Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Banana Oatmeal

I hope everyone has had a great couple of days.  I spent my Monday with a sick 10 year old but was so happy that he bounced back right away because Brad and I took 12 year old Boy 1 and Boy 2 to see Hedley in concert last night!!!  Oh ya!  It was Boy 2's first concert and it ... was ... awesome!  Jacob Hoggard and his band of merry men put on a great show that was literally non-stop.  It was such a great experience that I left with my voice a little hoarse from all the singing and screamin'!  FYI: Hedley is a great Canadian group and being able to take my menfolk to see them live was the icing on the proverbial cake.  Ok, enough of my love of Hedley.

Let's talk comfort.  I don't know about you but when I get stressed from work, life etc I look for comfort.  Some people take comfort by soaking in a bath, some get a massage while others, like me, eat.  If there's one thing that will put a smile on my face and make all my troubles seem a little less daunting it's sampling my favourite Comfort Foods.  I have many comfort foods to choose from depending on what kind of comfort I need (or more likely what food I have in my fridge).   Whether it's the trio of comfort: baked ham, scalloped potatoes and baked beans.  Fried or baked potatoes with dollops of sour cream.  Or Black Forest Brownies.  I do love me my comfort food!

One of my all-time, 'I can eat this dish at any time of the day or night' has got to be homemade oatmeal.  I know what you're thinking.  "Laurie, you're suck a food geek!  Oatmeal??".  Perhaps I am but stay with me here.  But I'm not talking about the kind that comes in a little pouch that you just add water too (do NOT get me started on the blasphemy that is candy 'dinosaur eggs' in oatmeal!! Yuck!).  I'm talking about the stick to your ribs, totally filling, warm the cockles of yer heart, slathered in brown sugar and encircled by milk Oatmeal/Porridge/Parritch!!   

While I'm not a porridge purist (I do enjoy the Peaches and Cream by Quaker) I much prefer whipping up some of the homemade variety when I need a pick me up or instead of something wicked in the evenings ... like chips, ice cream, cookies etc.   I figure if it's oatmeal (homemade, no less) there's got to be less calories and sinfullness.  A handful of raisins makes it an even better choice, right??  Do not question my unique and immensely compelling ability to rationalize my love of oatmeal. 

It should now come as no surprise to you that I was in my own personal nirvana when I came across this recipe for Banana Oatmeal via Pinterest.  Ahhh, Pinterest.  You are my wicked, wicked addiction but also a great way to find wonderful new recipes and fellow bloggers!  I found this recipe on Cooking Classy where blogger, Jaclyn, not only shares this delicious recipe but also has an amazing recipe for Cinnamon Roll Oatmeal (be still my heart!!) that I just have to try.  Marry the delicious treat of cinnamon rolls with oatmeal?  Yes please!!

So if you're in the mood for some comfort whip up a batch of this oatmeal, put on a Hedley CD and chill.  Ahhh, I feel comforted already. :)


1 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup buttermilk (see Tip below)
1 overripe banana, mashed
3 tbsp brown sugar, packed
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 small pinch cloves
1 pinch nutmeg
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla

Optional Garnishes -- milk, cream or chopped pecans

In a medium saucepan, bring milk and water to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and stir in oats, buttermilk, mashed banana, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and salt.  Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove oatmeal from heat.  Stir in vanilla.  Mixture will be fairly runny still.  Cover with a lid and let it sit for 3-5 minutes.  Serve warm with garnishes, if desired.

Tip:  I very rarely buy buttermilk.  Instead, for every cup of buttermilk just add 1 tbsp of white vinegar to regular milk.  Let it sit for 5-10 minutes (it'll look chunky) before using.

Recipe inspired by: http://cookingclassy.blogspot.com/2012/01/banana-oatmeal.html

Linked to: A Little Nosh

Monday, 27 February 2012

Left Neglected


Author: Lisa Genova
Pages: 352
Genre: Modern Fiction
Type: Paperback
Published by: Gallery Books
First Published: July 2011
First Line: "I think some small part of me knew I was living an unsustainable life."

My Synopsis: Sarah Nickerson is a highly successful business woman who has an overwhelmingly hectic life and not enough hours in each day to get everything done.  She has an important and stressful corporate job, she's the mother of three children, owns two homes and has an equally busy husband.  It's due to all of her responsibilities that Sarah has every minute of every day scheduled.

One day while driving to an appointment Sarah briefly takes her eyes off the rode to check her phone.  Unfortunately in that split second Sarah loses control of her car and wakes up in a hospital with a traumatic head injury.  Her doctor tells her that she is suffering from "Left Neglect" which means that her brain doesn't recognize or even acknowledge anything on Sarah's left -- be it her left hand, the left side of a page, the food on the left side of her plate or someone sitting on her left.  To Sarah's brain the 'left' no longer exists.  This leaves the very confident Sarah in a very vulnerable situation where she must begin the arduous task of (hopefully) reteaching her brain to acknowledge the left of everything.  In the process Sarah learns to slow her life down and finds out that her in her formerly hectic life she was missing out on some of the most valuable things of all.

My Thoughts: After reading Genova's first book "Still Alice" a few years ago and loving it (see my book review HERE) I was very excited to read Genova's most recent book.  While I liked "Left Neglected" I would say that it isn't nearly as compelling or riveting as "Still Alice".  Don't get me wrong, Genova brings a unique situation to her story but there were a few things that I didn't love.

First, I had a hard time liking Sarah.  Let's just say that I see she and I ever being friends.  When we first met Sarah she was very arrogant and seemed more focused on her job than her family which I had a hard time relating to. She was also very materialistic and gushed more about her amazing coffee machine than she did about her baby.   I just found that odd and hard to relate to.  She seemed to love her husband but also bullied him into moving etc.  Just not a likeable character even after her rehabilitation.  Side note: Something that would have rounded out the book for me would be to know what her husband Bob's inner thoughts were throughout his wife's accident, rehabilitation and her reentry into their lives.

Secondly,  I have to admit that the story dragged in the middle and the ending was predictable.  Everything seemed to fall into place a little too easily for me.

This next point may have more to do with my cranium than the author's words.  Even though Genova detailed the symptoms of Left Neglect I still had a hard time conceptualizing exactly what it felt like to live with this brain injury.  The left doesn't exist ... why?  How can a brain not acknowledge half of everything?  I just couldn't wrap my brain around the concept.

What I did enjoy about this book is seeing how Sarah's life changes after the accident.  She is literally forced by her injuries to slow down her chaotic life and reexamine and change her priorities.  I liked that her transformation wasn't immediate (that wouldn't have been believable) and that she stumbled and had to learn to accept help, even from her neglectful mother.  Sarah slowly learns that the things that once seemed essential (two homes, having a great nanny on-hand, climbing the corporate ladder) doesn't seem that important when Sarah sees all of the little things that she's been missing out on (heart-to-heart talks with her son, cuddling with her baby, not hustling out the door to the next appointment ...).

Don't get me wrong, I liked this book but it pales in comparison to "Still Alice".  What I am taking away from "Left Neglected" is the extremely important reminder to not take your life or loved ones for granted.  Things can literally change in an instant.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Friday, 24 February 2012

Rich & Creamy Faux Fredo Sauce

I don't know about you but more often than not I just don't seem to have the energy to whip up some time consuming meal for my family.  It's not that I don't want to feed them something wonderful and home cooked.  I just have no get up and go or the time to get supper on the table before some form of martial arts/Scouting etc has my family rushing out the door.  Truth be told I'd rather have a personal chef named Francois at my beck and call to make me supper but we can't have everything, can we?

Maybe it's this blaw lacklustre winter we've been experiencing around here that's been sucking my energy  This winter has not nearly lived up to my expectations.  As a girl who lived in northern Ontario from the age of 1 to 11 years old I have vivid, happy memories of building HUGE snow forts, downhill skiing, going snow shoeing for gym class, cross-country skiing with my family, snowmobiling and freezing my bippy off attempting to learn how to skate at my outdoor lessons.  This winter??  Does ... not ... compare.  Not even close! 

For example, last night it was all over the news that a big snow storm was coming.  We Canadians may talk and complain about the weather a lot but I have to admit that I love me a good snow storm.  As long as me and mine are safely inside we're all for a huge dump of snow!  Kids in our area were doing happy dances at the thought of a Snow Day.  Moms were washing toques (that's a winter hat for you non-Canucks) and neck warmers so we could take the kids tobogganing.  Guys were eager to get their snow blowers out for maybe the second time this winter.  Weeelll, this 'storm' hit alright.  All 5cm of snow.  Yup.  Five pathetic, meagre centimetres.  I could still see the tips of grass poking through the dusting of snow for goodness sake!! 

How did we mighty Canadians handle this sad amount of snow??  Well, our local school board handled it by totally wussing out.  School buses were cancelled due to the imagined chaos that ensues with .... 5 cm of snow.  Sad but true. 

The buses may have been cancelled but the schools were still open so my little darlings were herded off to higher learning (and not without an impressive, yet futile, attempt at negotiating and whining to stay home).  My motherly advice??  "Suck it up buttercup.  Back in MY day we went to school even when it was -30C!  I kid you not.  I respect you too much to coddle you by keeping you home.  You're made of tough northern Ontario stock!!"  Apparently not all parents thought like we did and kept their kids home.  Boy 1 texted me at lunch to tell me that he only had 11 kids in his Grade 7 class -- cue Mean Mom music.  Seriously people!!  If you were scared about that amount of snow you might as well just hand over your Cool Canuck membership cards and buy a condo in Mexico!

Ok.  My snow rant has ended.  My point of this post was to share with you all a tasty and easy meal that you can whip on on a crazy week night all from your stove top.  It's a rich dish that will impress but doesn't take nearly the energy that you'd think a dish this tasty would take!  With the help of a programmed bread maker you can have this pasta, a loaf of fresh bread and a green salad on the table in 30-40 minutes start to finish.  Enjoy!

Rich and Creamy Faux Fredo


Yield: 6 servings

1/4 tbsp butter (no substitutes)
6 garlic cloves, minced
8oz pkg cream cheese -- softened and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups milk (I used 1%)
1/2 cup half-and-half creamer
6oz fresh Parmesan cheese, grated (approximately 2 cups)
3/4 tsp ground black pepper
3/4 tsp salt

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the minced garlic and cook for approximately 2 minutes, stirring constantly to ensure that the garlic doesn't get too browned.

Add the pieces of softened cream cheese, stirring with a whisk until the mixture is smooth.  This will take several minutes in order to get a smooth texture. 

Gradually add the milk and half-and-half, about 1/4 cup at a time, whisking quickly and constantly until each addition of milk/creamer is incorporated into the sauce.  Stir in the fresh Parmesan cheese, pepper and salt.  Stir constantly until the cheese has melted.  Cook for 3-4 minutes in order for the sauce to thicken.

Serve immediately over hot noodles accompanied by a green salad and a crusty loaf of bread.

Recipe Inspired by one of my favourite sites: melskitchencafe.com

Option: Add grilled chicken breast or shrimp to this dish.

Linked to: A Little Nosh

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Blue Bells of Scotland: Book One


Author: Laura Vosika
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Kindle ebook
First Published:
First Line: "Shawn means self and Kleiner means centered!"

Synopsis:  Shawn Kleiner is a world famous classical musician who loves himself almost as much as his adoring fans.  With money, power, a wonderful girlfriend in Amy and an endless supply of women on the side he feels that he's at the top of his game.

While on tour in Scotland, Amy finally has enough of his boorish ways and abandons Shawn in an old Scottish castle.  When Shawn awakes in the morning he finds himself being mistaken for Niall Campbell, a tough Scottish warrior.  He quickly learns that he has somehow been transported back into the early 1300's.  He soon finds himself on a dangerous quest being chased by English soldiers and a Scottish traitor with only the tough and very capable fiancee of Niall to help him along.

Meanwhile, Niall Campbell unexpectedly awakens in his castle .... 700 years in the future.  When Amy returns to the castle the following day to retrieve her lecherous boyfriend she finds 'Shawn' to be very much changed.   Niall plays along with the farce in order to learn more of his clan's fate at the battle of Bannockburn.  He vows to find a way to change the course of history, all the while trying to keep up the charade of being Shawn.  Will the two men be able to return to their own times?  Will Niall be able to change his clan's fate?

My Thoughts:  If I had to describe this book I'd have to say that it is a very light, slightly romantic, time travelling romp through the Scottish highlands.  The main thing that drew me to this book was the fact that it was set in Scotland (I love me a man in a kilt!) and had something to do with time travel.  These two things, of course, get me thinking of the "Outlander" series by Diana Gabaldon which I really enjoyed.

While this book wasn't nearly as focused on the historical details (which isn't a bad thing - in many spots the Outlander series was bogged down with details) it also didn't have that amazing, deep connection between the main characters.  I just didn't buy into either of the couples connection and I think that's because Amy, Shawn, Niall and Allene were one-dimensional cliches.  We have the girlfriend who is walked over -- check --, the lecherous lady's man -- check --, the brave and brawny warrior with a love of God and clan -- check and the strong and independent fiancee -- check!  A little more depth in their characters would have greatly helped me in believing who they were and their relationships.

I really think that if an author wants to hook me they have to be authentic to the time they're writing about.  I have to believe it.  I have to be able to picture how they dress, how they speak, their surroundings ....  Unfortunately,  there were many things that I found unbelievable with this book.  For example, how quickly and easily Niall picked up modern-day English and and how Shawn was able to easily converse with 14th century Scotsmen with his basic knowledge of Gaelic from his childhood in historical re-enactments with his father.  Please don't ask me to believe that that's possible!!

I also felt that the explanation of how the time travel happened wasn't addressed.  I kept waiting for how the swap happened but it was never explained clearly.   I don't necessarily need standing stones (a la "Outlander") or a Time Turner (a la Harry Potter) but I do need some kind of explanation! 

I think another reason why I luuurve books set in Scotland is because I've got a major thing for Scottish brogue.  Mmmmm.  Nothin' like a brogue where the r's seem to roll on forever, am I right??  Sadly, the brogue in this book was written very awkwardly.  For example, "Whoot nawnsense is this!?".   Personally, I feel my knickers getting in a knot when I'm phonetically spoonfed the accent of the character.  I think there is an art to writing in an accent and phonetically isn't the way to go (for me anyway). 

What I did enjoy about this book is seeing how the two men dealt with being thrown into a different era and all that that entails.  For Niall, he went from 1314 Scotland to the 21 century complete with our gadgets and modern conveniences, better health, lack of manners and living in relative safety.  Poor Shawn went from being babied in modern times to living with just the clothes on his back and learning that his schmarmy ladies man tactics won't help him in the 1300's.  Seeing Shawn learn the meaning of true power was enlightening even if it was pretty predictable.  For modern-day Shawn, money had always bought him power. When he's whisked back into the 1300's he quickly learns that authority, security, and strength of character are what help leaders get and maintain authority and respect from others. 

Overall, this was a very light and predictable read that I'd only suggest as an easy beach read.  I do not plan to read the other books in the series.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

House Rules


Author: Jodi Picoult
Genre: Modern Fiction
Type: Paperback
Pages: 532
First Published:
First Line: "Everywhere I look there are signs of a struggle."

Synopsis: Jacob is a teenage boy who has Asperger's Syndrome.  This means that he is unable to read social cues or to clearly express himself to others.  Although his AS symptoms hinder him socially they do not stop him from being brilliant in the field of forensic science.  He is infatuated with everything to do with forensics including listening to his police scanner, checking out real crime scenes and setting up fake crime scenes to see if his mom can figure out the crime.

It's due to his love of forensic science that the police come to question Jacob when someone in town is brutally murdered.  When Jacob is questioned by police who have no experience with Aspergers, Jacob's symptoms are interpreted as signs of guilt and remorse.  Suddenly, Jacob and his family are thrust into the media spotlight.  Although his family loves him, they can't help but wonder if Jacob is capable of committing murder.  

My ThoughtsPicoult is one of those authors who is known for writing books that focus on popular issues.  Her books are typically easy to read and are based around some sort of hot topic (and somehow usually end up in a court room).  She is skilled at writing from various viewpoints whether it's describing the feelings and internal dialogue of a 40 year old mother or a 15 year old teenage boy.

It's this ability to get inside the heads of her characters that made this book for me.  Picoult has written a fascinating look into the lives of a teenage boy with Asperger's Syndrome and how it affects not only his day-to-day life but the lives of his mother, Emma and younger brother, Theo.  We see how Emma struggles to mainstream Jacob and give him a full life but in the process leaves her younger son Theo to fend for himself most of the time. 

I do not want to make light of AS or its symptoms but if I'm being honest, the image that I kept getting while reading about the symptoms of this syndrome was .... Sheldon Cooper of "The Big Bang Theory".  I assume the the writers of that show wrote his character as a person with AS because he has so many of the symptoms (minimal eye contact, very smart, does not understand social cues, sarcasm, STRICTLY adheres to schedules and rules ....).  It was actually a little distracting for me (since I'm a huge fan of the show -- I love me my Sheldon!). 

Sheldon and Jacob both seem to have all of the symptoms of Aspergers.  I'm interested to find out if people with AS usually have all the symptoms or just a few.  Was Jacob (and Sheldon for that matter) written as a realistic portrayal of a person with AS??  It's something I plan to look into. 

Overall, I think Picoult managed to portray the struggles and strengths of AS with compassion and respect.  She also vividly described what it felt like to not only live with AS but what it feels like to have a family member with AS.  From younger brother, Theo's feelings of embarrassment and isolation, to his mother's all-consuming focus on trying to keep Jacob in the world outside himself.  All of the choices she made (as well as the things she gave up) in order to give her eldest son the best life possible (sadly, even to the detriment of her younger son).

One of the things that struck me about Jacob was the fact that he saw his AS as a benefit and not a disability.  He was completely happy with who he was.  I wasn't expecting that. 

Getting inside the head and family of an Asperger's teen was my favourite part of the book. The ensuing mystery and court case? Not so much. Even less so for the little romance that seemed to be thrown in at the last minute and didn't add to the overall story for me.  Honestly, I would have preferred learning more about AS.  It felt like the court case in the last half of the book bogged down the momentum of the book.  One simple question from Emma to Jacob ("Did you kill her?") could have resolved the whole court room drama.  It felt a little silly that the lawyer and mother (or even Theo) didn't come right out and just ask Jacob if he did it or not.

If I was asked what the weakest part of the book was it would have to be the ending.  It was predictable and surprisingly vague.  From almost the beginning I had guessed what was going to happen but I kept reading hoping that she'd throw some sort of cool twist.  Sadly there was no twist.

Despite this being yet another Picoult read that ends in a court room, I did enjoy this read and walked away from this book feeling like I have a better understanding for AS as well as a respect for those that deal with the day-to-day issues and intolerance surrounding this syndrome.

Picoult's writing is strong and you can tell she researched AS but the overall feeling that I got from the book was a little let down.  The highlight of this book was learning more about AS.  I just wish the momentum and twists in the plot would have been more pronounced to carry the book to a great ending.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Friday, 10 February 2012

Sour Cream Raisin Bran Muffins

What's the first thing that you think of when I say the words "Bran Muffin".  Be honest.  You think of some dry, tasteless muffin your Great Aunt Gertrude likes to eat, right?  A baked good that can barely call itself a 'muffin' since it doesn't have any chocolate chips or fancy crumble on top? 

Honestly?  I think bran muffins have gotten a bad rap.  Yes, they're high in fibre.  Yes, they're good for you.  And no, they're not exciting or overly attractive (I've never heard people exclaim "Now THAT'S a really gorgeous looking bran muffin!").  But we're going to be above judging a baked good solely on it's good looks.  We're bigger than that, people!  We're going to base our decision on whether a bran muffin is worthy enough to touch our lips based on taste (and we'll try to make them as pretty and appealing as possible to get our little minions to eat them).

One of the main benefits of the mighty bran muffin is the fact that it packs a wallop in the fibre department.  That extra fibre helps to maintain intestinal health so your body can absorb all the good nutrients that you eat.  It's also packed with omegas, vitamins and protein.  Point?  Bran = good for you. 

I figured that if we're upping our fibre intake we might as well give it all we got!  Let's throw caution to the wind and add some ground flax seed too!  I've jumped onto the flax seed bandwagon wholeheartedly!  At first it was impossible for me to find a peanut-free option but once a friend of mine found a Canadian producer of flax that is not produced alongside any peanuts I was basking in the glow of the golden flax seed.  For those of you who also have loved ones with a peanut allergy, or you just want some truly amazing flax seed, check out www.canadiangoldenflaxseed.com and tell them The Baking Bookworm sent ya!

Ok, so we have bran and flax seed.  Not overly exciting yet but stay with me!!  What goes well with bran?  Raisins!  Unfortunately, one of my kids has a hate on for Nature's Candy.  When I refer to raisins as Nature's Candy his eyes get all squinty and he just says "Those are not candy".  I think the reason he has a hate on for raisins is because I don't use raisins very often so they quickly become these dry, hard to chew little nasties.  Not a great selling feature. 

In this recipe I vowed to give raisins some better street cred amongst my little peeps by giving them a nice hot bath while I got the batter ready.  Who among us doesn't feel invigorated after a nice hot bath or shower?  Raisins are no different!  Once these little guys soak in a hot bath they are no longer dry and gross.  They go in looking like something a bunny may have left behind and come out totally transformed into plump beauties and add a wonderful sweetness and flavour to the muffins.

One tip I will give you for these muffins is to not use bran cereal. Those muffins never really look right to me and you often have to soak the bran in a milky mixture to get rid of the flake texture.  Natural bran (it should be near the oats in your food store) is substantially cheaper and has a much finer texture which, I think, gives the muffin a nice look.  Bran has enough of a complex.  Let's do all we can to make it look pretty!

If you also have a love for bran muffins stand with me!!  Let's put bran muffins back on the map of tasty baked goods!!  This is honestly the best Raisin Bran muffin that I've ever had.  They have a wonderful flavour, they're moist and have a great texture.   The fact that they're also good for me just makes me feel that much better about schnorffing one down with my morning java .... every day this week.  Enjoy!

Sour Cream Raisin Bran Muffins

Yield: 12 muffins

1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 large egg, beaten lightly
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup dark molasses
2 tbsp ground flax seed
1 cup (minus 2 tbsp) all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup natural bran

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

Pour water into a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil and add raisins.  Cook for 5 minutes. 

Meanwhile, in the large bowl of a stand mixer (or you can do it by hand) cream together the butter and brown sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg, sour cream and molasses.

Your raisins should be nice and plump by now.  They may even look a little pale -- that's ok!).  Drain them and pour cold water over them. Set aside.

Pour ground flax seed into a 1-cup measuring cup.  Pour flour into the same cup - enough to measure 1 cup.  Pour flax/flour mixture into a medium bowl.  Add baking soda, salt and bran.  Mix well.

Add the bran mixture to the butter mixture and gently stir until just combined.  Drain raisins well and gently fold into the batter.

Spoon batter into the prepared muffin tin and bake for 15-20 minutes or until they are golden on top and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.  Place muffins onto a rack until complete cool.  Store in an airtight container or freeze.

Tip:  Try to grind flax seed as needed. Store excess ground flax seed in an air-tight container in your fridge.  Use within 1-2 weeks in order to get the maximum amount of nutrients.

Inspired by: Epicurious.com's Sour Cream Bran Muffins 


Sunday, 5 February 2012

Buffalo Chicken Bundles with Avocado Blue Cheese Dip


Another Super Bowl over and done with.  For me, the Super Bowl isn't about football, it's about the food.  The only thing I found 'super' was the fact that my belt didn't burst due to the amount of food I shovelled into my big old wazoo.  It's not a party until you're regretting that last bite.  Am I right?
Just because it was the five of us didn't mean that we were going to hold back on food.  I made my SUPER Taco Dip, devilled eggs & wiener rolls (as requested for the two less adventurous peeps among us), homemade potato skins (complete with crisp bacon, green onions and loads of cheese) as well as this new appetizer. 

Let me just say that Brad and I polished off these little bundles of joy very easily.  Oh yes, my friends.  Picture it if you will.  Buffalo chicken wings minus those pesky bones surrounded by pastry and dipped into a heavenly mixture of avocado and Blue cheese dressing.  O-M-G!  So delish!  Brad and I had stupid grins on our faces as we bit into them.  They are that good!
I cannot take credit for the recipe though.  The kudos and praise have to go to Kristin at Iowagirleats.com.   Not only does she make a proverbial touchdown with this dish but she has tonnes of other recipes that I can't wait to try including Caprese Skewers with Balsamic Drizzle and Mini Corn Dog Muffins (which were on my Super Bowl menu but I didn't have enough time to make).  I will admit that I have changed the recipe a tad but that was only because I wasn't paying attention and used more Ranch mix than was called for.   It tasted delish so I kept my change in the recipe below. 

Anyway, as soon as I saw this Chicken Bundle recipe on Pinterest I knew I had to make it for our par-tay.  Blue cheese is my new 'goat cheese' for 2012 (ie. I'm gonna obsess about it!!!) and the thought of a less messy way to eat Buffalo chicken wings was extremely appealing (my 12 year old is addicted to all things chicken wing and can get fairly messy whilst he inhales his favourite poultry).  Needless to say, there are none of these little bundles o' bliss left ... but I do have some of the cream cheese filling and chicken mixture left over so I'll be experimenting with various wraps/quesadillas etc tomorrow on my day off.  Day off?  Oh yes, a quiet house after a long weekend with the family is Super, indeed. :)

Buffalo Chicken Bundles with Avocado Blue Cheese Dip

4oz cream cheese, softened
1 (28g) packet dry Ranch dressing mix, divided
1 large chicken breast (or equivalent in unbreaded raw chicken strips), cut into small pieces
3-4 Tablespoons Buffalo wing sauce (I used Frank's Buffalo Wing Sauce)
1 tube Pillsbury crescent rolls


Avocado Bleu Cheese Dip
1 avocado
1/3 cup blue cheese dressing


In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese and 3 teaspoons of the Ranch dressing mix.  Set aside.

Place chicken pieces into a medium bowl.  Add the remainder of the Ranch dressing mix to the chicken and combine well.  In a skillet sprayed with cooking spray, cook chicken over medium heat until the chicken is no longer pink.  Place chicken pieces into a bowl and add the Buffalo wing sauce, making sure that the chicken is well coated.

Preaheat oven to 375F and place your oven rack on the lowest level.

Open the crescent roll package and separate them into 4 squares (2 triangles each).  With a rolling pin, roll the squares a bit to make them a little bigger and to ensure that the pieces are nice and square.  Equilateral triangles (yes, we're using math!) and not odd shaped trianges are easier to work with.

Using a pizza cutter (or knife), cut each square along the dotted line between the two triangles.  Also make a cut between the other two corners.  This will give you four triangles.  Do the same with the other squares of dough.

Place a teaspoon-size dollop of Ranch/cream cheese mixture onto the centre of each little triangle of dough.  Top with a few pieces of chicken.  Bring all three tips of the triangle up and over the chicken and pinch.  Pinch along the side seams to keep the filling inside.  If some of the sauce/cream cheese mixture spills out, it's ok.  It'll look great once it's baked.  Repeat these directions for each triangle.

Bake for 15-18 minutes or until the bundles are golden brown.

While the bundles are in the oven, mash the pulp of the avocado and combine with the blue cheese dressing.  Serve with the chicken bundles while they're still warm. 

Try not to eat them all in one sitting ... or at least pull on some stretchy yoga pants before you dive into this addicting dish.  Your belt will thank you. Inspired by: iowagirleats.com's Buffalo Chicken Poppers with Avocado Bleu Cheese Dip

Saturday, 4 February 2012

South of Salem


Author: Janni Nell
Genre: Supernatural/Paranormal
Type: Kindle ebook
First Published: 2011
Series: 2nd book in the Allegra Fairweather Paranormal Mystery series
Series Order: Allegra Fairweather Paranormal Investigator (2010)
First Line: "Thank God you're here."

Synopsis:  After solving a paranormal case in Scotland, Allegra heads home to the US.  Returning home can often be hard for adults.  Its especially hard when you're a paranormal investigator and your family doesn't hold a very high opinion of your chosen profession.  Instead they choose to ignore it in case it makes a nasty mark on the good family name.  Apparently all that changes when the family has a sudden and unexpected paranormal emergency.

Allegra's step-father, Steven, is an influential senator who has recently been demonstrating very odd and unexplainable behaviour.  Allegra's mother, the perfect senator's wife, is afraid that if his behaviour were known that it would ruin his political career.  Enter in Allegra and her quirky talent for unearthing all things paranormal.
As Allegra delves into the case she learns that things are much more dire than she originally thought.  As issues escalate and her family's fate is at risk Allegra is concerned that she may need more than the help of her guardian angel, Casper to help her solve this case. 

My Thoughts: It has been awhile since I had read the first book in the series but it didn't take me long to jump back on the Allegra bandwagon.  She is a very distinct main character.  A strong woman who is incredibly brave (which goes well with her penchant for getting herself into harrowing situations) and yet very relatable. 
In this book we see a new side to Allegra.  She's still a force to be reckoned with in paranormal situations but now we see where she came from.  Her 'familial baggage', if you will.  She's thrown off balance a bit being thrust back into her 'oh so perfect' family but it's also heart-warming to see how she jumps at the chance to help even though her family has never supported her chosen profession. 

Seeing her in this new dynamic rounded out her character for me.  I already knew she was a strong, smart and likeable main character but seeing where she came from really helped make her more 'real'.  I will admit that at times some of her interactions with her sister bordered on childish but being the oldest of three sisters I can kind of see how that could possibly happen. ;)

One of the main reasons that I wanted to read the second book in this series is to see where Allegra's relationship with her guardian angel Casper is headed.  Casper is not to be confused with the friendly ghost because he is more of the sexy, protective warrior kind of Casper.  I'm happy to say that Allegra and Casper's relationship is picked up where it left off and intensifies from there.  They still have 'the powers that be' watching their every move and soon have the threat of Casper possibly leaving Allegra forever.  This only forces them to become more clear on their feelings for each other.
Overall, 'South of Salem' is a good follow-up to Allegra Fairweather - Paranormal Investigator' (you can read my review of that book here).  Allegra continues to be a strong main character and I look forward to seeing where the author will take her relationship with Casper as well as (hopefully) incorporating Allegra's father into future storylines.  With Allegra's paranormal ability the sky seems to be the limit for ideas for future books.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Overnight French Toast Bake


After a short hiatus due to a weather induced migraine I'm back!!  Nothing stops me in my tracks like a migraine.  I couldn't eat, watch TV or even .... read!! The kicker is that when I have a migraine I don't even want to drink my morning java!!  I know, right?!?  Utterly debilitating!  No coffee in the morning?  What am I an animal??  Sadly, I was but a lump under the covers for 12 hours.  But enough about what a total wuss I am.  I'm back with a recipe that my peeps loved!

I don't know about you but my family adores breakfast.  Eggs, bacon, pancakes, waffles, toast ... you provide a breakfast food for my kids and they're in heaven!   If given the choice, my three kids would opt for 'breakfast for supper' every night.  Personally, I love making breakfast fare for supper because A) I'm much more awake at 5pm than I am in the wee hours of the morning, B) greasy breakfast clean up doesn't seem so daunting at 6pm as it does at 8:30am and C) I accrue Awesome Mom points by my children.

I made this French toast dish a couple of weeks ago for one of my work day suppers.  Nothing says easy supper like a dish you prep ahead of time and pop into the oven.  I figured if I made the casserole in the morning and let it sit all day in the fridge for 8 hours supper would be a breeze!  Toss some OJ, yogurt, fresh fruit and breakfast sausages on the table and dinner is d-o-n-e, done!

Needless to say this was a hit with those Breakfast Aficionados who dwell with me (Brad and I quite enjoyed it too).  In fact my 10 year old begged to have the leftovers for lunch the next day. :)

So if you're looking for an easy breakfast to serve a crowd (this recipe would double easily) or a time-saving supper idea that will get your Mini Humans to rave about how awesome you are give this recipe a try.

Overnight French Toast Bake

1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
dash of cloves
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped (optional)
5 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk
1/2 cup half-and-half cream
12 -14 slices of bread (I used a bag of Italian bread)

Pour melted butter into a 9x13-inch baking pan.

In a medium bowl, combine brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and pecans, if using. 

In another bowl, whisk together eggs, vanilla, milk and half-and-half cream.

Place your bread in the baking dish.  Sprinkle the brown sugar mixture over the bread.  If you're layering your bread like I did (propped up against each other) try to get the brown sugar down in between the slices.  You could also do two separate layers of bread.  Just make sure you only use half of the brown sugar mixture per layer. 

Pour egg mixture over the bread slices making sure that they're all evenly coated.  Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight (or all day if you're having breakfast for supper).

Preheat oven to 350F.  Bake the covered casserole for 30-40 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes or until the French toast is browned and set (not mushy).

Drizzle maple syrup over the bread slices.  Return dish to oven and bake for 5 more minutes to caramelize the top.  Serve warm with additional maple syrup and fresh fruit.

Yield: 6 servings

Recipe adapted from: www.mommyskitchen.net

Similar recipes you might like to tryOvernight Apple Cinnamon French Toast Bake

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

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