Saturday, March 31, 2012

Apple Raisin French Toast Bake

Sometimes if I'm really lucky dinner goes without a hitch.  You know those kind of blissful meals that I'm referring to.  The meals that seem to easily come together and culminate in a half hour where no one complains, everyone enjoys a delicious meal together and you get your family singing your praises about the food that you've lovingly prepared.  While meals like this seem to be as rare as seeing a yeti in a tutu singing a Clay Aiken song I can vouch that they are indeed real.  Rare, but real.  Its wonderful meals like that when I'm not sure if my moon was in the sixth circle of Venus or I've won some kind of karmic jackpot but I adore meals that are easy, tasty and get a 'standing O' from my peeps!!

With me going back to work this past Fall you know I'm always on the lookout for easy supper ideas that also taste great and are Whine-Free (ie. my kids love it).  My spawn are all die-hard breakfast fanatics so I went on the hunt for an overnight casserole recipe to serve for supper.  I figured I'd whip it up the night before and pop it in the fridge until supper time the following day.  Easy peasy! 

Now, I'm hoping that you're all big Baking Bookworm fans and are thinking "But Laurie, you already have two overnight French toast casseroles here on your blog!" (Overnight French Toast Bake and Apple Cinnamon Overnight French Toast).  Yes, yes I do.  This recipe may seem very similar to my Apple Cinnamon Overnight French Toast but it really isn't. That recipe used canned apple pie filling and while it was really delicious it was also very sweet. As a self-proclaimed 'salty gal' I wanted a less sugary dish (so I don't feel as bad bathing my French toast in gallons of maple syrup). Plus, using fresh apples is always better, right? Another way that this recipe stands out is that I used two types of bread (Cinnamon Raisin and Italian sandwich breads) and cut the slices into cubes which made serving it so much easier.

If you think that I have an obsession with breakfast foods that hang out in my fridge for several hours, you may be correct.  But I have good reasons.  First of all, my kids luuurve breakfast foods any time of day (especially Boy 2 - aka Mr Kellogg's).  Secondly, who doesn't love getting a meal ready ahead of time so you just have to pop it in the oven?  No one, that's who.  And third?  We're a proud Canadian family.  We have maple syrup running through our veins so creating a reason to eat maple syrup is a no brainer.  Can I hear an 'EH!!' from my fellow Canucks?!?

I do have a couple of beefs about breakfast though.  Breakfast foods are pretty messy (who among us loves to scrape scrambled eggs remnants out of a pan or adores dealing with bacon grease?).  Plus often times breakfast dishes are made to order.  This is where a breakfast casserole comes in handy.  One dish and everyone eats at the same time.  Mom or Dad isn't stuck manning the griddle while the next batch of pancakes or French toast cooks!

So did my family love this dish?  Weellll, I don't want to brag but I'm pretty sure that Boy 2 has nominated me for Mom of the Year.  After he sang my praises, gave me a hug and put his eyes back in his head after looking at this casserole he ate two enormous helpings.  I'm talking H-U-G-E!!  He even had some the following day.  "I'd like to thank Boy 2 and the Academy for this award ..."  But I digress.  My other two mini humans?  They were scared off by the raisins.  My kids compete in martial arts, go on massive roller coasters, camp in the middle of Canadian winters .... and they're scared of raisins.  Go figure.  That was fine with Boy 2 who was more than happy to have less competition for this casserole. 


Yield: 8 servings

1/3 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
pinch cloves
3 MacIntosh apples - peeled, cored and sliced
1 (450g) loaf of cinnamon raisin bread - cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 loaf of Italian bread - cut into 1-inch cubes
8 eggs - beaten
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon
Garnish -- maple syrup or powdered sugar
Grease a 9x13-inch baking dish and set aside.

Place butter into a medium-sized microwave-safe bowl and microwave until the butter has melted.  Add the brown sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.  Stir until combined (mixture will be thick).  Add the apples and gently stir until apples are covered with the brown sugar mixture.  Pour apple mixture into the prepared dish.

Place the bread cubes into a large bowl and set aside.  Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine eggs, milk, vanilla extract and 2 tsp of cinnamon.  Pour the egg mixture over the bread cubes and stir until the bread is well coated.  Place bread cubes over the apple layer.  Cover dish with foil that has been lightly sprayed with cooking spray (so it doesn't stick to the casserole) and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.

Remove French toast casserole from the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 375F.  Bake casserole, covered with foil, for 35 minutes.  Remove foil and bake for another 25 minutes.

Serve warm with powdered sugar or maple syrup.

Recipe Inspired by: Apple Raisin French Toast Casserole

Linked to:

Monday, March 26, 2012

Yellow Crocus


Author: Laila Ibrahim
Genre: Historical Fiction
Format: Kindle ebook (ARC)

Publisher: Flaming Chalice Press

Published: December 17, 2012

ISBN: 9780984502202

First Line: "Mattie was never truly mine."

Synopsis: This novel, set in 1800's antebellum Virginia, is the story of a privileged white girl named Lisbeth Wainright and her black wet nurse, Mattie.  Shortly after Lisbeth was born she is handed off to Mattie to be nursed and cared for.  It doesn't take long for Lisbeth to love Mattie and see her as more of a mother figure than her own mother.  Mattie, even though she was taken from her own infant son to care for Lisbeth, also begins to love the girl as her own and their bond only intensifies as the years pass. 
As Lisbeth grows and no longer requires Mattie's daily help, Mattie is returned to the slave Quarter.  In the meantime, Lisbeth focuses on learning all that is required of her to be a daughter of a successful plantation owner and begins to realize the restrictions that she has placed on her due to her station in life.

Lisbeth also begins to struggle between her deep love for Mattie and her parents' absolute and unashamed support of slavery.  When Lisbeth is witness to a brutal act against one of the slaves that is not taken seriously by those around her she knows that she must make a choice once and for all ... even if it means losing everything she has.

My Thoughts:  This is the first book by Laila Ibrahim and I was pleasantly surprised and impressed with her writing.  It's not only a very easy read (I read it in a little over one day) but it's filled with heart and a reminder of a time that we should never forget.
I think that one of the main reasons that this book resonated with me is that I'm very intrigued about this era in history.  Like the Holocaust (another era that has always intrigued me), the era of slavery was such a brutal time. 

You may think it odd that I like to read about depressing, horrible times in history but it's quite the opposite.  Yes, there are truly horrific acts that happened during slavery and WWII that I hope and pray never happen again.  Without a doubt.  But it's during those horrific times that the positive features of humanity are also highlighted.  Bravery, hope, love, self-sacrifice, faith, endurance .... 

For someone like me, who was born over a century after slavery, it's almost hard to wrap my head around the fact that people felt justified to treat others in such an inhuman and despicable way.  Not only was the physical and emotional abuse shocking but it was heartbreaking reading how black people were treated as chattel.  Easily sold to other plantations without any thought to the fact that whole families were being separated, sometimes permanently, at the whim of their 'owners'. 

It's due to my interest in the era of slavery that I've read quite a few novels on the subject.  That being said, I don't think that slavery was as brutally portrayed as I've read in other books like 'The Book of Negroes', 'The Kitchen House' or 'Roots' (some of my all-time favourite books dealing with slavery).  But I think that Ibrahim took a 'lighter' portrayal of the cruelty of slavery because the story mainly focused on Lisbeth and her very limited view of slavery. So, as the reader we only get glimpses into the brutality as Lisbeth sees it.

One of the main reasons that I loved this book is the characters.  Mattie and Lisbeth could have easily been portrayed as one-dimensional clichés.  Instead Ibrahim has created well-rounded characters who leaped off the page and truly engaged me.  I enjoyed seeing Lisbeth go from an immature, naive girl who followed her parents' wishes to a young woman who begins to realize the devastating effects of slavery and decides to do something about it.  Mattie is a character that, right from the beginning, broke my heart and inspired me all at the same time.  Here's a woman who is taken from her own infant in order to care for and nurse her owner's daughter.  Mattie is a strong, proud woman who endures so much.

It's because of this connection with those characters that I wish more detail was included about their some of the Lisbeth's childhood that (I felt) was glossed over.  Don't get me wrong.  Wanting to know more about characters is a good thing.  That is how much these characters stayed with me.  I just think that the book itself was a little on the short side.  The length of the book affected how deep the author was able to get into the topic of slavery and the relationships between the characters.  The story, while enjoyable, was also a little too predictable and neatly tied up in the end.
While this is not as gritty or brutal as other books I've read on the subject it was still very enjoyable and enlightening.  I could easily see this book being read by not only adults but teens as a good way to introduce the topic of slavery.

Note: My sincere thanks go to NetGalley and Flaming Chalice Press for providing me with this e-book in return for my honest review.
My Rating: 4/5 stars

Friday, March 23, 2012

Someone Else's Life


Author: Katie Dale
Genre: Modern Fiction/YA

Format: Kindle Ebook (ARC)
Publisher: Doubleday Canada

Publishing Date: February 14, 2012
ISBN-10: 0385740654
ISBN-13: 978-0385740654
Source: NetGalley e-ARC

Synopsis: Rosie Kenning has just experienced the devastating loss of her mother Trudie from Huntington's Disease.  After seeing how the disease ravaged her mother's life Rosie is terrified to learn that she has a fifty percent chance of developing the hereditary disease herself.
When Rosie informs Sarah, a local midwife and Trudie's best friend, that she's going to get tested to see if she carries the Huntington's gene Sarah reluctantly informs Rosie that Trudie was not her birth mother.  With this new information Rosie is adamant that she wants to meet her birth mother.  Along with her boyfriend Andy, Rosie follows her birth mother's trail to the US.  While there Rosie gets more than she bargains for when she unearths more dark family secrets and betrayals and is left with a heartbreaking decision that will affect an entire family.

My Thoughts:  If you're looking for a fast-paced read with family secrets being exposed left, right and centre then this is the book for you.  This book is literally FILLED with plot twists.  Personally, I love twists and turns in a plot but this story was a little too jam-packed with them for my liking and started to take on a 'soap opera-esque' quality to it about half way through. 
There just seemed to be so many big reveals and twists that it started to feel unbelievable and implausible.  Some of the plot twists were based on misunderstandings (ie no cell phone, misplaced messages) which unfortunately added to the soap opera feel.  With all of these twists and turns being added into the story the characters (and reader) barely had enough time to digest one twist when another one was divulged leaving their reactions to feel very superficial to me.  But once I decided to stop thinking about whether or not these twists were feasible and decided to just go with it I really enjoyed the roller coaster ride of twists that the author continued to bring to the table.

As for the characters?  Admittedly, they were a little clichéd and over the top at times (some frustratingly so).  Kitty is the typical diva, Jack is the perfect self-sacrificing dad, Ben is the cute little brother etc.  While I did find Rosie to be a believable and likable main character, I found Holly to be over the top.  She had every right to be ticked about the news but she seemed overly vindictive and almost like a totally different character at times.  But I had to remind myself that she was only 18 years old and just had a huge secret dumped on her so I'll cut her a little slack. 
One thing that did surprise me was the ending.  I was shocked that the person who started this whole mess had no consequences for her actions whatsoever.  Not even a slap on the wrist or anyone mad at her in the end?  She changed so many lives with one decision but because her motives were pure everything is hunky dory?  Apparently I'm more jaded than the characters.
I also would have liked to have a different ending.  Everything was concluded a little too nicely for my liking and I would have liked a more dramatic ending.  The ending felt like it petered out and didn't maintain the energy that the rest of the book was filled with.

Overall, I did like this book for what it was -- a fast-paced, emotional, Sydney Sheldon-type read.  I also come away from this book with more knowledge about Huntington's Disease since I really had no idea the extent of devastation that this disease inflicts on its victims or their families.
If you want a fast-paced read with oodles of twists then this is for you.  If you're looking or more of a tear jerker or emotional read that delves deeply into characters' feelings of loss and betrayal then you might come away from this book a little disappointed

My Rating: 3.5/5
Note: Thanks to Doubleday Canada and NetGalley for providing me with this digital Advanced Reading Copy for my honest review.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Good Father


Author: Diane Chamberlain

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Pages: 368

ISBN-10: 0778313468

ISBN-13: 978-0778313465

Format: Kindle ebook (ARC)

Publisher: Harlequin

Publication Date: April 24, 2012

First Line: “It was nine-forty when I woke up in the back of the van."

Synopsis: When Travis was 19 years old he made a decision that would change his life -- to raise his newborn daughter on his own.  Instead of heading to university and partying with his friends Travis spent his days changing diapers and caring for his daughter, Bella.  She is the light of his life and he has never regretted his decision.

When Travis suddenly finds himself without a job, family support or a home he knows that he will have to make some drastic decisions.  When he is offered a job in Raleigh that will turn things around he jumps at the chance.  But the job is not what he was expecting.  It's a one-time illegal job that promises money and no negative repercussions.  Now Travis has a choice.  Does he do the job in order to help secure a home and food on the table even if it means he might lose his daughter forever?

Erin is a young woman who has endured every mother's worst nightmare.  When she befriends Travis and Bella in a local coffee shop she begins to heal a little from her devastating loss.  Unfortunately she soon finds herself tangled in Travis' problems.

Robin has had a tumultuous four years but has her life on track and a wedding to an influential and charismatic young man in her future.   Though she has barely thought about the little girl that she walked away from four years ago she has no idea that her life is about to dramatically change.

The story is told from these three very distinct points of view culminating in various plot twists and a very tense and exciting ending.

My Thoughts:  "The Good Father" is a compelling and exciting read that tugs at your emotions throughout the book.  Everything from sadness, loss, anger, betrayal, fear, joy, unconditional parental love ... it's an emotional rollercoaster as you follow the lives of the three main characters, Travis, Erin and Robin.

I really enjoyed the fact that the story was told from the viewpoint of the three main characters.  Going from viewpoint to viewpoint helped to keep up the momentum of the story while divulging important facts in a deliciously slow and deliberate way. 

This story was character driven but also plot driven which, in my vast reading, is a rare find indeed.  The characters are so honestly written that they are believable and relatable to the reader.   Each of the three main characters have their own issues and demons to face before they will be able to move on with their lives.  At the same time the plot is almost non-stop giving the reader little tidbits of insight into the three storylines and how they converge into the ending.

The story deals with multiple subjects in an interesting way that isn't bogged down with too much detail.  Some of the subjects are: teen pregnancy, adoption, elitism, homelessness, loss of a child.  These are pretty heavy issues to deal with but the author does so in a way that is compelling, engaging and truly heart-felt.

It's hard to believe that this is the first book that I've read from this author.  Ms Chamberlain writes a gripping and, at times, emotional read filled with flawed characters that I loved to root for.  I am excited to read more from this author.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Thanks go out to the publisher Harlequin Books, via NetGalley, for providing me with this Advanced Digital Reading Copy, at no cost to me, for my honest review.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mandarin Chicken Pasta Salad with Teriyaki Vinaigrette

I'm not sure what it's like where you are but around here in Southwestern Ontario we've been breaking heat records for the past week.  What's odd is that just a mere 11 days ago we were all in a tither about snow squalls and white outs.  Skip ahead 11 days and it's 24C and we're walking around in tank tops and flip flops.  Sadly, with Global Warming you never know what kind of weather you're gonna get.

Unfortunately, this changing weather also means that my head will predict weather pressure change pretty accurately by giving me crippling migraines.  Add to the fact that I picked up some kind of virus that has me hacking and coughing profusely for the past 10 days and you may understand why I've been MIA on my blog.  Phlegm and blogging don't mix, people.  Fact.

You will be pleased to hear that I have three (yes, THREE!) book reviews on the go at the moment.  I've been a busy, busy girl.   Even without my dear Kindle (I still hold out hope for her safe return) I've been knee deep in wonderful Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs) from the fabulous people at NetGalley and can't wait to share my reviews of these upcoming books with all of you!  I have a couple of modern fiction and one historical fiction review to complete over the next few days.  Check back tomorrow for my review of The Good Father by Diane Chamberlaine! 

Since I've been sick lately it also means that I have no desire to cook, much less eat which is why you've had to wait so long for a new recipe.  But today's the day!!  With beautifully warm weather teasing us lately and my health on the upward swing I've started to think of wonderfully cool yet filling lunches that I can bring to work.  I love me a good, hearty pasta salad.  If it's a little sweet and possibly with my favourite mandarin oranges thrown in for good measure I'm in heaven.  This is where this salad comes in. 
I happened upon it while I was perusing Pinterest and noticed that one of my favourite blogs, Mel's Kitchen Cafe, had a delicious looking salad that I just had to try.  Oh yes, Mel hit another one out of the ballpark!!  Mandarin oranges, chicken, teriyaki -- oh MY!  I did make a couple of wee changes (less oil and sugar) but that's just due to personal tastes.  I also omitted the honey roasted peanuts seeing as we don't have them in our house since it would mean a frantic rush to the hospital if one of my kids ingested the nasty little legume.

If you're in the mood for a sweet, yet hearty salad that's perfect for a quick lunch or as a side dish for a great BBQ'd supper this is it!  Here's hoping that this wonderfully warm weather continues.  Sadly, I think Mother Nature is just toying with us and March is going to out with a BANG!

Mandarin Chicken Pasta Salad with Teriyaki Vinaigrette

Vinaigrette
1/2 grapeseed or canola oil
2/3 cup teriyaki sauce
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup cider vinegar
5 tbsp white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Salad
1/4 cup sesame seeds
16oz farfalle pasta (bow tie) -- cooked al dente and drained
3/4 cup Craisins
2 (11oz) cans mandarin oranges, drained
1 (8oz) can water chestnuts -- drained and sliced (I only used 1/2 can)
1/2 cup honey roasted peanuts (optional -- I omitted these)
4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 cups cooked chicken -- tossed with 2-3 tbsp teriyaki sauce

In a medium bowl, combine all of the dressing ingredients.  With a whisk, blend well until combined.  Set aside. 

Pour the sesame seeds into a small skillet over medium heat.  Toast sesame seeds, stirring frequently, until they begin to brown.  Remove from heat and allow them to cool.

In a large bowl, combine all of the salad ingredients, except for the sesame seeds.  Pour dressing over salad ingredients and mix well.  Place pasta salad in the fridge and allow it to marinate in the dressing for at least a few hours.  Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds just before serving.

Recipe Source: inspired by one of my all-time favourite blogs -  Mel's Kitchen Cafe

Thursday, March 15, 2012

MISSING: Kindle

If you've been following me on my Facebook page you'll notice two things.  First, I have a new profile picture.  I've had some work done and I no longer look like a pile of books and a baked muffin.  Actually, yesterday I spent a couple of hours chattin' with my favourite hair stylist whilst she worked on my 'do' and came out a new woman and thought I needed to spruce up the old pic. 

The other thing that you may have noticed on my Facebook page is that I have lost my beloved Kindle.  I still love paper books but I do love reading on my Kindle.  I just didn't realize how attached I've become to it until I lost it.  It's been two days since I've seen it.  I'm frustrated because Brad and I have literally scoured my house and van looking for it.  We've looked everywhere!!!  It has disappeared.  It can only be explained by rogue house elves or a black hole.  The thing is g-o-n-e ... GONE!

On the bright side (?) we have now {pretty much} confirmed from whom our three kids get their ability to lose their belongings on a regular basis.  Hint: It's most likely not Brad.  Perhaps the next time one of the kids misplaces their lunch bag/backpacks/right shoe I'll remember this event and feel more compassion for the little tykes.  Glass houses and all that.

Now I'm not only frustrated at not finding my Kindle.  I'm also sad because I do so luurve my Kindle.  My heart is heavy.  I feel like Laverne without Shirley.  I'm mac without the cheese.  I'm Shemar Moore without his six pack.  You get my drift.  Sad.

I have, on the advice of Amazon, deregistered my Kindle in case someone picks it up and starts buying ebooks on my Mastercard with complete abandon.  Until I find it (or give up and buy a new one) I can still thankfully read on my iPad or iPhone ... but it's not the same.

Please send me your very best 'find Laurie's Kindle' vibes.  Perhaps it'll show up in some completely random and obscure place in my house.  Although we did, after several searches, finally check every kitchen cupboard, the freezer, workbench, under every piece of furniture etc.  Perhaps it's hanging out with all of the missing socks, Lego pieces, spare change or even Jimmy Hoffa .... 

Anyone else have an Ereader that you luurve and cannot live without??

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Really Cute Corpse


Author: Joan Hess
Genre: Mystery
Series: 4th book in the Claire Malloy series
Published: 1988
Pages: 244
1st Line: "All I've ever wanted to do was mind my own business."

Synopsis:  When Claire Malloy's best friend Luanne finds herself unable to fulfill her duties as Thurberville's fashion show organizer she asks for Claire's help.  Claire reluctantly takes on the role and soon finds herself dealing with a cantankerous theatre owner, an incontinent dog and a slew of giggling beauty queens. 

When several suspicious mishaps occur to one of the beauty queens Claire begins to get suspicious but is advised by the local police to not get involved.  But when a murder occurs Claire can't help but put her amateur sleuthing skills to work to find the murderer so the show can go on.

My Thoughts: This is only the second book that I've read by Joan Hess.  While this book (as well as the 14th book in the series that I read back in 2008) started off with witty and humourous writing and a likeable character the pace and suspense clearly dragged less than half way through.  When I add in the clichéd beauty queens and the predictable mystery it shouldn't come as a surprise that I didn't love this book.  I have no problem with a 'cozy mystery/beach book' but it still has to keep my interest and on the edge of my seat.

My Rating: 2/5 stars

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff


Can I just say that I LOVE using my slow cooker.  I honestly feel like a superstar when I have supper on before I even leave for work.  Yesterday I made this stroganoff and all day long I kept giving myself internal pats on the back and thinking "You rock, Laurie.  Supper is cooking right now ... and you're not even at home!  Superstar!".  Seriously.  I did.  I will even, occasionally, do the Mary Katherine Gallagher's voice and actions if I'm feeling particularly geeky.  You know Mary Katherine!!  Molly Shannon's character from SNL!?!  But I digress.  Back to stroganoff.  

I'm not sure why I had a beef stroganoff epiphany the other day but all of a sudden I had a hankerin' for it.  My first thought was that I wanted to use my slow cooker because then I could use a cheaper cut of beef and I wouldn't have to be home to cook it.  My second thought was .... my kids are going to hate it.  *sigh*  See, my kids are a little shallow when it comes to eating.  They still think that pretty foods are the most tasty.  Everyone knows that beef stroganoff ain't gonna win any Miss Pretty Beef Dish contests anytime soon.  There is no better angle or background that I had in my pathetic photography arsenal that could make my picture of stroganoff look better.  It is what it is, my friends.  Beef stroganoff may look like a little piece of nasty but it tastes soooo good! 

The sauce has a delicious tang from the cream cheese and sour cream and the red wine gives it that splash of extra flavour (and you can sip some while you're eating the dish so it's a win-win).

So, were my kids jumping up and down for seconds?  Um, no.  Will I be making this dish again?  Oh yes.  Next time, in order to possibly win some Kid Votes, I may try making it with homemade meatballs instead of stewing beef.  Baby steps.  I'll get them lovin' ugly food yet!!

2 lbs stewing beef
salt and pepper, to taste
1 onion, sliced or diced
1/4 cup water
1 beef bouillon powder packet
1 (10.75oz) can of condensed Cream of Mushroom soup
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tbsp Worchestershire sauce
1/2 cup red wine (I used a Shiraz)
2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 cup sour cream (I used 14% fat.  Don't judge.)
4oz cream cheese, softened and cut into small cubes
8oz white button mushrooms, quartered or sliced

Place beef into the bottom and season with salt and pepper.  Place onion on top of beef.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine water, bouillon powder, mushroom soup, garlic and Worchestershire sauce.

In a small bowl, combine red wine, flour and cornstarch until smooth (note: it will look a nasty brownish-pink).  Add to soup mixture and combine well.  Pour over beef.

Cover and cook, on LOW heat, for 6-7 hours. 

Place cream cheese cubes into a medium bowl.  Pour a large ladle of the wine mixture over the cream cheese and mix until combined as much as possible.  {The warm sauce will help to blend the cream cheese faster into the sauce minimizing the risk of little bits of cream cheese floating in your sauce.  I didn't do this step when I made it and as you can see in my picture I have little cream cheese bits in my sauce.}  Add cream cheese/wine mixture to the slow cooker.  Stir in sour cream and mushrooms; mix well.  Cook for an additional hour on LOW.

Serve over egg noodles or mashed potatoes.

Note:  I love the tanginess that the cream cheese brings to this dish but be warned -- you'll probably get little bits of cream cheese that might not blend totally with the sauce.  If you don't want to risk little bits of cream cheese you can try replacing it with more sour cream.  Keep in mind, you can put lipstick on a pig but, at the end of the day, it's still a pig.  Using sour cream may get rid of the cream cheese bits but it still won't make stroganoff pretty. ;)

Recipe Inspired by: Allrecipes.com "Daria's Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff"

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Imposter Bride


Author: Nancy Richler

Publisher: Harper Collins Canada
Publication Date: March 20, 2012
Print ISBN: 9781446404020
eBook ISBN: 9781443404051

Pages: 352
Genre: Historical Fiction/Canadian

First Line: "In a small room off a banquet hall in Montreal, Lily Kramer sat in silence with her new husband."

Synopsis: World War II has just ended when a young woman named Lily Azerov arrives in Montreal prepared to start a new life. It soon becomes clear to her new husband and his family that she is not the woman she claimed to be. This is made even more evident when she suddenly disappears leaving her infant daughter and husband with only two journals and an uncut diamond to remember her by.
As the daughter grows up she receives occasional and confusing gifts in the mail from her mother which only leave her with more unanswered questions. Why did her mother abandon her? What is her mother's true identity? Where did she go? These unanswered questions lead her to begin a search for her mother.

My Thoughts: I was excited to read this Advanced Reading Copy for a few reasons. First, I have always loved reading about the World War II era. While it has always fascinated me, the books that I usually read on that subject tend to focus on the actual war and don't use the historic backdrop of the aftermath of the war. I loved that The Imposter Bride shows that the devastation didn't end with the war. Richler not only focuses on Lily's character but how the war affected the Jewish community in Montreal as well.
Secondly, the story had many criteria that I feel make up a great read. There was mystery, family drama, history and the fact that it was set in Canada was icing on the cake for me.

Being a very proud Canuck I loved reading a book set in Canada. When I came across a paragraph that mentioned Trout Lake in the Laurentians I was more than a little thrilled (I have spent many summers on the shore of Trout Lake in North Bay, Ontario). But it's with more than a little embarrassment that I admit that I don't read nearly enough Canadian fiction. Yes, I have my favourite Canadian authors (Kelley Armstrong, Susanna Kearsley and Lawrence Hill to name a few) but I know that I need to take a jump into the Canadian author pool more regularly to find those Canadian gems and experience the talent that is right in my own backyard!
Richler definitely knows how to draw the reader in with her writing. Right from the start of the book I loved Richler's voice which was engaging and made me want to keep reading to find out more about her characters. While Ruth was the main character of the story it was Lily who drew me in and kept me reading. Lily was a very complicated and tragic character. Here's this woman who survives the war, steals the identity of another woman in order to have a chance at a better life only to find that things don't go as smoothly as she had planned. I do wish that we had heard more from Lily's point of view after she left her family. I would have loved to have heard Lily's inner dialogue about why she left and what she was feeling at the time.

Overall, I liked this book. The characters were interesting, the plot had a good pace but, if I'm being honest, I felt a little let down when I learned why Lily left her family. I suppose I was expecting some huge family secret to be unleashed on the family. When I read the real reason she took off on her infant and husband it was less dramatic than I was expecting.
I'm not sure how I feel about this book. On one hand I loved the subject, the era and the characters but unfortunately it just didn't grab me as much as I had hoped.

My Rating: 3/5 stars
Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Harper Collins Canada, through NetGalley.

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