Sunday, 28 February 2010

Congrats to CANADA!!!


WOW! What a finish to the Winter Olympics! Just wanted to post some patriotic pride about my country. You cannot believe how this Olympics has changed us, normally too humble, Canadians. It's wonderful to see our country band together and show our pride. Hearing thousands of people singing our national anthem to encourage our Olympians sent chills through me!

We've had some amazing firsts too. We not only got our first Gold medal on Canadian soil (thank you Alexandre Bilodeau!)... but we broke the record for number of Gold medals at a single Winter Olympics (14!).

Like many Canadians I have to ask ... What are we going to watch on TV now?!?! I've been glued to my TV for 17 days lol. I am typically NOT a hockey watcher so for my family to race home today from a family function 5 hours away to make it home in time for the final hockey game between the US and Canada is unheard of!!! :)

There are so many favourite moments in the Olympics for me. From both the Canadian women's and men's hockey teams winning gold, to Joannie Rochette skating so well even though she had just experienced such a tremendous loss, to seeing the momentum in our pride escalate as the torch made it's way to Vancouver....

So, what were your favourite moments in the Olympics?!?

Friday, 26 February 2010

The Penguin Who Knew Too Much



Title: The Penguin Who Knew Too Much (8th book in the Meg Lanslow series)
Author: Donna Andrews
Type: Mystery
Pages: 328

Synopsis: Meg is moving into her new home with her fiance, Michael. She knew things wouldn't be easy on moving day but when she finds her basement filled with penguins and a dead body even Meg thinks it's too much.

Meg finds out that her father has offered to take in the penguins (among other animals) from a small local zoo which is going bankrupt. Since no one can find the zoo's owner it seems that Meg might be stuck with her menagerie ... and a mystery to solve.

My Thoughts: This mystery was, in a word, blah. It never seemed to have any suspense in it. The secondary characters, I think, were supposed to be quirky but didn't pull that off either. It bothered me that, after the house's former owners show up and start digging huge trenches in Meg's backyard she barely bats an eye. Wouldn't you be ticked if someone dug trenches throughout your backyard?!? The former owners arrival in the book didn't even make much sense and seemed to be thrown in ... and then not discussed again.

My Rating: 2/5

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Stephanie Plum to be made into a movie

I've been waiting for Janet Evanovich's very popular book series to be scooped up by Hollywood and made into a movie. For those of you who haven't had the opportunity to read this series (starting with "One for the Money") it's a hilarious group of 15 books (so far) that follows the antics of neophyte bounty hunter, Stephanie Plum and her crazy family and friends as she tries to apprehend fugitives.

Now, I'm not the only person who has tried to envision who could possibly play this very popular main character. On many a book site people love to chat about what hollywood actors/actresses should play the lead roles.

For me, I've always pictured Sandra Bullock in the role of quirky, always-into-trouble Stephanie Plum. If Amanda Bynes was older I could picture her too. Someone accident prone and has good physical comedy skills.

Unfortunately, Hollywood execs do not agree with me. It seems that the 'powers that be' in Hollywood have signed on Katherine Heigl (from Grey's Anatomy fame) to play the lead role. I personally like Katherine Heigl and think she's got good comedic timing ... but she isn't right for this part. Plum needs to be quirky, tough and a little out there and, to me, that's just not Heigl.



<<<---- Not my first choice of who'd play Stephanie Plum

For some of the other roles I have opinions on who should play the roles.

Grandma Mazur -- I had always envisioned the late Estelle Geddy to play Grandma. Now, I can see that little old lady from "The Wedding Singer" or even Betty White. Someone delicate and very 'grandma-like' ... but who can pack a large gun in her purse and get into her own trouble.

Lula --- ah, the beloved Lula, the ex-ho and Plum's sidekick. I can see Mo'nique perfectly for this role.

Cousin Vinnie -- Stephanie's cousin (who has been known to have a hankerin' for barnyard animals) should, in my humble opinion, be played by Steve Buscemi. This role has to ooze 'icky' and has to have an undertone of 'sliminess'.

As for Stephanie's love interests Morelli and the delicious Ranger?!? I honestly think that the execs will have to get some undiscovered talents to fill these roles. I cannot think of many actors out there who can fit these characters.

I truly hope that Evanovich has a HUGE say in the movie production so they can stay true to her sense of humour and her vision for her books. Let's all hope they don't destroy all that is funny with these books (which, as we all know, has happened to many a good book in the past) by changing too much to make it more "Hollywood" worthy. These books are some of the very few that have been able to make me literally laugh out loud. (I highly recommend them for a light read.)

So for those of you who have read this hilarious series ... who can you see in the roles when it's made into a movie?

NEW LOOK FOR MY BLOG??? -- HELP!!!

I need everyone's opinions how my blog should look. Lately I've been finding my layout too busy and dark. The polka dots etc down the sides are a bit busy and I don't think they really add anything to the blog except for increasing the 'girly pretty' factor. The post section seems dark too.

I'd love to have a 3 column template (a small, narrow column on each side - one for focusing on reading stuff, the other focusing on baking) and the middle would be for the posts. Setting it up this way would make things so much easier if you're visiting my blog specifically for a recipe or for a book. Trouble is, Blogger doesn't have any 3 column templates (not sure why!) and I'm not sure who to turn to to figure out my next step.

For those of you who have your own blogs ... did you design it yourself or use a third party? If so, who?

So, would you all prefer a simpler layout? Or prefer the one I have now (with all the polka dots and fancy stuff down the sides)?

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Kitchen Talk: I Bake Therefore I Am

This afternoon I asked my 6 year old daughter if she liked the Lucious Lemon Blueberry muffin I sent in her lunch today. She said "...ya. But why do you have to bake so many muffins, Mommy?". Pardon? Huh? I told her "I love to bake and I like sending you to school with something that I made in my kitchen".

Then Hubby pipes in "You do tend to make a lot of muffins. Every Sunday you make them and then sometimes again later in the week". So, what is this? A Muffin Intervention?!? Are they going to take away my mixing bowls and muffin tins?? ;)

Am I addicted to baking? Most definitely. I love the hunt for a great recipe whether it's from a site online, from one of my numerous cookbooks or from the ever-growing file I have on my computer. Also, I find baking very cathartic for me. I find it rewarding to build something from scratch and turn into something pretty (and having it taste good is, literally, like icing on the cake).

Back to the conversation with my dearest daughter .... she then asks if she can please, please, PLEASE have one of those cheese and cracker snack packs (you know, the kind with the mini bread sticks and *sigh* Cheez Whiz). Just turn that knife in my heart a little more, darlin'! ;) lol I guess we always crave the things that we don't get often.

Maybe after eating some of the store bought stuff she'll learn to appreciate my home baking. No worries. I'm sure that when she's older she'll look back and appreciate all of the hard work her dear old Mom did for her while working away in her kitchen. *sniff*. At least I bake because I love it and I'm not looking for kudos each and every time. ;)

Now, when I asked my daughter what she'd prefer me to make her for her first nutrition break instead of muffins do you know what she suggested??? She said "Cupcakes!". You mean, the sweet cousin of .... the muffin?

I'm now going to go bang my head against the wall ... then bake some muffins. ;)

The Endless Forest


Title: "The Endless Forest" (6th and final book in the "Into the Wilderness" series)

Author: Sara Donati

Type: Historical Fiction

Published: January 2010

Pages: 623

Synopsis: The spring of 1824 begins with disaster for the small town of Paradise when a flood devastates the entire town. Even so, Elizabeth and Nathaniel Bonner have something to look forward to since some of their children are finally returning home. Lily and her husband from Italy and Martha Kirby, the Bonner's ward, from Manhattan.

Martha arrives in Paradise after being humiliated in Manhattan. She longs to return to a normal life but her long-lost mother, Jemima Southern, soon returns to town after abandoning her daughter and step-daughter a decade before. Jemima is known as "close to a witch as the town has ever come" to the townspeople who wait to see what the evil woman will do next to create havoc in their small town.

My Thoughts: I loved this book. Although it didn't have as much adventure as previous books, Donati was still able to keep up the momentum and keep the reader interested. I have to give Donati credit. She knows how balance the overall storyline in her 6 book series from one generation to the other. Other major series, like Outlander, tend to focus too much on one generation (ie Claire and Jamie) and don't develop other characters to take over the storyline in future books. Donati has been able to keep Elizabeth and Nathaniel as key characters while introducing their children as main characters with their own interesting storylines. I loved being able to see Elizabeth and Nathaniel's children grow up throughout the books and take over the storylines.

Donati was able to make small town Paradise and it's inhabitants very realistic. The inhabitants had their own issues, storylines etc that intertwined with the main characters. This book ties up some of the loose ends in storylines concerning Paradise citizens left in previous books.

This final book was a great way to end a wonderful series of books. I loved the final chapter which were excerpts from the newspaper in Paradise. Each installment told what happened to individual members of the Bonner family. Donati kept her book based in reality when dealing with the normal mortality in 1800's North America. Even so, I was literally shocked and saddened at the end when one of the main characters obituary is read. Like I thought that the character would never die?!? lol

I will definitely sad to let this series end but I'm glad that Donati could do it on such a high note. Donati didn't get bogged down by over describing scenes and was able to help the reader picture the scene in few words. She keeps her storyline moving and the reader interested (which, sadly, cannot be said for the Outlander series as many of us trudged through "The Fiery Cross").

I definitely recommend this book as well as the whole series. This is one of the series that I will be adding to my own personal library and the characters will stay with me a very long time.

My Rating: 4.5/5

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Luscious Lemon & Blueberry Muffins


I'm always on the hunt for amazing muffin recipes. Muffins are one of my favourite things to bake. I think it's because they're kind of a comfort food for me and they're also fairly quick to make. It's not like baking cookies where you do multiple batches until you wonder "WHY did I decide to bake these things?!?!".

With muffins, it's one (maybe two) batches and you're done. Freezing extra muffins is always a good idea for those Muffin Emergencies that effect some Moms. For example, when a Mom has been up late reading a great book and forgotten to make the kids lunches the night before. This forces said Mom to scrounge around the kitchen the next morning like a mad woman trying to put their lunches together!. That example is purely hypothetical and has only happened to me the odd time .... or twenty. ;)

I actually bake muffins every Sunday night so that my kids have something home baked for school during the week. Served with a yogurt, applesauce or fruit makes their first nutrition break very easy for me. :)

My kids love blueberry muffins (see my recipe titled "The BEST Blueberry Muffins You'll Ever Eat") and I love citrus .... so I went out onto the net to search for a recipe. I found this recipe on a defunct blog, made a few tweaks and voila. A really nice muffin with lots of berries and a nice lemony flavour.

I increased the amount of lemon juice because I wasn't going to waste 1/4 cup of lemony goodness! I think next time I'll dip each muffin in some lemon juice then dip them in some sugar and see how it goes.

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup frozen blueberries
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (juice from 2 lemons)

Preheat oven to 375F. Fill muffin tins with paper liners and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the blueberries and fold in.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with the milk, oil, lemon zest and lemon juice. Fold liquid mixture into dry mixture just until blended (DO NOT OVERMIX!!!).

Spoon batter into muffin tin. Bake for 20-23 minutes or until a tester inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean. Let the muffins stand in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.


Friday, 19 February 2010

Lime Marinated BBQ'd Salmon



I thought I'd make a nice dinner tonight for Hubby and I. The kids were quite happy to have leftover Sensational Sloppy Joes tonight instead of *gasp* having to eat BBQ'd salmon. Oh the horror!!

Hubby and I LOVE salmon. I especially love it when Hubby BBQ's it because it means less work and clean up for moi! :) I've been on a citrus kick lately and this recipe hit the spot. The tang of fresh lime juice combined with the flavour of Dijon mustard is wonderful with fresh salmon fillets. Just make sure you take into account the marinating time. Don't try to shorten it or you won't be able to taste the flavours as much. You could try using other firm fish (ie swordfish, halibut ...) if you're not a salmon lover. Is it possible NOT to love salmon?!?!

1/4 cup FRESH lime juice (juice from approximately 2-3 limes)
1 tsp lime zest
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp black pepper
2 salmon steaks

In a small bowl, whisk together: lime juice, lime zest, olive oil, Dijon, ginger, garlic, cayenne and black peppers. Pour into a large resealable plastic bag. Add the salmon fillets, coat well with marinade. Squeeze out excess air and seal bag. Marinate in the refrigerator for 4-6 hours.

Preheat BBQ to medium heat and lightly oil the grill. Remove salmon from the marinade and shake off excess. Discard remaining marinade.

BBQ salmon until fish flakes easily with a fork (approximately 5-10 minutes per side, depending on thickness of fillets).

Thursday, 18 February 2010

My Audiobook Dilemma

Does anyone else listen to audiobooks? Are they not wonderful?!? I've started to get into them quite a bit lately. I have several classics on my iTouch and love the idea of listening to books.

This week I've enjoyed listening to "Pride and Prejudice" while walking the dog or driving around. I've read the book (many years ago) but it's nice to listen to it being read ... especially with all of the accents. :) Mr Darcy sounds better with a real English accent compared to me reading it on my own ;) Also, since I cannot read in the car (yes, it's a total shame!) listening to books is the next best thing!

My problem is that I lack the Technology gene. Yup. Technology and I get along ... as long as it's easy to understand. I think my kids are, at times, more computer savvy. Heck, the dog might even know more about media players than I. If it gets too complicated my brain just cannot follow. I'm been desperately trying to download some audiobooks from the e-library of one of my local library systems. I can get the books on my computer ... but then something happens out in technology land and it doesn't let it get on my iTouch. Frustrating!

I even have an In-House Geek on staff (my dear hubby) and I still can't figure it out. Perplexing!

Luckily, I have a wonderful library technology manager who is trying to help me out (and talking my off the ledge) as I deal with the dreaded technology. She's been so helpful that she's even offered to sit down with me face-to-face to work this out. Or maybe she's just tired of me emailing her to fix the problem? No matter, hopefully next week I'll be walking around the neighbourhood while Jacob Black from the Twilight series speaks in my ear ;)

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Baked Citrus Halibut

My husband and I love having this flavourful dish when we don't have a lot of time to prep dinner. Did I say "we"??? I meant "when I don't have a lot of time to prep dinner". Silly me! ;) My man is King of the BBQ, but the kitchen is my domaine! :)

This recipe is very easy to double or triple, if necessary. As long as you use a firm fish (ie cod, halibut ...) it'll be great. Serve with sauted green beans and rice.

1lb frozen halibut fillets, thawed
1 tbsp fresh parsley, minced (optional)
1/8 tsp pepper
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp butter
1/3 cup orange juice
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp orange zest

Preheat oven to 375F. Place fillets in an 11x7-inch, greased baking dish. Sprinkle with parsley (if using) and pepper.

In a skillet, saute onion and garlic in butter until tender; sprinkle over fish. Combine juices and orange zest; drizzle over fish.

Bake, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

Yield: 4 servings

Originally from: "Taste of Home" magazine (June/July 1999 - pg 16)


Why My Third Husband Will Be A Dog


Title: Why My Third Husband Will Be A Dog
Author: Lisa Scottoline
Type: Humour/Non-Fiction
Pages: 286

Synopsis: In this book, Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline shares this collection of some of her real-life experiences that she originally wrote for her newspaper column. From discussing her two ex-husbands aptly named Thing One and Thing Two, to being braless in the ER to discussing her anatomically incorrect pup, Tiny Tony, Scottoline will have you laughing out loud.

My Thoughts: It's rare for me to find a book that actually makes me laugh out loud. This is one of those books. I'd be reading this book on the couch snickering to myself with my hubby looking at me like I'm crazy.

This book feels like good girl talk with one of your best friends. Surprisingly (or maybe not) I agree with Scottoline on many of her topics -- the evil of Spanx, verbal interrupting as a sign of enthusiasm (sorry everyone but it's true) and the true woman's porn ... real estate ads (well, mine are house plans --- potato, po-tah-to). If I try to re-tell some of her funnier moments in the book it won't come off half as funny as she wrote it. So read the book for yourself. :)

Scottoline is known for her amazing suspense novels but this book lets us see the other side of this author. I'm hoping that she'll put out another book like this one.

My Rating: 4.5/5 (a really, really good read)

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Whole Wheat Sweet Potato Muffins

I've been on the look out for a healthier muffin recipe that A) doesn't compromise on taste, B) is nice and moist and C) isn't dense enough to become a door stop. Until recently this quest has proved to be quite difficult. But Eureka! I have found it (I realize that those 2 comments are redundant).

Not only does this muffin use whole wheat flour and quick oats instead of all-purpose flour but it has a whole large sweet potato in it too! Talk about hiding healthy stuff so kids will eat it! Not a lot of fat either. Win, win, win!

Whole Wheat Sweet Potato Muffins

1 large sweet potato, cooked and mashed (approx 1 to 1 1/4 cups)* See Note #1 below
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup quick oats (not instant)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup honey
3/4 cup buttermilk (see Note #2 below)
3/4 cup raisins or craisins (optional)

Topping
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease 16 muffin cups or line with paper muffin liners; set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together: flour, oats, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice.

In a large bowl, combine vegetable oil, eggs, vanilla, honey, buttermilk and mashed sweet potato. Add dry mixture to sweet potato mixture; mix just until all ingredients are moistened. Add raisins, if using. If you overmix or beat your batter too much you'll get dense muffins (aka door stops!). Spoon batter into prepared muffin pans.

Blend together brown sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle topping over unbaked muffins.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the centre of one the centre muffins comes out clean. Tops should also spring back when lightly pressed.

Note #1: Cook sweet potatoes in the microwave for approximately 5 minutes on high - turning after 2 minutes. Ensure that they are pricked repeatedly with a fork before cooking. Sweet potatoes will be done when a fork can easily be pushed into the centre. OR, bake sweet potatoes with your dinner the night before and keep the sweet potatoes in your fridge until you're ready to mash them for your muffins. That way you save energy and you're ensuring that you'll bake these muffins the following day!

Note #2: To make your own buttermilk - add approximately 1 tsp of white vinegar to milk. Let sit for 5 minutes or until it looks curdled. Voila. Buttermilk substitute!

Monday, 15 February 2010

Blue Moon


Title: Blue Moon (2nd book in The Immortals series)
Author: Alyson Noel
Type: Young Adult/Supernatural
Pages: 284
Published: 2009

Synopsis: Ever is just getting used to being an immortal and all of the abilities this gives her. Suddenly, her immortal boyfriend Damen begins to lose his powers, his identity and his memory. Ever is desperate to save Damen and travels to the mystical world of Summerland to see if she can figure out what's happening to Damen. While in Summerland she learns of Damen's past, something that he hasn't wanted to discuss with anyone before.

With the blue moon fast approaching, Ever has to decide whether she wants to turn back the clock and save her family from the car crash that killed them or stay in the present and help Damen.

My Thoughts: Well .... I didn't like this book. Argh! I'm losing my Book Mojo again! Two books that just didn't cut it ... in a row!

I wanted to like this book, I truly did! The first book in this series ("Evermore") was a decent read. This book fell totally flat, had no substance and barely a plot. She spent more time talking about how beautiful the love was between Ever and Damen than focusing on the plot ... which could have been quite interesting and full of suspense and action if it had been given more time in the book. Granted, this is a book for the Young Adult so perhaps some of the teen audience wants to read more about the romantic angst between the lovers ... I guess, in my mid to late 30's I'm just 'old' ;)

I just didn't buy the fact that throughout the book Ever is totally against this one kid (can't stand him, ignores him ...) who she then listens to when the chips are down and everything is on the line. Doesn't make sense. Even learning about Damen's past didn't create a "WOW!" moment. It was more like an 'oh...ok' moment.

I found myself speed reading through chapters towards the end. I wanted to find out how it ended ... but didn't really enjoy getting there.

My Rating: 1/5 (I just didn't like it)

Sweet Citrus Grilled Asparagus

I ... adore ... asparagus. I could eat it everyday so when I saw a recipe on Rachelray.com (called "Sugar-Grilled Asparagus") I got the idea for this wonderful side dish. I say that I got the "idea" for this recipe because I had to make so many changes due to what I had on hand and personal preference. :) I'm happy to say that the changes were worth it. This is definitely a keeper!

Originally, the recipe was provided by Rory Schepisi on Ray's site but I made my own changes for numerous reasons. Rory said to have 1/4 cup olive oil and 1/2 cup of sugar. That seemed like waaaay too much of both so I cut those amounts in half. I also used grapeseed oil instead of the olive oil since I had it on hand and it's become one of my favourite oils to use. Also, I didn't have an orange handy (the zest the original recipe called for) but I did have a fresh lemon handy so that's what I used.

Well, I LOVED this side dish. De-lish! I could have gobbled down the whole thing myself. My kids weren't big on it (they apparently didn't get the asparagus gene from Mom but I wasn't too concerned because I got to nibble on the spears they didn't eat). :)

The sweetness from the sugar combined with the tang from the fresh lemon zest .... mmm, mmm, good! Next time I'll try using the zest from an orange and see how it pans out. I'll also try to snap a picture of this dish ... I was much too eager to try this dish out. Snapping a picture just wasn't on the agenda tonight! :)

Sweet Citrus Grilled Asparagus
Yield: 3 servings

1 bundle of asparagus (about 20 spears)
1/8 cup olive oil
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
Zest 1/2 lemon

Preheat BBQ to medium-high heat.

Break the tough ends of the asparagus off. Pour oil in a shallow dish. Combine sugar and salt in another shallow dish. Roll the asparagus in the oil, then roll in sugar and salt mixture. Place asparagus on grill and cook for 10-15 minutes. Turn asparagus to ensure even cooking. You know the asparagus is done when the sugar has caramelized and the asparagus is starting to look burnt. Sprinkle lemon zest over asparagus right before serving.

Alternative Cooking Method: Roast in the oven for approximately 15-20 minutes at 350F, turning once.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Chewy Oatmeal Cookies


My 200th posting!! Wow! I can't believe I've had that much to post in only 5 months lol. This recipe is a wonderful way to celebrate this milestone.

I got this recipe from one of the most respected posters on the Today's Parent recipe forum ... Greensleeves (who is also a follower of my blog). This cookie is crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. My kids requested chocolate chips instead of raisins in the batch I did today and I've gotta say ... these are really good (I ate 4 cookies myself ... just to make sure!).

I also love the size of these cookies when you use the small melon baller. I think they'll be perfect for the kids' school lunches.

You can try adding some cinnamon, a bit of cloves and nutmeg if you'd like more of a spicy cookie.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups oats (not instant)
1 cup chocolate chips OR 1 1/2 cups raisins

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

In a large bowl, cream together butter, sugar and brown sugar. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix well. Add flour mixture to wet mixture. Do not over mix or you'll have a tough cookie! Fold in oats and chocolate chips or raisins.

Using a small melon baller (or a tablespoon) drop dough 2-inches apart onto a baking sheet sprayed with non-stick spray OR lined with parchment paper (my preferred method).

Bake for 11-13 minutes (on centre rack) until golden but still moist beneath cracks on top. Remove from oven; let cookies sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to completely cool. Store in an airtight container.

Tip: If your raisins are too dried out, put them in a microwave-safe bowl, sprinkle with water, cover and heat on high for 1 minute. Let cool.

Alternative: Substitute craisins for raisins.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Baking for Valentine's Day

Phew. What a day! This morning I baked my butt off making heart-shaped sugar cookies for each of my 3 kids classes. Over 60 cookies complete with pink icing and sprinkles. I felt like a Keebler Elf I was so industrious! Individually wrapped each of them in Valentine's Day bags too.

I didn't have to but "Cub" asked me to make his class some ... then Karate Kid and Missy Moo asked for some for their classes too. How could I say no? :) Do they truly know how much work goes into it? I don't think so. I bake so much that it's normal for them to see me whipping some baked good every few days. But they did help put the sprinkles on and bag them ... and I did get "thanks Mom"s and some extra hugs from all 3 so it's already paid off. :)

Add into my busy day a very sick hubby who was home all day (which, any stay-at-home mom will tell you totally throws off their daily mojo) -- this mom is pretty tired! So tired in fact that I just didn't have any energy to make dinner. The kids ate an easy dinner early and hubby and I "dined" on a Delisio pizza ... in front of Survivor. It's not fancy or the best pizza in the world but after a busy day it sure did taste good. :)

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Blog ... a work in progress :)

You may have noticed that I've been tinkering with various backgrounds and blog set ups. I'm proud of myself for teaching myself more about blogging but I think I prefer a simple layout over fancy. Thanks for your patience. :)


Shepherd's Pub Pie



This is one of my winter comfort foods.

I'm not the kind of person who is bothered by 'food touching'. I could name at least 3 people in my immediate family who have this 'affliction'. I'm not one to name names but they're all under 5 feet tall and call me Mom. Enough said.

Well, tonight those 3 people will not be happy about what's on tonight's menu! Like the old saying goes "She who wields the spatula rules the world" -- it might not be so much of an old saying as much as something that I tell my kids when they complain about a home cooked meal that I've toiled over. :)

This dish has a mixture of wonderful flavours -- from meat flavoured with the thyme and rosemary to the garlic mashed potatoes. I like to make it ahead of time then pop it in the oven a little longer to heat it through. Saves me a lot of time during the 'witching hour' in our house(after school to dinner time).

3 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 lb ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
3/4 cup carrots, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
2 tbsp flour
1 (10oz) can beef broth
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp crushed rosemary
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
pinch nutmeg
2 tbsp butter or margarine
1/4 cup milk or cream

Preheat oven to 375F. Boil potatoes and garlic in water until potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a skillet over medium-high heat, saute ground beef, onion, carrot and celery until the meat is no longer pink. Stir flour through evenly. Add broth and reduct heat to simmer. Add frozen peas, thyme, rosemary, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Simmer about 5 minutes, stirring a few times.

While the meat mixture is simmering, drain potatoes. Add butter and milk; with an electric mixer, beat potatoes until smooth and fluffy. Spoon meat mixture into a 9-inch deep pie plate or casserole dish. Spread potatoes evenly over meat mixture. Swirl tops of potatoes with the tines of a fork to create peaks. Bake for 35-40 minutes.

Monday, 8 February 2010

The Diva Takes the Cake


Title: The Diva Takes the Cake (2nd book in The Domestic Diva series)
Author: Krista Davis
Type: Mystery
Pages: 304
Published: June 2009



Synopsis: Sophie Winston's sister, Hannah, is getting married again and has asked Sophie to help her plan her wedding. Hannah's fiance, Craig, is no saint ... but could he be a killer?

When Craig's ex-wife is found dead a few days before the wedding Sophie takes action. Suddenly family secrets are brought out into the open and the list of murder suspects begins to grow.

My Thoughts: This whodunnit was not worth the effort. There were too many people involved and the reason for the murder was convoluted ... and quite dull, actually. The relationship between Sophie and her neighbour (aka arch nemesis) got on my nerves especially when Sophie didn't stand up for herself. The description of the food Sophie made was the best part of the book ... but those recipes weren't included in the back of the book!

My Rating: 1/5 (aka just didn't like it)

Saturday, 6 February 2010

SUPER Taco Dip


Ahhh, it's that time of year again. SUPER BOWL!!! For many people the Super Bowl means sitting back with a bunch of friends and watching the biggest football game of the year.

To me? Well, honestly ... I'm in it for the food (and the funny commercials). I admit it. I know nothing about the glorious game of football. Something about downs, touch downs and pig skin. I also love this time of year because I get to try out new appetizer recipes on people!

This dip is one of my hubby's favourites. Just the right amount of spice. I also like the fact that you can change the spiciness depending on the salsa and taco seasoning you choose. I found a recipe from one of my Pampered Chef cookbooks and tweaked it to suit our family's tastes.

1 (398mL) can refried beans
1 (250g) pkg cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
1 pkg (35g) taco seasoning mix (you choose how hot you'd like it - I choose mild)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup salsa
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1 small tomato, cored and diced
1/2 green pepper, finely diced
1/4 cup green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup pitted ripe olives, sliced
3-4 rings of jalapeno peppers, diced (optional)
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, minced (optional)

*** This recipe can be made ahead of time and kept in the fridge until you're ready for it. I encourage making it ahead of time because it gives the dip time to blend the flavours together.

Preheat oven to 375F. Spread refried beans over the bottom of a small baking dish. Combine cream cheese, sour cream and taco seasoning in a small bowl. Add garlic. Mix well.
Spread cream cheese mixture over beans. Spread salsa over cream cheese layer. Sprinkle cheddar cheese over top. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until heated through. Sprinkle with tomato, green pepper, green onions, olives, jalapeno peppers and cilantro (if using). Serve with tortilla chips.

Yield: 10 servings (or less if you're Super hungry!)

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Friday, 5 February 2010

Look Again



Title: Look Again

Author: Lisa Scottoline

Type: Mystery/Suspense

Pages: 337

Published: 2009

Synopsis: When reporter Ellen Gleeson receives a Missing Children flyer in her mail she has to do a double take. One of the boys on the flyer looks just like her 3 year old adopted son, Will. Mentally, she tries to shrug off the similarities but finds that her gutt instinct is compelling her to look into it more. Against the advice of her father and others she delves into finding out if her son is indeed the little boy who was kidnapped 2 years earlier from a rich family down south.

She starts to uncover clues that no one was meant to ever find. This leads to Ellen putting her life and the life of her son on the line. She also has to face the fact that Will may not be her son. Will her adoption still hold up? Will she be able to let him go if he is actually the kidnapped boy?

My Thoughts: As usual Scottoline delivers an 'edge of your seat' suspense novel. I read it in 2 days and loved the short 2-5 page chapters (a la James Patterson). The storyline is predictable in some ways but Scottoline still throws in a few surprises here and there. I did guess the final twist but it didn't effect my enjoyment of the book.

I also enjoyed the closeness of Ellen and Will's relationship as well as the way Ellen handled how other people perceived her as 'the adoptive mother' instead of 'Will's mother'. This book was very emotional in parts (especially for a mom like myself) and I loved to see the compassion Ellen had for the family of the missing boy. The internal struggle that Ellen had was interesting -- whether or not she could, in fact, give up her son if he was found to be the son of the other couple.

I really liked Ellen's character; it was well-rounded and likeable so that you felt you were rooting for her. I highly recommend Lisa Scottoline. Check out "Daddy's Girl" if you want to read another great suspense novel by this author.

My Rating: 4/5 (a really good read)

Thursday, 4 February 2010

BOOK TALK: Oops, I did it again

OK. I have a reading addiction. There, I said it. I freely admit it ... heck I even embrace it. If I could get it put on a coffee mug I'd drink my morning java (my other addiction) with pride.


So, did I need to rush out to the library to get some more new reads? Um ..... no. Did I already have some books waiting to be read at home? Um ...... yup. Do I have a desire to see books piled up waiting to be read? Uhhhh ......... you betcha! :)


My goal yesterday was to just walk into one of our local libraries, give back the books that the kids and I had that were due (there were over 30! Oh my aching back!), pick up a couple of books that came in and leave. I didn't need a tonne of books at home because I already had some waiting for me to read.


Wellllll, it seems that I reserved a whole gaggle of books on-line (man, that is just too easy to do!). These books just happened to come in at the same time (isn't that always the way?!!?). So now my pile of "Books to be Read" looks like ....

.

.


wait for it

.

wait for it


.


.


.


.




















My dearest hubby (*sigh* a non-reader) just doesn't get it. He doesn't understand my addiction to the beloved library. Thank goodness I can feed my reading addiction for free!



In case you're wondering, I have a smattering of supernatural books, some historical fiction and some mysteries too!!! Yippee!!



Tuesday, 2 February 2010

KITCHEN TALK: Changing Recipes

I'm all for trying new recipes ... that's what this blog is all about! :) Occasionally people take a recipe and make changes to it hoping for it to be better than the original. This works sometimes ... and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes people find a recipe then make so many changes to the original recipe that the new recipe no longer resembles the original. I'm OK with that ... I encourage it actually. I find baking/cooking to be a very creative outlet.

That being said, I do have a pet peeve. Often I go on certain recipe sites that allow for people to rate recipes and comment on them (a la allrecipes.com). I love the fact that 'ordinary people' (not chefs with 3 Michelin stars and oodles of restaurants) can comment on what they liked or disliked about a certain recipe.

But ... when people change a recipe so much so that it no longer resembles the original then criticize and give poor ratings to the original recipe ... that just bugs me. If they changed so many ingredients or amounts ... of course it isn't going to turn out the same way. I don't lose sleep over it but it just doesn't seem right.

I saw a recipes review once where the person berated the original recipe because it didn't turn out right. The texture and taste were all wrong. But the poster had omitted all of the butter/oil, changed the flour from all-purpose to whole wheat, omitted the salt etc etc etc. So many changes were made ... then criticized the original recipe.

But, the reverse can also be true. Sometimes you can find a good recipe but then add on to it so much that it becomes an amazing recipe. I love taking a recipe and tweaking it to suit my family's tastes. If I do this I'll then go onto allrecipes.com (or a similar site) and post the changes that I made and how well it worked out. I love to read other posters' comments before I try a recipe to see if they have any tips for making a recipe better.

As I said above, cooking is a very creative (not to mention cathartic) outlet for some of us. We just have to play nicely while we make our new creations. :)

Monday, 1 February 2010

A Little Bit Wicked


Title: A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love and Faith in Stages

Authors: Kristin Chenoweth (with Joni Rodgers)

Type: Autobiography

Pages: 224

Originally Published: April 2009


Synopsis: Kristin Chenoweth is known for being the pint sized Broadway performer, leading lady in her short-lived TV sitcom "Kristin" as well as Ms Noodle from Sesame Street and many other show biz endeavors. She might be tiny (at only 4'11" tall) but she definitely can belt out a tune and hold her own on any stage. From the smash hit musical "Wicked", to winning a Tony for "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown" to her roles in "The West Wing" and "Pushing Daisies", Chenoweth has proven she's a versatile performer.

Chenoweth details her life from small town Oklahoma, to participating in beauty pagents (which are vertically biased) to getting her Masters degree in opera to falling into the role of Broadway leading lady. She lets the reader know how her faith and family have kept her grounded in reality while she lives in the dysfunctional world of show biz.

My Thoughts: I enjoyed this book. For some reason Chenoweth has always intrigued me. I've seen her in a few things but unfortunately never on stage. This book helped me to learn a lot more about this very talented actress and I truly enjoyed her sense of humour.
Some parts of the book dragged a bit but I think that's because I'm not as well versed (obviously) in Broadway-speak as Ms Chenoweth. At some points in the book I actually laughed out loud (refer to page 51 entitled "How I Acquired the Semimagical Power to Predict Weather with my Cooter"!!).
Chenoweth personality seems to shine through and reading the book feels like she's chatting with one of her girlfriends. Her faith is also a big part of the book. She doesn't come off as preachy or 'holier-than-thou' as some people have criticized -- in my opinion anyway. Her faith is a huge part of who she is and to not include it in her autobiography just wouldn't be a full picture of who Chenoweth truly is.
This book has heart and humour. A good read.

My Rating: 3.5/5 (a good read)





Cross Country


Title: Cross Country (14th book in the Alex Cross series)

Author: James Patterson

Type: Suspense

Pages: 406

Published: November 2008


Synopsis: Detective Alex Cross is called to one of the most horrific murder scenes he's ever seen in Washington, D.C. An entire family has been slaughtered in their own home. More ruthless murders follow and Cross realizes he's chasing a new kind of killer. This killer is an African warlord named The Tiger who enlists teenagers to pull off his murders. When The Tiger heads back to Africa, Cross knows that he must follow him if he's ever to solve the murders. Cross arrives in Nigeria and learns that things are much different in Africa than they are at home.


My Thoughts: I can't say this was a favourite Alex Cross book of mine. It dealt with an important topic and I suppose the violence was necessary to portray the brutality of the civil wars in western Africa ... but for me, they were extremely graphic and overly savage in nature.


The storyline kept up at a good pace and at times I was on the edge of my seat but overall this book fell a little flat. I just couldn't accept that Cross would leave his family and fly all the way to Africa to avenge the death of a girlfriend he had back in college days. That after repeated beatings etc he still stayed to find the killers. It just didn't jive with me.


I do give credit to Patterson for bringing to light the devastation in western Africa and the civil unrest there. It has made me want to learn more about the genocide going on there and what I can do to help the millions of people still living in there. But ... it felt more like Patterson fit the suspense book around the topic of African unrest instead of fitting the African issues into his storyline.


I hope that Patterson comes out with a new hero (or heroine) for his books because I think I can cross Cross of my list now as one of my favourite main characters for future books. The first twelve Cross books were outstanding but the past 2 books haven't been as great as the previous books in the series. It just seems like the same issues plague Cross in many of the previous books. Stress about his job which affects his family at home. Pressure from Nana to stop working ... Cross has run his course.


My Rating: 2/5 (aka meh)


KITCHEN TALK: Dinner Parties

Saturday night we had some old friends over for dinner for a belated New Year's celebration since we weren't home for the regular festivities. There's nothing better than chatting with good friends, drinking some good wine and eating a great meal. Toot toot. That's me tooting my own horn. ;)

If you haven't tried my Balsamic Asparagus with Parmesan you have to. Right now! It was delish along with the baked potatoes (with the prerequisite sour cream) and steaks from a very tasty bovine (thanks to one of my BIL's who buys them from a supplier that supplies our local steakhouses. There is a definite difference in quality. They were sublime!). For dessert we had lemon meringue pie (the lemon filling was out of a box - I'm not a total food snob and will on occasion use mixes etc!) and Bavarian Apple Torte. The Bavarian Apple Torte combines apples (duh!), cinnamon, a thin layer of raspberry jam and a shortbread crust. Check it out here on the blog. Needless to say there is no more of the leftover dessert left in my house. :)

In the past I always thought of dinner parties as more of a hassle and stressor for me but as I get older I'm not as hung up on all the fancy little details. As long as there's good conversation, the kids are having a great time together, there's wine a'flowin' and good food ... it's all good. :)
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