it seemed like everyone except Simon and Elizabeth knew that this bad guy was a vampire. If it was common knowledge that a bloodsucker was living in my neighbourhood you'd be seeing a For Sale sign slapped on my house quicker than you could say "Edward Cullen"!

One of my favourite parts of this book were the descriptions of the 1920's. It's a period that I've always found fascinating but never really read up on. I kept thinking as I read this book that in the 1920's my Nana would have been Missy Moo's age!! Love the descriptions of the vehicles, clothing and the vernacular!

If you're in the mood for a romance book with a bit of supernatural then this is a book for you. If you're more of a supernatural purist then you may not love this read.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Monday, 14 February 2011

LOVE


Love. It's considered a many splendored thing. Phil Collins doesn't think you should hurry it. It's the one thing that is elusive to poor Pepe Le Pew. Tina Turner wants to know what it's got to do with anything while Def Lepard thinks it bites. Then there's Aerosmith who like it in an elevator ... well, perhaps Steven Tyler's viewpoint is not in the truly romantic sense of the word but you get the picture. Love is huge and what the world needs now, you guessed it, is love.


Love. L'amour. Amor. Amore. However you say it, we all want some! Yes, today is Valentine's Day -- the day of love that greeting card companies, chocolatiers and florists revel in. The day when everyone wants that extra little bit of attention from their loved ones. For some it means a handmade Valentine from your kids, a romantic dinner out (sans kids) or some chocolate and flowers. To others it means having your husband pour you a glass of wine, tell you to sit and relax while he bathes and puts the kids to bed. Men who have learned that a combo of all of the above on Valentine's Day have achieved their PhD status in romance!!

Is it fair to put the onus on men to provide the romance on Valentine's Day? No, but the truth is we do! Valentine's Day is a big day for men to score some major brownie points. Forgetting to do anything on February 14th for your girlfriend/wife is not for the faint of heart. Forgetting or ignoring this day can have varying results. From getting a chilly reception when you get home from work, to getting the evil eye from her girlfriend's (because you know she's told them that you forgot!) to getting the silent treatment until you apologize on bended knee.

Do Brad and I do a huge no holds barred take on V-day? Na. Never have really. We do exchange some chocolate with each other (and buy some for the little humans). After 13 years of marriage Brad has learned that one of the quickest roads to my heart is by plying me with chocolate. I'm a cliche, what can I say (apparently I'm also a poet).

I did go one step further this morning though. After a very restless night (for some reason I could not sleep until 3:30!!) I got up bright and early (ok, 6:30 instead of 7:15) and made the family a delish breakfast of giant heart shaped pancakes topped with strawberries cut into heart shapes and dusted with icing sugar. Nothing over the top but a nice little treat. That will be the extent of our Valentine's Day extravaganza.

Wishing you a day filled with l'amour and chocolat!

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Adobo Seasoning

This 'easy to make yourself' spice mixture is typically used in Mexican dishes. It usually consists of garlic, onion, black pepper, oregano, cumin and cayenne red pepper. Use it as a rub on various meats before grilling or use in taco meat mixtures.

2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp paprika
2 tsp ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp chili powder

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix well. Store in a sealed jar in a cool, dry place.

Use with my Spicy Bacon Roasted Chicken and Potatoes

Recipe from: Allrecipes.com (Traci's Adobo Seasoning)

Spicy Bacon Roasted Chicken & Potatoes

As I've mentioned before we're total bacon lovers in this household so when I came across a recipe on Allrecipes.com that combined chicken, potatoes and our beloved pork product I knew I'd have to give it a shot.

The original recipe had good 'bones' but I need to make necessary changes for my family. I didn't love how the recipe was put together. Originally the recipe called for 12 pieces of bacon (one slice to wrap around each chicken thigh). I thought that was a little much when my arteries started to clog up just reading that amount so I cut the bacon down considerably. Not to worry! You still have loads of flavour from the bacon and now the potatoes have the chance to brown in the much reduced amount of bacon grease (sounds kind of gross but the taters were ohhhh so flavourful!!!). Keeping the chicken on top of the potatoes keeps the chicken from sitting in the grease and helps it brown on all sides. The original recipe also called for onions but they'd be a sloppy mess by the end of the baking time so I omitted them.

The seasoning on the chicken is on the spicier side (but it's still kid friendly) and it went really well with the bacon. This very easy to put together recipe received two hearty thumbs up from Brad. I had never used Adobo seasoning before but lucked on on finding a great recipe that I've linked to. Very easy to whip up with ingredients that you typically have on hand.

Served with a salad or green vegetable, like green beans or my beloved asparagus you'll have a complete meal. Enjoy!

Seasoning
2 tbsp dried basil
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp adobo seasoning (see recipe here)
1 tbsp ground black pepper
1 tsp salt, or to taste

1 1/2 lbs potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
12 boneless, skinless chicken thights (or drumsticks)
4 slices bacon

Preheat oven to 400F.

Lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking pan. Combine seasoning ingredients in a small bowl. Mix well.

Place chicken pieces in a large Ziploc bag. Pour seasoning mixture into bag. Close and shake until chicken pieces are well coated.

Lay potatoes in the bottom of the pan. Place chicken pieces on top of the potatoes. Cut each bacon slice into thirds. Place a piece of bacon on top of each piece of chicken.

Bake for 1 hour. Bacon will be crisp and brown, the potatoes will be tender and the chicken will no longer be pink inside.

Note: You can substitute chicken breasts for the thighs if you're not a fan of dark meat like our family.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Run

Author: Ann Patchett
Genre: Modern Fiction
Type: Kindle ebook
First Published: October 2009
First Line: "Bernadette had been dead two weeks when her sisters showed up in Doyle's living room asking for the statue back."


Synopsis: Bernadette and Bernard Doyle have one son and wanted to expand their family. After many years with no success they decide to adopt two African-American infant brothers. These boys are raised in a loving home but, sadly, Bernadette succumbs to cancer leaving Bernard to raise his three boys on his own. As the sons of Boston's mayor, the two brothers, Tip and Teddy, grow into great men with bright futures and opportunities while their older brother, Sullivan, struggles with his own future.

Their family bond hasn't been truly tested until one night a sudden accident occurs on a snowy Boston street. One of the boys, now of University age, is suddenly pushed out of the way of an oncoming SUV by a stranger who is then hit by the vehicle. This stranger, as the family finds out, is not just any stranger. Tennessee Moser has a link to this family that they could never imagine.

My Thoughts:
From the plot outline I thought that this book would be full of surprises, depth and emotion but sadly that wasn't the case. I found that I was forcing myself to finish it (which is never a good sign, is it?). I thought that with the issues raised in the book dealing with politics, race, class, adoption etc the storyline would be fast-paced but it fell flat practically from the start and never really took off. Many issues were touched on but never dealt with any depth which I found frustrating more than anything.

I think that the main problem was the characters. They were totally flat, boring and didn't bring much to the overall story. There were so many characters introduced into the book but the reader never really gets to feel connected with any of them. I was left wondering why certain characters (specifically the uncle/priest) was introduced at all.

Also, some of the characters were too unbelievable ... especially 11 year old Kenya. I have an 11 year old and I cannot see him delving into the deep thoughts and emotion that this young girl did. Plus I just didn't believe that an 11 year old child who had just witnessed her mother in a horrible, painful accident would be so composed ... even taking into account a period of shock. She never seemed to feel anything. Just too unbelievable. The only character that I really liked was the oldest son, Sullivan. I wanted to see some big change in his character ... but it never happened.

The storyline plodded along at an excruciatingly slow pace. The author kept baiting me with promises of some big 'ta-da' moment .... but it never happened. There was more time given to Tip's love of his research involving fish than to any one major issue in the book.

Overall, I don't recommend this book. It had such potential but didn't even come close to meeting it.

My Rating: 2/5 stars

Blueberry Coffeecake Muffins

I'm always on the lookout for a great tasting, moist and light muffin. After making a muffin recipe that wasn't blog worthy (and received thumbs down from my kids) I was in serious need of a great recipe.

I found this recipe in a book called "500 Best Muffin Recipes" by Ester Brody and, thankfully, this muffin delivered. The sour cream keeps the muffin moist and slightly tangy and it's a great way to use up the frozen blueberries that have made a home in my freezer. I also loved that the ingredients are layered so the blueberries don't stain the batter and make it look like something Baker Smurf would serve.

Yield: 12 muffins

Topping
2 tbsp margarine or butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp all-purpose flour

Muffins
3/4 cup margarine or butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries, thawed and well-drained (see Note below)

Preheat oven to 400F. Line muffin tin with paper liners or grease. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine margarine, brown sugar, cinnamon and flour until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and blend well. Stir in sour cream and vanilla. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir just until moistened and blended. Don't over mix (overmixing will produce tougher muffins!!)!!

Spoon batter into muffin tins, only filling cups half full. Sprinkle half of the blueberries onto the batter in the muffin cups. Top with remaining batter then sprinkle with remaining blueberries. Sprinkle topping over muffins.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Note: To thaw my blueberries and drain them well at the same time, I put them into a small collander over a cereal bowl. As the blueberries thawed the excess moisture dripped into the cereal bowl. Amazing how much moisture is in frozen berries!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Back in the groove

I know that I've been a little lax in the blog department for the past few weeks and I do apologize. Usually I post once every couple of days but lately it's been more like twice a week.

I could tell you that the reason for my absence was that Brad whisked me off on a romantic vacation to Paris, or that I won the lottery and was eagerly spending my millions or even that I was on death's door with a horrible disease ... but those reasons would either be outright lying or at best taking artistic license to a whole new level.

Truth be told, I did succumb to a bout of the flu and if you're a mom with young kids, you know that having the flu is so not cool when you have little humans depending on you. Even with a doting husband like mine and a good friend to drop off and pick up my darlings from school it's tough being a sick mom. You want to see your family because you miss them ... but you don't want them to catch what you have because then you'll be on nursemaid duty while sick (also referred to as the 10th circle of hell). Your only way through the illness is to stay in your jammies, hide out in your bedroom armed only with your beloved PVR (Big Bang Theory can always put a smile on this face), DVD player (so you can watch "Eclipse" and embrace your inner Cougar -- you know you do it too!), a box of Kleenex, a glass of flat gingerale and a bowl of dry Cheerios. Glamourous it is NOT!

The mighty flu is more than an illness that makes you feel exhausted and nauseous. It steals a mom's energy, inner mojo, the desire to drink her morning java (*gasp!*) and even her desire to want to look good or have good hair (oh, the humanity!!!). Sometimes if the flu is harsh enough it can take awhile for a mom to get her mojo and energy back. Sad but true. Unfortunately, the flu I got knocked me out for 3 full days and then it took me a good 5 days to get all my energy back. Tough stuff, that flu!

On the flip side I did lose 7lbs. As soon as I was able I got my fine self onto my Wii Fit board and documented this glorious occasion. Nothing like some computerized person giving you praise over your weight loss! I don't generally recommend the flu as a weight-loss tool but after 3 days of eating only Cheerios and flat gingerale I'll take anything positive out of that experience!!

So keep checking back here on my blog. I've got a few new recipes to throw at my family and I have oodles of books (both electronic and tree killer) just waiting for me to dig into! I'm baaaack!

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Only You

Author: Deborah Grace Staley
Genre: Romance
Series: 1st book in the "Angel Ridge" series
Series Order:
  1. Only You (2004)
  2. A Home for Christmas (2009)
  3. What the Heart Wants (2010)

First Line: "It was one of those days."

Synopsis: Angel Ridge, Tennessee is a very small town of only 500 people. Everyone knows everything about each other and the gossip mill is always hummin'. In this small town, there are two very distinct classes of society -- and each class stays to their own side of 'the ridge'.

Josie Allen grew up in Angel Ridge but went away to university and earned many degrees including a PhD in library sciences. With her degrees in hand she returns to her home town to become the Director of their local library. Josie is expected to socialize with those in her own social class and to adhere to their social rules. When she unexpectedly becomes involved with the local handyman, Cole Craig, tongues start wagging and Josie's job is threatened.

My Thoughts:
Going into this book I told myself to take it for what it is ... a sweet romance. I reminded myself that it probably wasn't going to be a deep storyline with complicated characters ... and I was right. This book had a very easy-going storyline which was very thin and obvious most of the time. It was a sweet book but after awhile it was a little too 'flowery' and cutsie for me. At one point after Josie and Cole start seeing each other Josie thinks to herself "Was it her, or was the sun brighter today? The sky bluer? The robin's song more lyrical?". Um, ya. I adore Brad and remember when we started dating and I can't say that I ever pondered the robin's song. Perhaps I'm just not as poetic as dear Josie or maybe I have a heart of ice. Who knows. To each their own, I suppose.

I enjoyed the small town feel of the book and liked several of the secondary characters (especially diner owner Dixie and Josie's elderly neighbour) but wish they were more developed and included more in the book. I think they could have added another dimension to this thin and predictable storyline.

I loved that Josie was a highly educated woman but unfortunately her education didn't help her with practical life skills. She came off as overly naive for an educated woman who lived out in the 'big world' for 7 years. Her conversation with Cole about hickeys was bordering on silly and unbelievable. But towards the end of the book she shows some chutzpah and stands up for herself and even gets angry when Cole tries to come to the rescue. These two very different views of the same character came off as disjointed to me.

The underlying messages were good -- don't judge a book by it's cover and learning to stand on your own feet without worrying about what others think. Will I pick up another romance novel soon? I'm not crossing off the genre yet. I think I need a romance novel that has a little more meat on it's bones and more believable and well-rounded characters.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars



Saturday, 5 February 2011

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Author: Stieg Larsson
Genre: Suspense
Format: Kindle
Series: 1st book in the Millennium series
Series Order:
  1. Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2008)
  2. The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009)
  3. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest (2009)

First Line: "It happened every year, was almost a ritual."

Synopsis: Mikael Blomkvist is a reporter who was recently charged in a libel case. Needing to get away for awhile, he takes on an assignment in a remote Swedish town. He is hired by Swedish tycoon Henrik Vanger to look into the disappearance of his teenage niece, Harriet Vanger. Unfortunately Harriet vanished 40 years ago leaving few clues, no witnesses and no body. Her uncle Henrik is convinced that she was murdered by someone in their family and is obsessed with finding out the truth so he hires Blomkvist to investigate.

Blomkvist soon learns that he needs help in researching this very old case. Henrik Vanger hires Lisbeth Salander, a 24-year old tattooed genius hacker to help Blomkvist. What Lisbeth lacks in social skills and an upbeat personality she more than makes up for her gifted ability to hack and research. Blomkvist and Salander make a very unlikely team but together they delve into the truth behind dark Vanger family secrets and industrial corruption.

My Thoughts: This book was picked as part of a book club I'm involved in. Like most people, I've heard a lot of good things about this series. Unfortunately, somewhere in my cranium I got this series mixed up with The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins which, from my understanding, is a fantasy-based read so when I picked up this book I was a little confused at first.

It didn't take me long to get back on track. This book is set in modern day Sweden which I found very interesting since I've never read a book based in that part of the world before. I will say that if you're expecting to pick up this book and jump into the action you'll be very disappointed. There is a LOT of set-up and (in my opinion) too much detail in the first third of the book especially dealing with the corporate corruption that the author details ad nauseum.

My favourite part of the whole book was Lisbeth's character. She was raw and full of rage yet so brilliant. She is described as "an information junkie with a delinquent child's take on morals and ethics". She was such a unique character that I was hoping that she would have been more of the focus on the main storyline (especially since the book title kind of leads the reader to believe she's the focus of the story). Unfortunately, Blomkvist's character (who is the main character) is rather dull and one-dimensional. That being said, for a boring 50 year old guy he sure does get the girls. Huh.

There were some really interesting underlying themes in the book. I found it interesting to see the ethical struggle that Blomkvist went through as a journalist (what to print, what not to print) but what I enjoyed even more was seeing how life experiences and how people are raised mold us into the people we become. Sadly, the experiences that are focused on are extremely negative in nature but I found it interesting nonetheless.

If you're the kind of reader who isn't big on "Silence of the Lambs-esque" violence then you may want to take a pass at this book. I was warned by my librarian that there are a few parts in the book that are extremely violent towards women so at least I had a heads up but it was still very disturbing to me. I'm not sure I would have read the book if I knew just how graphic the violence was.

Overall, I did enjoy this book. The slow overly descriptive parts were off-set by good suspense and a decent mystery. I am most likely going to read the final two books in this series to read more about Lisbeth.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Chili With or Without Moo

The other night I had a hankering for an easy, 'fill my belly with something warm' kind of meal. I have another wonderful chili recipe here on my blog but I wanted an easier and quicker recipe since it was a week night and my menfolk had the evening planned for all things masculine.

This recipe totally fit the bill. It was simple to put together and had just the right amount of spice and heat. I like flavour over heat personally so I was impressed with how that was balanced in this recipe. You can tweak the spice a bit once it's had some time for the flavours to blend. I ended up adding a bit more chili powder because I thought it needed a bit more of a kick.

In our house we love to serve chili with shredded Cheddar cheese and a dollop of sour cream. Delish! I have recently found a new way to enjoy eating chili. My new 'method' is to place a piece of toast on a dinner plate and pile on the chili and fixin's. Negates the need for dipping but tastes soooo good!

In the past I've always been more of a lover of chili con carne (the carnivore version of chili) but lately I've been trying to serve more vegetarian meals. This recipe only used 1lb of ground beef (because that's all I had on hand) but the next time I make it I plan to omit the beef because I don't think it really added much to the overall recipe.

One final note: You can prepare this dish ahead of time (even the day before) then pop it into your slow cooker (on low) to heat through for your supper. I actually made this dish early in the afternoon then popped it into my smaller crockpot making dinner prep very easy. Can't get any easier than that!

1lb ground beef (optional - if omitted replace with 2 tbsp vegetable oil)
1 onion, diced
1 green pepper, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (28oz) can diced tomatoes
1 (19oz) can kidney beans
2 (14oz) cans beans in tomato sauce
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp chili powder
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch ground cloves
Cheddar cheese, grated -- to garnish
sour cream -- to garnish

In a large, deep skillet (or large pot) over medium-high heat cook beef (if using), onion, green pepper and garlic until meat is no longer pink and onion and green peppers are soft. Drain off excess fat.

Add tomatoes, kidney beans and beans in tomato sauce to meat mixture. Mix well. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Heat through and serve. Or, let mixture cool slightly and put into containers. Keep refrigerated (or freeze) until ready to heat using crockpot. Serve with grated Cheddar cheese and sour cream.

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