Monday, January 24, 2011

Books #7-9 of 2011

More kids' books! I had a couple of coupons this weekend for Barnes and Noble to buy one kid's book and get one half off so I had a lot of fun reading kids' books to decide which ones to buy. In case you are wondering, I ended up bringing home Click Clack Moo: Cows that Type, Harry the Dirty Dog, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, and (book #9) I Must Have Bobo!

Book #7 was Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown. I loved the bright illustrations in this book about a bear cub that finds a stray human child and wants to make him her pet. 4 stars

Book #8 was Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates. Andrew actually picked up this book in Barnes and Noble because of the cute cover illustration. Dog loves books so much that he decides to open his own bookstore, because even more than he loves books, he loves sharing them. 4 stars

I liked book #9 so much I bought it! It was I Must Have Bobo! by Eileen Rosenthal. This is a brand new book that according to Amazon doesn't actually even come out until tomorrow. I loved it! The little boy in the book is very attached to his toy monkey (I can relate to this... I still sleep with my teddy bear I've had since I was two!) But someone else also loves Bobo... the boy's cat, Earl! When Bobo goes missing, who do you think has him? 5 stars

Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake

This weekend my sister and her boyfriend came to eat with us. To me that meant time to try a new dessert recipe! I feel better about making whole desserts when other people come over because maybe that means Andrew and I won't eat the whole thing ourselves! I actually chose this recipe because we were in the grocery store a couple of weeks ago when I found my husband in the bakery looking longingly at this very kind of cake. I had been going through a big pile of old magazines and tearing out recipes I wanted to try and found this one in an old Southern Living. I have linked to the recipe and and copied it here. Also, enjoy the pretty picture from Southern Living, I didn't take any of my own this time. (Which is good actually, the cake turned out kind of ugly but tasted just great.) Seriously, the cake tastes like a giant chocolate chip cookie. Amazing. Anyway, the recipe...

Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake

Prep Time:
25 minutes
2 hours
Makes 12 servings


  • 2/3 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 (12-oz.) package semisweet chocolate mini-morsels
  • Garnishes: whipped cream, cherries


1. Preheat oven to 350°. Stir together first 3 ingredients in a small bowl, using a fork. Sprinkle in a greased and floured 12-cup Bundt pan.

2. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt.

3. Beat butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and vanilla at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer 3 to 5 minutes or until fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition, stopping to scrape bowl as needed. Beat in chocolate mini-morsels. (Mixture will be thick.) Spoon batter into prepared pan.

4. Bake at 350° for 50 to 55 minutes or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack 10 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack, and cool completely (about 1 hour).

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Books #3-6 of 2011

Six books down, only 94 to go on my quest to read 100 books this year! Right now I am stuck on Love in the Time of Cholera, but that's another story. Here's what I thought about the last 4 books I read.

The third book of the year was Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay. This was an incredible book. It starts with the story of Sarah, a 10 year old Jewish girl living in France in 1942, beginning with the night that Jews are rounded up in Paris and sent to holding camps outside the city. It switches point-of-view and time periods back and forth between Sarah and a woman named Julia, who, 60 years later, is finding her life intertwining with Sarah's story. I highly reccommend this book, especially to those, like me, with an interest in World War II history. 5 stars

I knew when I took this 100-book challenge, the only way I would be able to complete it would be to include children's books. But that's ok because there are lots of children's books I want to read. I took 2 children's literature classes in library school and now I love kid's books even more than I did before!

For book #4 I read Snow by Uri Shulevitz. It won the Charlotte Zolotow Award in 1999 and was a Caldecott Honor book that same year. I loved this book. It's a book of few words, but the pictures were gorgeous. The little boy in the book is very excited about the possibility of snow, but adults try to tell him it isn't going to snow or that it's going to melt as soon as it hits the ground... but they are wrong! It snows and snows and the little boy has lots of fun playing in it. 5 stars

Book #5 was City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems. Mo is one of my favorite new children's book authors, and I love his quirky, funny style. This book isn't his usual fare, and personally, I didn't like it as much. The watercolor illustrations are great, but the story just didn't do it for me. 3 stars

Book #6 was Pinkalicious by Victoria & Elizabeth Kann. I'd been hearing about the book for a while, but hadn't gotten around to reading it. It was a cute story about a little girl who eats too many cupcakes and turns pink! What a great problem to have... 4 stars

Friday, January 21, 2011

Shrimp and Orzo Salad

I was feeling creative the other night and made up this recipe for a Shrimp and Orzo Salad. For some reason, all these things just sounded really yummy to me. And actually, it turned out pretty good. I sort of cobbled together this orzo salad recipe from Simply Recipes, this balsamic mushrooms recipe from Martha Stewart, and this orzo recipe from Rachael Ray.

Here's what you need:

1 Cucumber
1/2 a bag of Baby Spinach
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
8 oz. Sliced Mushrooms
3 Tbsp. Balsamic Vinegar
2 cans (3 1/2 cups) Chicken Stock
2 cups orzo
1 lb of Shrimp
Juice of 1 Lemon, divided
3 Tbsp. Vegetable Oil
1 Tbsp. Red Wine Vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon Mustard
Pinch of Dried Basil
Pinch of Dried Oregano
Feta cheese (as much as you like)
Salt and Pepper

Wow, that's a lot of ingredients! Don't worry, it's not that hard to put together.

1.Peel the cucumber and cut it into cubes.

2. Tear the stems off the spinach leaves. (Or don't, if they don't bother you. I don't like the tough stems personally.)

3. Make the balsamic mushrooms: Heat the 2 Tbsp. of olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook them until they're brown, about 5 minutes.

4. Add the 3 Tbsp. of balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp. of salt, and some pepper. Cook another minute, then take the mushrooms off the heat and spread them out to cool.

5. Next, start cooking the orzo. Put the chicken broth in a pot and bring it to a boil. Once it's boiling, stir in the orzo. Return the broth to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is tender. (Side note: You could cook the orzo with water -- the directions are on the box -- but cooking it with chicken stock adds LOTS of flavor.) When the orzo is finished cooking, try to cool it down a little by spreading it out on a platter or cookie sheet and/or placing it in the fridge. It will be really hot and this is supposed to be a cold salad.

6. Next go ahead and make the dressing: Place in a bowl the 3 Tbsp. of vegetable oil, 1 Tbsp. of lemon juice, 1 Tbsp. of red wine vinegar, 1 tsp. of Dijon mustard, a pinch of dried basil, and a pinch of oregano (or any other herbs you'd like to throw in).

Whisk it until it looks like this.

7. Now cook the shrimp. If they have shells or tails, remove them. Place a little oil in a pan over medium high heat. Season the shrimp with some salt and pepper and the remaining lemon juice.

8. Cook the shrimp until they are pink and yummy-looking. Then take them off the heat and let them cool a bit.

9. Cut the feta cheese into cubes (or crumble it if you prefer).

10. Mix it all together! Toss the cucumbers, spinach, mushrooms, shrimp, orzo, feta, and dressing in a BIG bowl. Add some salt and pepper to taste. If you can wait, put the salad in the fridge to chill for a while. If you can't wait, have some right away (but it's better cold)! The recipe makes plenty for leftovers -- we ate on it for a couple of days!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Books #1 and #2 of 2011

I've set a (probably crazy) goal of reading 100 books this year. Not sure if I can do it, but I'm going to try. So far I've read 2 books this year. Here's what I thought of them.

The first book I read this year was The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. It's the story of Arnold Spirit, the geekiest kid on the Spokane Indian Reservation. When Arnold decides he want to attend a high school off the reservation in order to get a better chance at the future, the other Indians on the reservation treat him as a traitor. But this is one of those books that's about so much more than the plot. We see Arnold growing and learning things about himself throughout the novel. It is both heart-breaking and funny, and for me it brought to light the struggles of a people group that are often pushed aside and forgotten. I listened to the audio book version of this book, read by the author. It was still a great book, but I was sad to miss out on the illustrations -- Arthur is an artist, expressing himself through his cartoons. For this reason, I would suggest to others to pick up the book version instead. I highly recommend this book! 5 stars

Secondly, I read the final installment of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Like the other 2 books in the trilogy, this one is very long and started very slowly. This was the last book Larsson wrote before his death, and I had read that it suffered from a lack of editing because perhaps he wasn't entirely finished with it at the time of his death. I would wholeheartedly agree with this assessment -- there was a lot, especially in the first 200 pages or so, that could have been edited out. And thank goodness for the notes on Swedish history in the back or a couple of times I would have been really lost! But once the story got going, I started to enjoy it more. By the end I was was really into it and I thought it was a satisfying conclusion to the 3 books. Like its sequels, this book is not for everyone. It is full of violence and at times hard to read. There are some lose ends left that didn't get tied up and one thing in particular I hoped would be included in the plot that wasn't, but overall I enjoyed the book after following these characters over the course of 3 books. 4 stars

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Taco Soup

I made the most amazing Taco Soup for dinner last night and I just had to share the recipe! It's from Tasty Kitchen, but I have also pasted the recipe here. I didn't take any pictures of my own, the one here is also from Tasty Kitchen. The only change I made to the recipe was instead of using a 28-ounce can of tomatoes, I used one 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes and one 10-ounce can of Rotel to add some extra kick. Also, I used 4 cups of chicken stock and next time I would use all the juice from the tomatoes as well -- the soup really thickened up and the leftovers have hardly any liquid to them. But the soup is delicious and was super fast and easy to make!

  • 1 pound Ground Beef, Browned And Drained
  • 28 ounces, weight Canned Crushed Or Diced Tomatoes
  • 2 cups To 3 Cups Chicken Broth Or Stock (depending on how thick you like it.)
  • 1 envelope (1 Oz. Packet) Ranch Dressing Mix
  • 1 envelope (about 1 Oz. Package) Taco Or Enchilada Seasoning
  • 15 ounces, weight Canned Black Beans, Drained And Rinsed
  • 15 ounces, weight Canned Chili Beans, With Sauce
  • 15 ounces, weight Canned Pinto Beans, Drained And Rinsed
  • 2 cups Frozen Corn Kernels
  • OPTIONAL FOR SERVING: Tortilla Or Corn Chips, Grated Cheese, Sour Cream, Sliced Green Onions, Minced Fresh Cilantro, Diced Tomatoes

Slow Cooker Directions:

In a slow cooker crock, stir together meat, tomatoes, dressing and seasoning mixes, black beans, chili beans with sauce, pinto beans and corn. Place lid on crock, turn slow cooker to ‘LOW’ and cook for 6-8 hours.

Serve with or without toppings. Store leftovers, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to a week. You can also portion the leftover soup into individual servings and store in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Stovetop Directions:

Stir together meat, tomatoes, dressing and seasoning mixes (if using), black beans, chili beans with sauce, pinto beans and corn in an appropriately-sized soup pot. Place lid on pot, put pot over medium-low heat and bring to a simmer. Remove the lid and allow to simmer gently for 30-40 minutes or until soup is slightly thickened.

Serve with or without toppings. Store leftovers, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to a week. You can also portion the leftover soup into individual servings and store in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, blog readers. I'm sure you already know this, but I am now a Masters degree graduate! And in addition to (hopefully) better job opportunities and feeling like a giant weight has been lifted from my shoulders, I am hoping this means more time do do the things I think are fun, like cooking, crafting, and reading. And blog about those things! I already have some recipes ready to go up within the week so stay tuned. In the mean time, please enjoy this picture of graduation day. You have no idea how great that day felt!