Friday, April 29, 2011

Easy Make Ahead Cinnamon Rolls



Who doesn't love a fresh, gooey cinnamon roll in the morning? Even me, a devoted 'salty over sweet' lover can't resist a freshly baked cinnamon roll or have my abode smelling like I live in a Cinnabon franchise! The problem is, I don't want to wake up 3 hours earlier to make said cinnamon rolls! Laziness always, ALWAYS trumps everything in my world!

I have made cinnamon rolls before and enjoyed them but had to get up at the crack of dawn to make them. Me at the crack of dawn is not a pretty sight, let me tell you. Nor does it make for a happy mom later in the day with three kids on a sugar high from these rolls. So I went on the net to search for an easier, quicker yet still tasty way to get cinnamon rolls in my belly while still allowing me to sleep in. A happy mom is a rested (and caffeinated) mom! Truer words were never spoken.

Eureka! This recipe was great for allowing me to get that extra beauty sleep and be able to eat the gooey goodness of cinnamon rolls with my morning java! There's also the added bonus of being able to make a double batch and freeze some for a later use so I can have cinnamon rolls on 'stand by' for those emergency situations.

I made these cinnamon rolls last weekend for our Easter breakfast extravaganza. I loved that I could prep these rolls the night before, pop them into the fridge then just have to make the icing the next morning while they were baking. You honestly can't get easier than this and I love that I let my bread machine do all the kneading for me! Plus I got to see my favourite little humans running around our house on their Easter scavenger hunt instead of rolling dough and missing part of the action!

Easy Make Ahead Cinnamon Rolls
Recipe From: http://cafecococreations.blogspot.com/2009/02/homemade-cinnamon-rolls-in-bread-maker.html (original recipe from Recipe Zaar)

Yield: 12-14 large cinnamon rolls

Rolls
1 (1/4oz) package dry yeast
1 cup warm milk
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt

Filling
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 1/2 tbsp cinnamon
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened

Icing
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1/4 cup cream cheese
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt

Make dough for rolls: Dissolve yeast in the warm milk. Pour into bread maker. Add white sugar, 1/3 cup butter, vanilla, eggs, flour and salt. Check your manufacturer's instructions for the order that ingredients should be put into your bread maker's pan. As long as you keep the liquid and yeast on the bottom and prevent the salt from coming into contact with the yeast you should be ok. Set machine on the Dough cycle (this should take about 2 hours).

If you don't have a bread maker just mix everything in a large bowl. Knead the dough into a ball with floured hands. Put it in a bowl and cover to let rise in a warm place for about an hour (it should double in size).

Pull dough out of bread maker (or bowl) and roll it out on a lightly floured surface to be approximately 12"x16" and 1/4" thick. Add a little extra flour if your dough is a little too sticky.

Prepare filling: Combine brown sugar, cinnamon and 1/3 cup butter. Spread filling on top of dough evenly and as close to the edges as you can get. The topping is pretty thick. I used the back of a spoon to spread it out gently. Working from the long end of the dough, roll it tightly into a log. Cut the log into 1 3/4-inch slices and place the slices into a lightly greased baking dish.

NOTE: At this point you can choose to cover the rolls with plastic wrap and put them in the refrigerator or freezer for later use or you can bake them now.

If baking immediately -- Preheat oven to 400F. You can put the rolls into the oven to let them rise a bit more as the oven preheats. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until tops are golden brown.

If the rolls are coming directly from the refrigerator -- pull the rolls out of the fridge about an hour before baking. Put the rolls into the oven as it preheats to 400F to allow for extra rising. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until tops are golden brown.

NOTE: I popped my rolls directly from the fridge into the oven as the original recipe stated but I found my rolls a bit on the dense side. I think that extra hour of rising time would help make the rolls a little lighter.

While rolls are baking, prepare the icing. Mix butter, icing sugar, cream cheese, vanilla and salt together until smooth. When rolls are removed from the oven slather with frosting.

Enjoy!



I shared this recipe at the following Linky Party!!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Unbearable Lightness - A Story of Loss & Gain



Author: Portia de Rossi
Genre: Autobiography
Pages: 308
Published: November 2010
First Line: "HE DOESN'T WAIT until I'm awake."

Synopsis: This is a detailed look into the life of Australian-born actress Portia de Rossi, best known for her work on Ally McBeal and Arrested Development. Portia shows readers her struggles coming to term with her sexuality, dealing with the pressures that were self-imposed as well as pressures put on her by the modeling industry and Hollywood.

My Thoughts: After seeing a bit of Portia's interview on Oprah awhile back I knew that this was an autobiography that I'd be interested in reading. To me, Portia has always seemed to be a Hollywood enigma. She seemed to be on the periphery of Hollywood and wasn't on my radar (after Ally McBeal) until she was dating and eventually marrying comedienne Ellen DeGeneres.

I will say that I truly appreciate the courage it must have taken to write a book dealing with such sensitive issues as accepting one's sexuality, publicly and privately coming out as well as eating disorders. That being said I did find that the book dragged pretty much the entire way. While I found the sneak peeks into the behind-the-scenes at Ally McBeal were really cool I think that I was hoping that the book would focus more on her 'happily ever after' marriage with Ellen (whom I've always admired and is one of the most positive up-beat personalities out there). But that's my fault ... I realized going in that the book would be about her inner struggle with her sexuality and her eating disorder, I just didn't realize that the book would focus, pretty much solely, on the eating disorder.

I had such high hopes for this book but unfortunately this book just didn't come close to measuring up. My favourite parts of the book were the prologue and epilogue which isn't a great sign. I didn't like the feel of the book either. It seemed more like a bunch of journal entries and the pace of the book suffered for it. The back and forth from past to present got a little weary after awhile too and at some points I had to re-read parts in order to figure out what time frame I was currently in.

I think that a big part of why I didn't like this book was that the majority of the book went over the same issue again and again -- Portia's view that she was ugly and fat, her low self-esteem, reducing her caloric intake, her self-loathing when she didn't attain her goals ... I don't want to belittle her struggles or the hell she lived through but it got a redundant and tedious reading chapter after chapter which dealt with the same issues. I found myself skimming paragraphs towards the end because I figured I didn't have to pay close attention since the same issues were reiterated again and again. Not a good sign.

It seemed to get bogged down with the day-to-day rituals of the eating disorder but didn't scratch the surface of Portia's feelings. I thought that the book would focus more on how she overcame her eating disorder and how she came to terms with her sexuality and self-worth. But her recovery was glossed over in the end and seemed a little too neat and tidy for me. The focus was on the anorexia and her lowest points but not on her recovery. I just found that odd and not fulfilling. Odder still is the fact that after reading her autobiography I still don't feel like I know who Portia is.

I admit that I do not know much about eating disorders and have only a general idea about what's involved in the daily life of an anorexic but I was astounded to learn the extent to which it affected her life. For example, not wearing lip gloss for the fear of ingesting extra calories, wearing only her underwear at home because she wanted to be as cold as possible in order to burn off the most calories possible or reducing the amount she ate daily to only 300 calories! At least I can take away a better understanding of the day-to-day life of a person with an eating disorder after reading this book.

I am very glad that Portia has found peace and fulfillment in her life and I'm hoping that by coming out about her sexuality as well as her eating disorder her story (even if I wasn't a fan of her book) can help others as they deal with similar issues.

My Rating: 2/5 stars


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Warm Goat Cheese, Herb & Sun-Dried Tomato Dip



What a wonderful Easter weekend! Filled with lots of family, loads of food and amazingly warm, sunny weather. Absolutely perfect (if you don't count Brad's on-going sniffling and all-around sickness. Poor guy!). We started off the day with an Easter scavenger hunt for the kids. In years past we've done the 'hide the eggs all over the house' type thing but this year (and last) we decided to whip up a scavenger hunt for each of the kids. I love making up rhyming ditties so I went to town with the clues such as:

"You love to read Potter books about wizards and ghosts but your next clue is near the machine that makes toast!"

"Milk comes from cows, cows all say 'moo moo', your next clue is hidden where we fix your boo boos."


Yes, I don't think Dr Seuss and his peeps will be knocking on my door but it was a lot of fun! Now hiding the clues in the right spot and in the right order proved to be harder for me since I was exhausted from our first family celebration with my cousins. But it as all worth it when the kids were running around reading clues and finding their chocolate stashes. I felt like they were on their own little "Amazing Races' and I was Phil Keoghan saying "Missy Moo, you are the first team to arrive!".

Anyway, today we went to my parents' place along with my sisters and their families for supper. As usual I take festivities of any kind and turn them into a chance to cook for others and, often times, try new recipes on unsuspecting (well, I think they've caught on by now) family members. This weekend I made some great make-ahead cinnamon buns as well as this deliciously tangy dip that has a hint of heat in it.

With 9 kids under foot and 3 dogs it's never a dull moment. As with any family event in our family there was LOADS of food! Along with the bread and dip I brought my sisters made a delicious Spicy Chicken Dip and a gorgeous chocolate Smartie ice cream cake! If I can sweet talk my sistas into sharing their recipes I'll post them asap! Needless to say the dog and I went on a 3km walk as soon as I got home to compensate for my gluttony over the weekend!

Back to the dip at hand!! Talk about a blending of great flavours --creamy, tangy goat cheese, fresh chives, sun-dried tomatoes (one of my FAV flavours) and basil from my garden all blended together. Sadly, I've used my poor basil plant so much lately that the poor thing looks like it has a bad case of mange. I think I need to give it a rest and let it recoop a bit!. This dip was delightful and so easy to make ahead of time! I could also see stuffing a chicken breast with this dip!

Another added bonus is that this dip is egg-free so all of our family members could enjoy it (even though my wee 2 year old nephew with an egg and peanut allergy -- or any of the other kids for that matter -- wouldn't have ventured into my dip for all the chocolate eggs the Easter bunny could give them). I'll give them a few years and hopefully they'll come around to loving this tangy and 'oh so hard to stop eating' dip!

Warm Goat Cheese, Herb & Sun-Dried Tomato Dip
Inspired By: www.noodlesandspice.com/appetizers/warm-goat-cheese-dip

1 tbsp olive or grapeseed oil
1/4 cup onion or shallots
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup milk
4 oz (1/2 pkg) cream cheese, softened and cut into small cubes
1/2 cup creamy goat cheese
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/2 cup (divided) fresh chives, chopped
1/8 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and garlic. Cook for several minutes until onions are transparent. Lower heat to medium-low and add red wine vinegar, sugar and milk. Whisk well.

Add creamed cheese and whisk until cream cheese has melted. Add goat cheese and whisk well until melted and mixture is fairly smooth. Add basil, chives (leaving a few for the top of the dip), sun-dried tomatoes, red pepper flakes. Mix well.

Serve immediately with baked pita chips, crackers or tortilla chips OR place dip into a dish and place in refrigerator until ready to use. Preheat oven to 350F and bake for approximately 15 minutes or bubbling at the sides and heated through.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Invisible



Author: Lorena McCourtney

Genre: Mystery/Suspense

Series: 1st book in the Ivy Malone series

Series Order:
1. Invisible (2004)
2. In Plain Sight (2005)
3. On The Run (2006)
4. Stranded (2006)

First Line: "The sign arched over the gravel driveway proclaimed Country Peace in rusty wrought iron."

Synopsis: Ivy Malone isn't your typical mystery solver. She's a retired librarian enjoying a quiet life although with her curiosity and spunk she finds herself in the middle of trouble. She has learned that as a LOL (Little Old Lady) she is often not seen by others and dismissed as old and unimportant ... so she uses that to her advantage. When a cemetery is vandalized Ivy decides to use her 'invisibility' to hide out and find out who the thugs are. Suddenly, armed only with her faith and spunky attitude Ivy finds herself in the middle of a murder of one of her neighbours.

My Thoughts: While I liked this book I don't plan to read more in this series and I'll tell all y'all why. I think the main reason is that there's not a lot of energy in the book. The main reason for this is that half way through the book the mystery takes a back seat to Ivy's Christian faith.

Personally and as a Christian myself, I have no issue with Ivy's faith being part of the storyline but it kind of surprised me because there was no mention of this being a Christian book in the book write-up. I've never read a Christian mystery before and I'm always open to reading new genres so I dove into this book. I respect and like the fact that Ivy's faith is important to her and greatly influences how she solves the mystery. I just wish the momentum of the mystery was upheld as well as the religious aspect. Her faith is mentioned in the first half of the book and is shown to be an important part of Ivy's character. But it isn't until the second half of the book that the author, I think, focuses too much on Ivy's faith even when it doesn't pertain to the mystery at all. The religion becomes the focus and the mystery is only secondary.

One issue I had with this book was that I found the 'invisibility' issue a little odd. I understand that some seniors may feel invisible to others and not taken seriously, respected etc ... but I felt like this author took it a little too far. For the first half of the book Ivy was a funny, spunky senior but when she started thinking she was actually invisible it went from spunky to odd pretty quickly. Plus, some of her actions didn't fit with how I view seniors (which may be a negative about me). I just cannot picture my Nana or Grandma jumping junkyard fences or hanging out in cemeteries on their own in the middle of the night. Just a little too unbelievable.

One of the main things that I did enjoy about this book is Ivy. I pictured Ivy as a "Betty White-type" character --- spunky & quirky, with a good sense of humour. Wonderful, I love Betty White! The other secondary characters were ok but fairly one-dimensional and cliched. Sadly, as I mentioned above, the mystery was just mediocre and I never felt like I was on the edge of my seat at any point in this book.

That being said, if you're the kind of person who hates reading profanity or gratuitous sex scenes, like a quirky character in a very light read, then this is a book for you.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Monday, April 18, 2011

Can't Be Beet Chocolate Cupcakes

With a house full of chocaholics living among me (I'm am their reigning Queen) I'm always looking for desserts to tame the chocolate beasts that dwell within us. I also try to make these treats as healthy as possible so when I saw that this recipe used beet puree I jumped on it!

Beets are one of those super foods everyone is talking about. They're low in fat, high in fibre and antioxidants which are powerful cancer inhibitors because they help to inhibit cell mutations. They also contain vitamins A & C as well as folic acid! Another added benefit if you're a lover of the colour pink -- they will dye your hands a pretty pink colour if you're not careful when peeling them! Win, win!

When I presented these cupcakes to my family, at first they were very excited ... then they got suspicious. "What healthy stuff did you put in them, Mom?" was their first question. "Moi?" (am I that transparent?!?). So I had Brad and the kids try to guess what mystery ingredient I had hidden within these cupcakes. Some of their guesses made me wonder about them. Fish? Um, no. Cauliflower? No, that was the mashed potato dish I served you awhile back. Carrots & zucchini? Nope!

When I told them the secret ingredient they all just looked confused, shrugged then continued eating. As if they expected no less from me. Beets and chocolate?? Ok, Mom. But once they bit into these cupcakes they wouldn't have cared if I had put fish in them because they tasted divine! Not too rich and nice and moist! I topped them with a simple vanilla frosting and a few Smarties. Needless to say there wasn't a cupcake standing by the end of the weekend! Enjoy!

Can't Be Beet Chocolate Cupcakes
Inspired by : http://www.coconutandlime.com/2009/05/cant-beet-red-velvet-cupcakes.html



3/4 cup beet puree (see directions below)
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp sour cream
2 eggs, at room temperature
Frosting of your choice

Prepare Beet Puree
Note: To save time in the future, make a lot of puree then freeze the extra for later use. I used 5 medium-sized beets which made 2 1/4 cups of puree.

Place approximately 2-3 beets in a large pot and cover with water. Boil until beets have softened. Let cool then peel. Place beets in a food processor and puree. Note: My beets still had some chunkier bits (don't we all?) so I mashed them up a bit more. Place extra puree in a freezer bag, label clearly, remove excess air and freeze for another use.

Make Muffins
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease or line a 12-cup muffin tin. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix well.

In a large bowl, combine the beet puree, balsamic vinegar, vegetable oil, applesauce, milk, sour cream and eggs. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Mix, making sure not to over beat the mixture.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Journey's End



Author: Josephine Cox
Type: Hardcover
Genre: Historical Fiction
Country of Origin: England
Pages: 320
First Published: February 2006

Synopsis: Barney Davidson sadly watches as his wife Vicky and their children sail away to America. His family will never know why he had to deceive them and do terrible things to make them hate him in order to give them this opportunity for a better life.

Decades later, Barney is now dead but Lucy Baker, the woman who stayed by his side, knows the truth about why Barney forced his beloved family to leave without him. As Lucy's health deteriorates the secret she keeps weighs on her conscience. She decides to finally tell Barney's wife the truth about what really happened all those years ago.

My Thoughts: I have to start off by saying that Josephine Cox is one of those authors that I can turn to for a good read. Nothing too deep but a nice romp through the English countryside with a good plot and fairly predictable ending. Sadly, this book didn't live up to my expectations at all.

Note: I do need to say that I didn't realize that "Journey's End" was the sequel to "The Journey" (I usually check on Fantastic Fiction for the order of series) so perhaps if I had read that book first I may have liked this book more (?).

I don't think I'm a really picky reader but I do need a well-paced book, solid characters, intrigue or something to compel me to keep reading. Sadly, I had to force myself to finish this book (I kept hoping it would get better) and I found this book too repetitive. Various characters reiterate the same information over and over again when once was plenty. For example, the reader understands that Lucy is mourning her dead husband ... we don't need each character to comment on it ad nauseum.

I also found the pace of this book extremely slow moving. The first 100 pages only focus on the fact that Lucy loved and lost Barney. Yup. Ok. Got it. Move on. From the synopsis of this book I thought there would be some great 'ta da!" moment revealing some hidden family secret but there was nothing! No 'ta da', just 'na da'. One of the most interesting characters (and the only evil guy in the bunch), Edward Trent, wasn't used enough in the storyline. It felt like the reader was teased with what Trent was planning to do ... but never used that idea to its full potential.

It was a little unrealistic too. The reason why Barney chose to do what he did (vague, I know, but I don't want to give it away) was a little too wishy-washy and dull for me. But the height of the unrealistic issue for me was that there was no confrontation between Lucy and Vicky. These two women loved the same man, had children by him and yet, when they meet up after 20+ years there are no fireworks or even mean words exchanged. They become friends. Really? I wasn't expecting an Alexis Carrington type cat fight (although those do make for a nice diversion in a book) but if I knew that another woman (and former friend) had kept a huge secret from me for all these years AND had a child by my husband I wouldn't just give her a hug and become 'besties'. Not gonna happen.

My Rating: 1.5/5 stars


Friday, April 15, 2011

Spicy Parmesan Bread Dipper

Things have been booming around here in the past few days. Not only did I join Food Buzz to increase the 'buzz' around my blog but I also started a Twitter account and boy has my wee little blog seen a lot of action! Woo hoo! Thanks to all who have taken the time to pop by and see what I'm all about. I have a Twitter button on the right-hand side of the blog. Follow me on Twitter to get all my updates right away!

As promised, here is the recipe for the Spicy Bread Dipper that I made to accompany my Crusty Rosemary Bread the other day. I can't think of many things better than sopping up this tangy dipper with 'warm from the oven/bread maker' bread! Heaven!

Note: Usually you allow the dipper to sit in the fridge for 8 hours (or overnight) but the first night we had this bread I made this dipper only a few minutes before supper was ready. Kind of a spur of the moment thing so this dipper sat about .... 8 minutes. Yup. Still tasted reallllly good!

Spicy Parmesan Bread Dipper
From: The Baking Bookworm
Inspired By: Allrecipes.com ("Spicy Oil & Vinegar Bread Dipper")



1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (or grapeseed oil)
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 1/4 tsp dried basil
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3/4 tsp red pepper flakes
3 tbsp fresh Parmesan cheese, finely grated (use a microplaner for best results)

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Allow flavours to blend for 8 hours (or overnight) in the fridge. Serve with warm, crusty bread.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Crusty Rosemary Bread



Have you ever made a dish that was so good you just HAD to make it again as soon as possible? The flavours and texture were just so good and addicting that you were compelled to duplicate the experience practically right away?

Oh ya, baby. We had that experience with this bread ... two nights in a row. Not only did we make totally inappropriate Yummy Noises because it was so tasty but it was super easy! The crust was crispy and the fragrance that emanated from this bread is what I think heaven must smell like! Well, a combination of that and Zac Ephron (Down Cougar! Down!).

You cannot get easier than bread from a bread maker. In fact, I own two breadmakers (a 14 year old smaller version and a big, newer model). You just never know when you'll have a carb emergency! In our huge extended bread lovin'family my machines have come in quite handy!

To add to this moment of culinary nirvana I also whipped up a spicy bread dipper. I've tried a few store-bought dippers but decided to make one myself. This bread (and dipper) totally jazzed up our relatively blaw meal of tomato soup and salad!!

I was also happy that I was able to use the bounty from my rosemary plant. Last summer was my first summer with fresh herbs in my garden so I got totally spoiled and passionate about fresh herbs! I wasn't going to let snow kill my beloved herbs so I decided to let them 'winter' indoors in front of my slider. It was no Florida gulf coast but I think they enjoyed it. Thankfully my killer watch dog protects my prized rosemary from danger and those who may wish it harm .... he's much more vicious than he looks. Well, maybe not.


Back to the bread ... being the bread addicts that we are you won't be surprised to hear that we inhaled this bread (and dipper) by the meal's end. Just the smell and look of this bread alone was enough for the kids to gobble up their tomato soup (not the chunks of tomato, who am I kidding?) so that they could have a slice or two before Brad and I wolfed down the entire loaf by ourselves. They know that freshly baked bread doesn't stand a chance on our table. We pounce on it like hyenas on a lame gazelle!!

Enjoy this recipe. I dare you to make just one loaf!

NOTE: I'll post the Spicy Bread Dipper recipe tomorrow so check back!!

Recipe by: The Baking Bookworm
Recipe Inspired By: Allrecipes.com

Yield: 1 1/2 lb loaf

1 cup water
3 tbsp olive or grapeseed oil
1 1/2 tsp white sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2-3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped (or 1 tbsp dried rosemary)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp bread machine yeast

Place all ingredients into the pan of your bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Select the White Bread or Basic Bread cycle. Press Start.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My 500th Posting!!!

I can't believe this is my 500th time posting! I started the blog on August 9, 2009 which means I've been a 'blogger' for 1 year and 8 months! The fact that I still have people interested is quite a feat! You like me! You really, really LIKE me!

For any blogger reaching certain milestones is a big deal. Celebrating Bloggaversaries, seeing your number of Followers grow and grow, witnessing your daily stats soar ... it all shows us that the hard work we put in is worth it. Blogging is a lot of fun but also a lot of work. To think that little old me (with my utter lack of 'puter knowledge and know how) pulled together a blog and actually had people (other than my family) who wanted to read about my hobbies and blatherings is pretty cool!

I've decided to take a stroll down memory lane and showcase some of my favourite recipes, blatherings and all-time favourite reads. In the past 500 posts I've blogged about a lot of stuff. Here's a breakdown about what I blog about.

Number of recipes posted: 241!!
Number of book reviews posted: 178!!
Inane blatherings from moi: 23
Other Stuff: 58
Nice comments from blog readers: PRICELESS!

After posting 500 times sometimes even I find it hard to remember all of my recipes. Thinking back to my favourite recipes made my own mouth water so I decided to showcase my 50 favourite recipes as we stroll down memory lane. For those of you who have a firm grasp of basic math (you math gurus, you!) you'll notice that math is not my forte and that I couldn't just stop at listing only 50 recipes. All of the recipes, book reviews and my favourite blatherings are linked to the original post to make it easier for you to find everything. Enjoy!!

Appetizers
Double Tomato Balsamic Bruschetta
Sun-Dried Tomato Basil Pesto
Hot Broccoli Dip
Crescent-Wrapped Brie

Soup/Salad/Sandwiches
Bean & Bacon Soup
Bacon & Potato Heart Stopper Soup
Raspberry Balsamic Salad
BBB (Basil, Bacon & Balsamic) Potato Salad
Fruit, Feta & Balsamic Salad
Chicken, Goat Cheese & Caramelized Onion Quesadillas
Traditional Potato Salad
Bermuda Spinach Salad
Ultimate Grilled Cheese
Rich & Creamy Tomato Soup
Meal in a Bowl Soup

Breakfast/Muffins/Quick Breads
Country Breakfast Bake
Apple Fritter Pancakes
Cranberry Orange Bread
Best Banana Bread
Double Berry Bran Muffins
Mocha Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins
Mandarin Orange Breakfast Bites
The BEST Bluberry Muffin You'll Ever Eat!

Pasta/Casseroles
Sun-Dried Tomato, Bacon & Olive Pasta
Spaghetti with Mega Meat Sauce
Pasta with Creamy Tomato Sauce
Mark's Lasagna
Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo
Baked Pasta with Ricotta & Tomatoes
Mediterranean Tuna Casserole
Chicken Noodle Casserole
Macaroni & Cheese
Kitchen Sink Chili

Side Dishes
Roasted Balsamic & Parmesan Asparagus
Broccoli Cauliflower Casserole
Tangy Roasted Red Potatoes
Simple Balsamic Roasted Veggies
Scalloped Potatoes

Recipes Using the Beasties (Poultry, Pork, Beef & Fish)
Turkey'n'Stuffin' Burgers
Caramelized Baked Chicken
Cranberry Pork Roast
Grilled Citrus Salmon
Baked Sea Scallops
Shepherd's Pub Pie
Fancy Fillet
Make-Ahead Shredded Beef Sandwiches • Shepherd's Pub Pie
Sensational Sloppy Joes
Easy, Cheesy Chicken Enchiladas
Easy Crab Cakes

Cakes, Pies & Desserts
Slow Cooker Hot Fudge Banana Split Cake
Mini Oreo Surprise Cupcakes
Maple Icing
Tiramisu Layer Cake
Chocolate Covered Oreo Cookie Cake
Sour Cream Coffeecake
Chocolate Molten Lava Cakes
Gooey, Warm Apples
Apple Crisp
MIL's Famous Apple Pie
Bavarian Apple Torte
Strawberry Trifle

Cookies & Squares
Chocolate Peanut/Freenut Butter Squares
My Ultimate Brownies
Chewy Sugar & Spice Cookies
Double Chocolate Smarties Cookies

My Witty Yet Inane Blatherings
Grocery Store Etiquette
Yummy Noises
My Favourite Things
• 101 Things About Me (see tab above)

Just Some of My Favourite Reads
The Secret Daughter
In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer
The Help
Bitten
The Book of Negroes
Still Missing
Juliet
The Last Olympian
Why My Third Husband Will Be A Dog
Stolen Innocence
Before Green Gables
Certain Girls
Momzillas
Pillars of the Earth
The Queen's Governess

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Thanks again for all of your support and taking the time to visit little old me.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Bran Hambric - The Farfield Curse



Author: Kaleb Nation
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy
Pages: 430
Series: 1st book in the Bran Hambric series
Series Order:
1. Bran Hambric - The Farfield Curse (2009)
2. Bran Hambric - The Specter Key (2010)
First Line: "The night was cold and dead and so was Clarence's heart."

Synopsis: At the age of 6 Bran Hambric was found alone inside a locked bank vault in the city of Dunce, a town where all magic is considered illegal. For the past 8 years Bran has been living with the quirky Wilomas family and has no memory of his first 6 years of life. One night when Brad is 14 years old he is confronted by a deformed creature who speaks of Bran's past and attempts to kidnap him. Bran learns that he is in the middle of an evil magical plot that was started years before by his own mother and it's up to him to put a stop to it.

My Thoughts: I saw this book in the Young Adults section of the library and picked it up for my 9 and 11 year old boys to read. I thought the synopsis was intriguing and figured I might read it after the boys were finished with it. Well, my 9 year old read the prologue and didn't want to read any more and my 11 year old was well into his 5th reading of the Percy Jackson series so he took a pass.

Personally, I didn't love the book ... at all. It was uninspired and so very slow. Initially I thought I'd like the book because it had a very Harry Potter-esque feel to it. But there's similarity and then there's blatant copying. As many of you know I adore the Harry Potter series. I think it was exceptionally well thought out, well written and evokes the readers' imaginations with vivid descriptions and mulit-dimensional characters. This book? Not ... even ... close.

"The Farfield Curse" was so similar to the HP series it was almost laughable. Let's just say that if I was J.K Rowling I'd have lawyers on the phone. Here are just a few of the HP similarities:
- main character is a boy who never realised that he was magical
- this boy was raised by a surrogate family who hates all magic and who don't like him
- the physical description of the 'evil guy' was a dead on description of HP's Voldemort
- the mother loses her life while protecting her child from evil
- the banker's children are spoiled rotten like Dudley Dursley
- the evil guy has parts of his soul hidden so that he can come back to life (hello Voldemort!)
- the bad guy and the boy have a telepathic connection

My biggest beef about this book was that it took half of the book for the storyline to build up enough momentum ... and even then it wasn't a big 'can't put the book down' moment. The silliness of Bran's surrogate family was annoying and unbelievable. Sewey (the surrogate father/banker) was ridiculous with his gnome issues and felt a Uncle Vernon Dursley (HP) knock-off. I'm not even sure why his wife (the germophobe) was even in the book. Her role was non-existent to the storyline and her medications for various illnesses was just silly and felt like page filler.

For the first part of the book the author kept my interest with little cliff hangers but in the last half of the book, I admit, that I had to force myself to finish the book. I didn't feel a connection with the main character and never got a sense of how he felt about what was happening to him. The reader was told that Bran was sad but we never saw Bran being sad. The secondary characters (like the gnome Polland and Adi) were very one-dimensional.

If you haven't guessed by now I wouldn't recommend this book. If you're looking for amazing supernatural reads stick with Harry Potter and Percy Jackson - both series I highly recommend.

My Rating: 1.5/5 stars


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Decorative Jute Balls



I'm one of those people who have always wanted to be crafty. I go on some of these DIY (do-it-yourself) blogs and I'm amazed at the crafts and decor transformations that these bloggers come up with on a weekly basis. Astounding and inspiring! I do think that some people possess a certain je ne sais quoi and are born with the ability to come up with amazing ideas. Others, like me, need some help.

A couple of months ago, after reading DIY blogs for awhile, I saw an old table at the curb so I grabbed it thinking that I (armed with the info gleaned from those DIY blogs)could transform this ugly beastie into something pretty. I was trying to see beyond the cobwebs, paint splotches and overall nastiness of the table to the beauty that just had to lie beneath.

Note to Crafty Bookworm: There's looking past the uglies and then there's just plain crap. Truer words were never spoken.

Sadly, what I picked up was total and utter crap. A poorly made DIY job (I hadn't taken much time to look at it because I was more worried about someone seeing me taking their crap from the curb!) and it was just plain nasty. The legs were made out of 2x4s that weren't even straight!! When Brad came home he looked at me and said "PLEASE tell me that someone forced you to take that table.". 'Why no, darling. I was going to transform it with the wonder of paint and hard work'. Weeelll, he was right. There was no saving it. It was quickly and humanely put out of its misery.

After that little experience I decided some changes were in order. Instead of starting big (ie transforming furniture) I've decided to start small. Simple and small. So off I went into Blogland and found a great beginner craft for me. A quick trip to the local Dollarama and literally $2 later ($1 for the jute twine and $1 for 6 styrofoam balls) and I had the stuff I needed (we already had a glue gun and glue sticks). I can get my craft on with minimal cost and risk.

The craft is simple (for detailed instructions check out the link above). Basically, all you do is take a styrofoam ball, wrap twine (jute) around it while securing it every so often with hot glue and voila! A home decor lovely to put in a bowl to add some nice texture to a room. I made them whilst my best friend Nate Berkus came over to chat about home decor. ;) My first ball was nice but you could see the hardened glue peeking through every so often. My second attempt went quicker (15 minutes) and looked a lot better -- neater and looked prettier (it's the ball sitting on top of the plain styrofoam balls in the picture above). I'd love to get some spray paint and see if I can tint them a bit because I'd love more hits of apple green in my family room.

I think my biggest challenge and obstacle for doing DIY stuff (big or small) is overcoming my Type A/Perfectionist issues. I'm so afraid of screwing something up that I don't take the risk. I'm planning on taking baby steps and I did get a kick out of making something for about 25 cents instead of paying a lot more in store (I had previously bought some decorative balls at Walmart for $10 for 5 balls). Soooo much cheaper to make them and I get the added benefit of getting my craft on!

UPDATE - April 13, 2011: A couple of days after making these jute balls I took a trip to my local Canadian Tire store and bought some lovely ivy green spray paint. I painted up one of my new jute balls and now it's a loverly green!! Looks great amongst it's fellow plain buddies! I think I may have a new found love for everything spray paint!!!



This project is linked to giveaways

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lazy Caesar Cabbage Roll Casserole


Today, in my corner of the world, it's a dreary, wet and chilly day. It's the perfect day to make a comfort food that fills my belly as well as my Canadian soul. I do enjoy a good cabbage roll but the mere thought of rolling all that meat/rice mixture into cabbage leaves really turns me off mainly because I'm much too lazy. So I figured I'd make a cabbage roll casserole. Well, I can't just stop there, could I? Of course not.

I wanted to tweak it a bit and give it a Canadian spin!! All of a sudden I thought about combining the comfort food of cabbage rolls with the Canuckiness (is that a word?) of the Mighty Canadian Caesar cocktail. The Caesar is the crazy Canuck cousin of the Bloody Mary that is made with vodka, Clamato juice, loads of seasonings and usually a lovely stalk of celery.

Canadian Pride Trivia: The first Caesar was made in Calgary by bartender Walter Chell back in 1969. Over 250 million Caesars are sold every year making it the #1 selling cocktail in Canada. Can I hear an "EH!!!"?!?!?

Now, before you start getting too excited this dish does not include the alcoholic side of the Caesar so put your vodka away! Go on! We're just going for the taste and flavour of the Caesar.

One of the big differences with traditional cabbage rolls and this dish is that I'm going to be using Clamato juice instead of traditional tomato juice. I know that Clamato juice is pretty popular here in The Great White North but I'm not sure how popular it is outside of Canada. Can any non-Canucks let me know if you can buy it in your neck of the woods? For those who aren't familiar with Clamato juice it's a mixture of tomato juice (which I find to be fairly blaw on its own) and clam juice. I know that clam juice doesn't make for a tasty mental image (how does one get juice from a clam?) but it is very tasty!

I also added a few other tweaks as well. Brad and I luuurve to put horseradish in our Caesars for some added kick and flavour. Deeelish! I also combined both sausage and ground beef and threw in some saurkraut as well. If I'm going to make a meal using cabbage I might as well go whole hog on the gas factor and add some saurkraut into the mix as well.

The overall taste of this casserole was a mild one but I chose to not spike up the heat with Tabasco sauce. Next time I think I'd use Spicy Clamato juice, increase the horseradish and Tabasco and add some celery salt too! So without further adieu, I give you the Lazy Caesar Cabbage Roll Casserole! Enjoy!

1 medium head of cabbage, shredded (approx. 6 cups)
1lb ground beef
5 honey-garlic sausages, uncased
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion, diced
1/2 green pepper, diced
1 cup uncooked rice (I used Minute Rice)
16oz saurkraut, drained
2 cans condensed tomato soup
1 can water
2 cups Clamato juice
2 tsp Worchestershire sauce
2 tbsp horseradish
several shots of Tabasco sauce (optional)
To taste - salt and pepper
To taste - Club House Caesar Rim seasoning

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large skillet, cook ground beef, sausage, garlic, onion and green pepper over medium heat until beef is no longer pink and sausage is cooked through.
Grease a 9x13" glass or stone dish (don't use metal because the acidity from the tomato sauce will react with it). Place half of the cabbage in the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle half of the meat mixture over top. Sprinkle uncooked rice over meat mixture followed by the sauerkraut. Repeat layers using remaining: cabbage and meat mixture.

In a bowl, combine tomato soup, water, Clamato juice, Worchestershire sauce, horseradish and Tabasco (if using). Pour mixture over meat/rice/sauerkraut mixture. Season with Caesar Rim seasoning (if using) and salt & pepper.

Cover with foil and place baking dish on top of a rimmed cookie sheet (it WILL overflow and mess up your oven!). Bake for 1 1/2-2 hours.

Canadian Trivia Tidbits from: http://www.thatsthespirit.com/en/drinks/caesar_40th.asp


Monday, April 4, 2011

Just Peachy Rice Pudding

I've always suspected that I have the taste palate of an old soul. I honestly enjoy mushy peas, bread pudding, tapioca pudding, egg salad sandwiches, cottage cheese and yes, rice pudding. Let's just say that, growing up, my Nana and I liked a lot of the same foods! As a child, I knew that to admit that I enjoyed dishes like these wouldn't be cool so I kept my love of these foods to myself. Well, no more! I .... love ... rice pudding! There, I said it.

Now, I have never confessed to being a perfect cook and regularly make mistakes but sometimes I get a little too big for my britches and the Powers That Be bring me back down to earth ... hard. Case in point: When I read a similar recipe it stated to cook this dish over medium heat until the milk boils. Me, in my 'infinite' and slightly deluded wisdom, decided that a medium temperature wasn't hot enough so I upped it a bit to medium-high. *enter in powers that be* Even with constant stirring my pudding began to stick to the bottom edges and made a wee bit of a mess and my rice was just a tad underdone (I assume that happened because getting the mixture to boil over medium heat would take longer and give the rice more time to cook than if you upped the temperature like I did).

Now, these faux pas of mine weren't enough to throw out the dish (I'm not crazy!) but enough for me to give myself a mental smack for committing the culinary sin of 'Being Cocky in the Kitchen'. So what I'm saying is, there are certain things you can tweak in a recipe and certain things that you just have to follow. Duly noted, Powers That Be. Duly noted.

I hope you enjoy this dish. It's creamy and I luuurve (not just love, I luuurve it) the taste of nutmeg paired with the peaches. I also love that the ingredients are always in my pantry in case I get the rice pudding urge again.

Just Peachy Rice Pudding


Source: The Baking Bookworm

Yield: 6 servings

2 cups milk
14oz can peach slices - drained (keep liquid) & peaches diced
Juice from peach slices (I got about 1/2 cup)
136g (6 serving) box vanilla cooked pudding & pie filling (not instant)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 cup instant rice
Garnish: Cinnamon sugar (optional)

Place all ingredients except diced peaches in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly until mixture thickens. Remove from heat.

Add diced peaches and let pudding stand for 15 minutes before serving. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar over tops of individual dishes, if desired. Store leftovers in the fridge.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Twisted



Author: Andrea Kane

Pages: 376

Genre: Suspense/Mystery

Type: Hardcover

Series: 1st book in the FBI series

First Line: "She was a true warrior."



Synopsis
: Sloane Burbank is a former FBI agent and crisis negotiator who had to step down from her duties after she was the victim of a violent attack which left her with limited use of her one hand. She now uses the skills she learned with the FBI as an independent consultant to help on independent cases as well as aiding other law enforcement. When her childhood friend Penny's parents contact her and beg for her help in locating their daughter who has been missing for a year Sloane feels compelled to help.


Sloane contacts the best FBI agent she knows to help with the case, SA Derek Parker. Unfortunately Sloane and Derek have a past that left them both with a lot of baggage and a lot of anger. Derek is busy on a multiple murder case and doesn't have a lot of time to commit to Sloane's case but when more women disappear and others are found brutally murdered Derek and Sloane overcome their personal issues and work together to find the psycopathic serial killer before he strikes again.



My Thoughts
: I really enjoyed this fast-paced suspense read. Towards the beginning when characters were being introduced I was trying to deduce 'who dunnit'. I've watched more than my share of "Law & Order", not to mention "Criminal Minds" (hey Shamar!) so I totally feel qualified when it comes to solving the case. Wellll, my 'degree in TV criminology' was quite lacking because I kept flipping back and forth between two different suspects and while I did, in the end, guess the right one I loved being on the edge of my seat. Towards the end I literally couldn't put it down and had to stop myself from reading ahead to find out what happened. Love that!


I also loved how the author had detailed information to help the reader understand the intricacies of the levels of American law enforcement including the FBI and local police. It never hurts to learn a little whilst enjoying a fun read!


My beefs about this book are few. I found the ending was a little too neat and tidy, not to mention abrupt. Also, the banter between Sloane and Derek, while usually quirky and flirty, at times got a little too cheesy for my taste.


Overall, a great read. I look forward to reading more from this author.



My Rating
: 4.5/5 stars


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Argh! Blogger formatting problems

For some unknown reason Blogger has decided to lump all of my post (funny banter, ingredients, instructions etc) all together into one giant paragraph. I'm hoping to find a solution soon so I can post a very yummy Chocolate Monkey for Adults drink that Brad made me last week as well as my mom's Chicken Cacciatore recipe that we inhaled tonight. Fingers crossed that Blogger fixes this soon or they'll have pretty angry bloggers breathing down their virtual necks!
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