Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Water For Elephants - Book Review

What a wonderful story! A lot of people were telling me that this was one of the best books they have read and I have to agree, it was a page turner!

I was told that it starts out slow, so you have to push on and then it picks  up. I noticed this as I was actually trying to force myself to read it up to the first 4 chapters, but once I got past them, I couldn't put the book  down.

The author has a way of making you feel like you are right there experiencing almost everything that is happening. You get really attached to the characters because they come to life in this book.

When I read the prologue, it sort of leaves some details out, and I was misled on who killed who at the end, so I was on the edge of my seat worrying the whole time what was going to happen. I don't think saying this gives away any clues since it comes right out and tells you this before you even get to chapter one.  I was surprised in a good way though.

I can't wait to see the movie next month. When I heard Reese Witherspoon was going to be playing the part, it was really hard for me to see her as that character, but after watching the trailer for it, I can see she's going to do a great job. I love Reese! And you gotta love Robert Pattinson who plays the lead roll in the movie. :)

The book was really good, but I do have to point out some of the cons of the book to be fair. I found the sex scenes to be way too detailed, the author really didn't need to go into that much graphic detail, I almost felt a little traumatized! TMI for sure. There was also a lot of F bombs dropped and a lot of the using of the Lords name in vain. Thought I would throw that out there in case that might be a deal breaker for some of you.

Another con was, I wish the book would have went into a little more detail about what happened after the huge event at the end. I know it is easy to say they rode off into the sunset and lived happily ever after, but it leaves  you a little hanging after the author just put so much time and effort into the details of what happened before the happily ever after. You know? I almost feel like I need a sequel to fill me in on their happily ever after. haha  I guess you never  know, maybe it could happen.

Overall I do recommend the book because the story was amazing! I have a huge love of animals, so I would get a little choked up with a lot of the talk about the animals in the circus and what they went through. It was a very touching book. I loved how the whole story was told by the lead character when he was 93 years old. He was probably the funniest part of the book. He sure had me laughing! I'm glad he had a happy ending, too.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Chicken Tikka with Cucumber Raita

1 cup plain fat-free yogurt
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon sugar
Pinch cayenne
1 Cucumber
1 1/4 pounds skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 cucumber
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
pappadam or other flatbread, toasted (optional)

Combine 1/3 cup of the yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, the garam masala, coriander, turmeric, sugar and cayenne in a food processor and puree. Transfer the mixture to a large zip-closed plastic bag and add the chicken. Squeeze out the air and seal the bag; turn to coat the chicken. Refrigerate, turning the bag occasionally, at least 30 minutes or up to overnight.

Preheat the broiler. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with nonstick spray.

Remove the chicken from the marinade; discard the marinade.
Thread the chicken on 8 (12 inch) metal skewers. Place the skewers on the prepared baking sheet. Broil 5 inches from the heat until the chicken is browned and cooked through. about 4 minutes on each side.

Meanwhile, to make the raita, stir together the remaining 2/3 cup yogurt, the cucumber, mint, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. in a serving bowl. Serve the raita with the chicken and pappadam, (flatbread) if using.

2 skewers per person ( 4 servings)  181 Cal. 3 g Fat, 1 g Sat Fat, 0 Trans Fat     WW Point Value 4

This Cucumber Raita turned out really good.

  But I made a big oops when I made the chicken. The recipe called for garam masala and I had no idea what it was, so I left it out. Come to find out, it is a blend of many different spices, soooo my chicken turned out a little bland in taste. Lou's turned out great because she put in the garam masala, she said hers was extremely flavorful.  So I'm going to make this again in the future and put this in it so I can taste how it really was suppose to turn out.

Here is how to make garam masala.

I will say this smelled amazing when it was cooking though.  To go and see how Lou's turned out, click here.

(Lou is my friend in FL and we do dinner across the miles every Tuesday)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Berry Good Chocolate Cupcakes

3/4 cup granulated sugar (I used 1/2 cup Sugar in the Raw)
1/2 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
3/4 cup frozen wild blueberries, thawed (but not drained)
1/2 cup 1% low-fat milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

For the Frosting …
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
2 tablespoons buttery “spread” (we used Smart Balance Buttery Spread with Flax)
2 tablespoons 1% low-fat milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly oil or coat muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray and set aside or use cupcake papers.

2. Place the sugar and oil in a large bowl and beat at medium speed  until well blended, about 1 minute. Add the eggs, blueberries (and their juice), milk, and vanilla extract, and continue to beat on medium until the blueberries are broken up a bit and well incorporated, 1 more minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. At low speed, gradually beat the flour mixture into the liquid mixture until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

4. Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared muffin cups, filling almost to the top. Bake for 15 minutes for mini cupcakes and 20 minutes for the regular size, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Remove the cupcakes and cool completely before frosting.

5. To make the frosting, place the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, buttery spread, milk, and vanilla extract in a bowl and beat at low speed until blended. Raise the speed to medium once the sugar is incorporated and continue to beat until creamy. Spread the frosting over the cupcakes, and garnish as desired.

Makes 24 Mini Cupcakes or about 12 regular cupcakes

I love cupcakes and I love chocolate, but I also love to eat healthy. So I searched around google trying to find a healthy chocolate cupcake recipe and stumbled upon this one.

Chocolate is actually heart healthy! Chocolate contains flavonoids which act as antioxidants.  It can lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol. Did you know that it stimulates endorphin production, which gives a feeling of pleasure and contains serotonin, which acts as an anti-depressant? The darker the chocolate the better.

Blueberries are also a main ingredient in this cupcake. They are also an antioxidant powerhouse! They have cardio-protection, benefit vision (protect against macular degeneration), protect the brain from oxidative stress,  and can protect against certain cancers.

These tasted wonderful. I loved the cake part of them the best. They had a great texture and flavor. The icing was a little sweet for me, so if I make these again, I may search for a different frosting recipe for them.  I had so much fun making them. My favorite part is decorating the tops. One thing I learned is if you're going to use any type of sprinkles or anything, you must sprinkle them the moment you put the frosting on, or the frosting starts to set and the sprinkles won't stick to it.  I also had to put these in the refrigerator for a little bit to harden the frosting up more.

This was my first attempt at making chocolate cupcakes and they didn't turn out  bad at all. I think making cupcakes can become addicting. I absolutely LOVE the show Cupcake Wars on the Food Network. Just from me making cupcakes a couple of times now, I must say, it takes great skill in order for those people on the show to be able to make cupcakes with no exact recipe to follow, crazy ingredients to pick from, try to be  the most unique and all under a certain amount of time. Those people on the show are very talented! :)

You will probably see a lot more cupcake recipes on here in the future. 

If you have any must try cupcake recipes, please pass those along, too.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Guest Room Redo, Done

Desk was originally all white from LLBean.

So the room originally started from this...

Then turned into this...

And finally has become this...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lentil Soup with Parmesan Toasts

1 1/2 oz butter
1 Tbs olive oil
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup sliced leek (white part only)
1/2 cup chopped celery
4 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 small red chili (finely chopped)
13 oz tin of chopped italian tomatoes
32 oz vegetable stock or water
2 bay leaves
2 Tbs chopped fresh oregano
1/2 cup lentils du Puy
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley

Melt butter and oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add carrots, onion and leeks and cook for 10 min., stirring occasionally. Add celery, garlic and chilli and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes, stock (or water), bay leaves, oregano and lentils and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for 30 min. Season with salt and pepper, and stir through parsley.

Parmesan Toast
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 baguette
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup finely grated parmigiano reggiano cheese

Preheat oven to 400F.
Place oil and garlic in blender and process until smooth.
Slice baguette into slices. Lay the slices in one layer on baking tray. Using a pastry brush, bursh each piece of baguetter with the garlic oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper and top with Parmesan cheese. Bake the toast 15-20 min or until brown and crisp. Makes 20 pieces.
Note: Toast will keep in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

This is my Tuesday Dinner Across the Miles recipe.  Lou and I make the same dinner every Tuesday night together from different states. (Go see Lou's here.)  I picked this recipe from the Bill Granger cookbook Sydney Food.  A friend of mine told me about Bill Granger and talked me into getting this cookbook! I'm so glad I did, thanks T.!  It has some really nice recipes in it and I highly recommend it, too.

This recipe called for Puy Lentils, but you won't find such a thing in the lil' town of Mayberry. So I just used the regular brown lentils you get at the grocery store. Maybe I will try to find some online and order them to see what the difference is.

Sydney Food
The soup has a ton of flavor. It calls for a chili pepper, so I put in one of my big cayenne peppers from my garden that I had stored in the freezer. It made it nice and spicy!

 I just couldn't get over the flavors in this. It called for Italian tomatoes, but I just used my canned tomatoes I canned this past summer. I also had a friend over and she said she loved the soup, too. The toast was also a hit.

2 Thumbs Up!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Delicious Tostadas

I had the most yummy tostadas and rice tonight! I learned to make this meal from my friend that I invited over for dinner this evening. For the tostada shell, I bought soft corn tortillas and fried them in a pan of canola oil until they hardened. Then we mashed up some canned pinto beans with a mashed potato masher. I made some homemade authentic Mexican salsa and topped it with lettuce and cheese. YUM!

I made some mexican rice to go with it. I just cooked some onions in oil, then browned the rice a little. Then added 2 cups of chicken broth and one small can of tomato sauce. Bring to boil and simmer 20 minutes. Bueno!

This is my favorite salsa. I had posted a recipe on how to make it last year. It really does give any Mexican meal that perfect little kick.  Authentic Mexican Salsa Recipe (I used a food processor instead of a blender this time, I like the chunky texture the processor gives it.)

Sorry the pics don't look very appetizing tonight, the lighting in the kitchen was horrible. I need to remember to turn the light above the table off for them to turn out better.