Book Nook: The “To-Read List”

I love books!  No Kindles or Kobos for this girl.  I like to turn pages.  I like to use a bookmark.

I love to buy books!  One of my favorite things to do with the BF on a Saturday morning is head to Chapters, get some Starbucks, and browse.  And I usually end up leaving with a new book or two… even though I have a ton of books at home that I haven’t read yet.

Here are the titles that are sitting on my bookshelf waiting for me to get around to reading them:

  1. The Other Side of the Story by Marian Keyes
  2. Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
  3. The Lost Girls by Jennifer Baggett, Holly C. Corbett, Amanda Pressner
  4. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  5. Matched by Ally Condie
  6. Divergent by Veronica Roth
  7. I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella

I’m looking forward to going on vacation in a few weeks.  I’ve got my beach reads all picked out!

Do you have a to-read list?  What’s on it?

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Red Velvet Brownies and Cream Cheese Lovin’

Ever surprise yourself by realizing you like something you thought you hated?  I have.  I always thought I didn’t like cream cheese frosting, which isn’t that farfetched considering for years I refused to eat any dessert with cream cheese in it.  Mom’s no bake cherry cheesecake at Christmas – wouldn’t eat it.  Lick the beaters after she mixed the cream cheese layer for sex in the pan?  No thank you. 

But at some point in the recent past, I discovered I liked restaurant style cheesecake and that opened up all kinds of cream cheese dessert possibilities. 

I’m a cream cheese eater now, but I was still hesitant about cream cheese frosting.  Why would I want to eat that when buttercream frosting is so darn good?  Anyways, Food Network delivered 50 brownie recipes to my mail box.  This completely broke my resolve to “eat healthy” for my upcoming beach vacation (the nerve of them to tempt me with a chocolate issue!) and I decided I NEEDED to try some of their brownies.  I’ve also been wanting to make something red velvet for a while, so I figured I’d combine two desires and go with brownie number six – red velvet with cream cheese frosting. 

I was skeptical about the frosting… until I tried some.  Let’s just say I pretty much licked the bowl clean… and then ate three brownies.  I’m a total cream cheese dessert convert now.  I will no longer hesitate.  Cream cheese + sugar = awesomeness. 

Red Velvet Brownies
(#6 in the ‘50 Brownies’ insert from the March 2012 issue of Food Network Magazine)
 
Brownies:
1 cup flour
3 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup margarine
2/3 cups water
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp red food coloring
 
Frosting:
8 oz cream cheese
1/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla
 
Preheat oven to 325°.  Grease pan with margarine wrapper.  Whisk flour, cocoa, and baking powder in a bowl.  Bring brown sugar, margarine, and water to a simmer over low heat.  Take off heat and whisk in chocolate.  Cool slightly.  Whisk in eggs one at a time, vanilla, and food coloring.  Stir in flour mixture.  Bake 20 to 25 minutes until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool.  Meanwhile, make frosting by beating frosting ingredients until smooth.  Frost brownies.  Enjoy!

Tips: Next time I’ll use clear vanilla so it doesn’t turn the frosting brownish and sift my icing sugar first.  Bulk barn icing sugar is lumpy… and makes lumpy frosting (another lesson in kitchen patience).

How To Make Yourself Feel Better When Everyone You Know Is Going South

It’s that time of year.  The time when I’m dispensing Twinrix and Dukoral like crazy.  Then it happens.  The people you know start going on vacation.  And you’re stuck at home… in the snow… working.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for them.  Everyone deserves some fun in the sun.  I just have some issues with jealousy.  And I know I shouldn’t complain because I’m going on vacation in just over five weeks.  I purposely chose April because that way I won’t have to deal with being home from vacation while every I know is leaving for vacation.  That is worse.  I’ve learned from experience.   

So here are some tips for when you’re home… pouring hot water on your ice cube of a car so you can get the door open (true story):

Burn a tropical scented candle.  I’m in love with Bath and Body Works!  They have so many amazing candles to choose from!  Two of my favorites are their Coconut Lime Verbena and Vanilla Coconut.  I think they might be older ones, but it seems like they have so many new tropical scents out right now.  I’m dying to try Aloha Vanilla and Island Colada!  Can I go to Mic Mac please??

Listen to Bob Marley or UB40.  Their reggae beats always make me feel like I’m in Jamaica.  Suggestions:  Red Red Wine, One Love, No Woman No Cry, Could You Be Loved, Can’t Help Falling In Love With You, Every Breath You Take.

Use tropical scented soap.  Again, B&BW is your best friend here.  Who wants to send me some Mango Mai Tai foaming hand soap?  But don’t forget about your friendly neighborhood Wal-Mart.  Their SPAresource line has some pretty good options.  I’m in love with their Coconut Pineapple Hand and Body Soap.  Bonus: it’s cheaper than B&BW.

– If it’s a sunny day, bask in the sun in your apartment.  Some mornings when the sun is coming in my living room window it gets so warm that I can pretend it’s summer.  Then I get a huge shock when I go outside and it’s not 30°.

Drink a pina colada.  Blue Hawaiians, Miami Vices, and mango margaritas are good choices too.

Convince someone to set up/man an omelet station for you.  Freshly made omelets for breakfast everyday are one of my favorite parts of an all-inclusive vacation.  And omelets never taste as good when you make them yourself (or if you’re like me, you make a huge mess and it falls apart when you try to flip it).  So that’s why you need someone to do it for you.

Plan a trip yourself.  Ideally, you’d actually get to take it someday, but sometimes just looking at the destination travel brochures or Trip Advisor is enough to give you a boost.  The planning and anticipation are a huge part of the fun!

So there you have it… ways to pretend you’re down south when you’re not.  I hope these suggestions help!

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Prosciutto-Wrapped Herbed Ricotta Chicken

Ever wonder why it always takes you longer to make a recipe than it says it should?  I do.  When it comes to chicken recipes, I’ve realized the error in my ways.  I don’t defrost the chicken completely before cooking.  Why?  Because I can’t seem to remember to take it out of the freezer the night before, even though I tell myself “Make sure you put the chicken in the fridge” while I’m brushing my teeth before bed.  The other reason is because I am too impatient to wait for it to actually thaw completely in the microwave (plus it starts to cook around the edges and gets all gross).  And then it takes twice as long to cook.  But it’s easier to cut a slit into partially frozen chicken to put a yummy herbed ricotta cheese mixture. 

Oh, and the other reason it took me longer to make supper the night I made this is because I was afraid my frying pan was going to die in the oven.  I’ve always been afraid of recipes that said to use an “ovenproof skillet” for fear that my skillets aren’t “ovenproof” and would melt or explode or something if put in the oven.  But I got a new frying pan for Christmas (a Rachel Ray one ) and had made a mental note that the package said it was ovenproof up to 400º, so I thought I’d give it a go in the oven… But I didn’t save the packaging stating the ovenproof-ness…  And I’m neurotic and second guess myself, so I didn’t believe that it was really ovenproof…  and when I checked on it after it had been in the oven for fifteen minutes and it looked like the silicon on the handle had a bubble in it that wasn’t there before (but maybe it was there before and I hadn’t noticed it??)  I decided to transfer the chicken to a roaster, just to be on the safe side.  Dirtying more dishes, I know.  Damn.  The chicken turned out fab and nothing exploded in the oven!  It was from the Jan/Feb issue of Rachel Ray’s Everyday magazine (I subscribed last year and it changed my life!).  Delicious and surprisingly easy.  My favourite kind of suppers.  Now if only next time I remember to take the chicken out the night before..

 

 
Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken Stuffed with Herbed Ricotta
(slightly adapted from Rachel Ray.  The original recipe served four, but I adjusted some of the quantities to make only two servings, and left out the parsley as I didn’t have any)
 
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
pepper
3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic (grated)
3 sprigs fresh thyme (chopped)
some fresh basil (chopped)
2 chicken breasts
2 thin slices of prosciutto
EVOO
white wine to deglaze the pan
a spoonful of margarine
 
Preheat oven to 400°.  Mix together the cheeses, garlic, pepper, and herbs.  Cut a slit in your fully or partially defrosted chicken breasts and stuff the cheese mixture in.  Wrap each chicken with a piece of prosciutto.  Heat your ovenproof skillet (or not so ovenproof skillet) with a drizzle of EVOO over medium heat.  Add chicken and brown on both sides (about 6 minutes).  Transfer the pan to the oven (or transfer the chicken to an ovenproof pan and then transfer to the oven) and cook until chicken is done.  I think I ended up cooking mine for about 30 minutes because I am paranoid about raw chicken, but the original recipe says 12-15 minutes, use your judgement.  Take out of the oven and use wine to deglaze the pan.  I used Grand Pres L’Acadie Blanc (because it’s my fave!), but whatever you like to drink would work.  Add the butter.  Serve the chicken with the sauce on top.
 
I think this would also be fantastic if you swapped the ricotta for goat cheese and left out the parmesan.
 
 

Weekend all to myself!

Weekends are awesome and mine are usually full of something.  I work one in three weekends and the other two I usually spend with my boyfriend or if I’m not with him, I’ll go home to visit my parents.  Not this weekend.  This weekend I found myself not working (while the BF has too.. heh heh sucker!) with some free time just for me!  Thinking about all the possibilities of what I could be made me giddy with anticipation!

So here’s what I ended up doing this weekend:

  1. I went for supper with a friend Friday night.  Potato skins are quite possibly my most favorite food ever!
  2. I went to Body Pump at the gym Saturday morning.  I was really excited about this one, although my poor arse wasn’t as it was still recovering from Thursday’s 20/20/20 class.
  3. I watched ‘Cooking with KitchenAid’ on The Shopping Channel.  I already have a KitchenAid stand mixer (purchased from TSC of course!).  I really wanted the 5qt glass bowl and flex edge beater they were featuring as bonuses…. and the pasta roller and fettucine maker.
  4. I tried one of those new lattes from Tim Hortons.  I’m not a huge fan.  I much prefer Second Cup, Starbucks, or even McDonald’s lattes.  And what’s with Tim’s changing the names of the sizes of cups??  I was so confused.  And who needs the extra large?  That coffee is huge!! 
  5. I worked on my blog.  I figured it would be a good idea to figure out how to actually publish a post.
  6. I made Peanut Butter Brownies.  That’s two out of 50 brownie recipes down, 48 to go.
  7. I went to see the Vagina Monologues with the people from work for our staff ‘Christmas Party’.  Ya, we were a few months late on that one.
  8. I played Scattergories and the only drug name I could think of that started with “W” was warfarin.  And then someone else had that so I didn’t even get the point.
  9. In search of a Greek pasta salad recipe as good as the Summer Fresh one, I tried a recipe from The Looneyspoons cookbook.  I misread the recipe and put in 1 tbsp of sugar instead of 1 tsp.  Oh, and I almost forgot to put in the feta cheese.  Still not as good as Summer Fresh, and I don’t think it was just because of the extra sugar.
  10. I went for a walk and found an igloo

So, as you can see, I was pretty busy.  What were you up to this weekend?

Peanut Butter Brownies
(#17 in the ‘50 Brownies’ insert from the March 2012 issue of Food Network Magazine)
 
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup margarine
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
1 cup chopped peanuts
1/2 cup peanut butter
 
Preheat oven to 325°.  Grease 9×13 pan with the margarine wrapper.  Melt the chocolate chips and margarine over low heat while stirring.  Take off heat and whisk in both the sugars.  Let cool somewhat (I tend to be impatient, so I didn’t wait that long).  Whisk in eggs, one at a time, and vanilla.  Stir in the flour then fold in the peanuts.  Pour into pan.  Drop spoonfuls of the peanut butter on top and swirl around with a knife.  Bake for 45 minutes.
 
I found these tasted better once completely cooled.  I wasn’t super impressed with them when they first came out of the oven, but the next day with a glass of milk they were quite delicious!
 
 

Welcome to my blog…

Since you’re reading this, I guess it means I’ve decided to take the plunge… that’s right, I’ve started a blog.  I’ve only been considering this idea for about a year.  I discovered the wonderful world of blogs (food blogs in particular) about a year ago when I was putting my life back together after finishing treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  I had some free time on my hands and I revisited an old friend – the kitchen.  Cooking and baking were always something I enjoyed, but I hadn’t made much time for them since becoming a grown-up and working full time.  So I developed a slight cupcake obsession and started buying cookbooks and reading food blogs/magazines and my new hobby became trying new recipes.  Do you know what is more fun that trying a new recipe?  Sharing it with people!  Hence why I’ve been debating the blog idea for a year.  But this blog isn’t going to be just about food.  I have other interests, like traveling and reading.  I want this blog to be an outlet for me to talk about the things that I love and my daily challenges.  So here we go!