Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Not Afraid of Life: My Journey So Far

Not Afraid of Life: My Journey So Far by Bristol Palin

I picked this up our of sheer curiosity.  I had heard it discussed on various morning shows and was intrigued by the commentary that Bristol pretty much bashes Levi Johnston, her "baby daddy" if you will, and was wondering what she really had to write about.  She does, indeed, have words to say about Levi (and about McCain's daughter, Meghan, as well...), but save yourself the time and pass on this one.  Unless you're curious like I was.  I read it quickly.

Book description from Amazon:

In this personal memoir, Bristol Palin opens up for the first time ever, taking readers behind the scenes in her life, from growing up in Alaska to coming of age amid the media and political frenzy surrounding her mother’s political rise; from becoming a single mother while still a teenager to coping as her relationship with the baby’s father crumbled publicly. Through all of these ups and downs, Bristol learned how to face her challenges head-on with courage and grace.
In Not Afraid of Life, Bristol speaks candidly of her aspirations and of the deep religious faith that gives her strength and inspiration. Plainspoken and disarmingly down-to-earth, Bristol offers new insight and understanding of who she is and what she values most.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Clean Plate Club Cookbook

 image from 

The Clean Plate Club Cookbook

Just days after returning home from the hospital with our new baby, I received a fun email.  A recipe I had submitted to The Land of Nod was chosen to be included in their cookbook, The Clean Plate Club.  Not only would I be receiving a copy of the cookbook, but they were also going to throw in a $50 gift card.  And with a little one in the house now, I don't think I'll have any problems finding something to spend it on.  Well, the cute little book arrived, with laminated pages and all to protect it from sticky kid fingers helping out in the kitchen.  The recipes are kid-friendly both in terms of taste and preparation.  The recipe I submitted was my Nacho Chicken.  And trust me, anyone can make this.  I might start having Macey whip it up now that she's a month old. 

I kid.

But, in all seriousness, it's easy to make and very kid-friendly.

If you're interested in getting a copy of the cookbook, it's available here on Land of Nod's website.

Friday, August 26, 2011

XXL M&M Chocolate Chip Cookies

XXL M&M Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 2 dozen.

How fun are these?  Thick, chewy, and delicious too.  I don't have a muffin top pan, so I couldn't make them exactly like the Picky Palate does, but they still turned out great, if I do say so myself!
Source: Picky Palate blog

2 sticks softened butter
3/4 c. sugar
1 c. packed light brown sugar
2 extra large eggs
2 T. pure vanilla
3-3/4 c. all purpose flour
1-1/2 t. baking soda
3/4 t. salt
12 oz bag chocolate chips
1 bag M&M’s (you’ll have some left over)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a stand or electric mixer beat the butter and sugars until well beaten.  Beat in eggs and vanilla until well combined.  Place flour, baking soda and salt into a large bowl; mix.  Slowly add to wet ingredients along with the chocolate chips.  Do not mix in M&M’s!!

Scoop 1/4 Cup of dough and press into a muffin top pan (or just press onto a parchment or silpat lined cookie sheet).  Now, press your M&M’s onto pressed cookies.  This way they won’t break apart!!  Bake for 12-15 minutes, until edges just start to turn golden brown.  Let cool for 10 minutes on muffin top pan or cookie sheet before transferring to a cooling rack.  Grab a tall glass of milk and EAT until your hearts content

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Beer-Braised Turkey Tacos

Beer-Braised Turkey Tacos

Makes 12 tacos.

Not your average tacos!  These have a distinct flavor, perfect for the refined palate.  Not feeling very refined?  Omit the cinnamon, as we felt that's what made these tacos taste "gourmet."
Source: Food and Wine magazine

2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
(2) 1-pound bone-in turkey thighs or drumsticks, skin and fat removed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 medium white onion, cut into 1-inch dice, plus minced white onion, for serving
1 large oregano sprig
1 large jalapeño—stemmed, seeded and sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
1 medium tomato, coarsely chopped
1 ancho chile—stemmed, seeded and coarsely chopped or torn
One 2" cinnamon stick
One bottle Mexican dark beer, such as Modelo Negro
1 c. water
12 tortillas
2 T. toasted sesame seeds and cilantro sprigs, for serving, if desired
Additional taco toppings: shredded lettuce, cheese, etc.

In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Season the turkey with salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat until richly browned all over, about 8 minutes. Transfer the turkey to a plate.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the casserole along with the garlic, diced onion, oregano and jalapeño and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the onion is softened, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato, ancho and cinnamon stick and cook, stirring, until the tomato releases its juices.

Return the turkey to the casserole, add the beer and water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat, turning once, until the turkey thighs are tender, about 1 hour. Transfer the turkey to a plate and let cool. Discard the oregano sprig and cinnamon stick and boil the sauce over high heat until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 12 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Wrap the tortillas in foil and bake for about 8 minutes, until softened and heated through. Remove the turkey meat and shred it. Transfer the sauce to a food processor and puree. Return the sauce to the pot and stir in the shredded turkey. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon the turkey onto the tortillas. Top with minced onion, sesame seeds and cilantro sprigs and serve.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Taco Dip

Taco Dip

Serves 4-6.

I can't believe I've never posted this on my blog before, given how frequently it's made in my house and among my circle of friends.  Not that it's anything fancy or new-and-improved, and most of you have probably had it and/or made it.  But it's a party classic and, simple may it be, people devour it.  Make a double batch for your new party.  Heck, make TWO double batches.  It'll get eaten.
Source: not sure where I found it first, but it's Sarah that's best known for making it   :)

1 (8-oz.) block cream cheese, softened
1 can no-bean chili
Shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spread cream cheese in the bottom of a pie plate or other baking dish.  Top with chili and then with shredded cheddar cheese. 
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbly and dip is heated through.

My three brothers and The Mr. showing their approval of Taco Dip.  (This photo is from the summer of 2007 -- boy does time fly!)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tequila-Thyme Lemonade

Tequila-Thyme Lemonade

Makes 1 drink.

It's tequila thyme!  Here's a fancy cocktail that looks beautiful and will perfectly complement your Mexican fiesta.
Source: Martha Stewart Living magazine

3 thyme sprigs
1 t. superfine sugar
2 lemon wedges
3 oz. silver tequila
1 oz. cold water

Muddle thyme sprigs with sugar and lemon wedges in a glass.  Add tequila, water, and ice.  Stir.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mexican Fiesta

Mexican Fiesta

The days may be getting shorter and the temperatures cooler, but summer is not over yet!  Invite some friends over and take advantage of outdoor entertaining while you still can!
New recipes posted this week.  Old recipes linked in this post.   

First, set the scene:

Mix up some drinks.  Tequila-Thyme Cocktails, anyone?

Or perhaps some Pomegranate Margaritas, Beer Margaritas, Tequila Sunrises, or Fresh Strawberry Margaritas?

And serve your favorite good-to taco dip (thanks for bringing this, Sar!):

Or maybe some guacamole?

It's always nice to make sure there are some easy munchies scattered about:

Feast on the main meal of Beer-Braised Turkey Tacos (best served with some Mexican beer):

End with something sweet, like these XXL M&M Chocolate Chip Cookies:

And enjoy the evening with good friends:

A happy baby content in her stroller is a fun addition too:

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Quilt: Completed! (almost)

The Quilt: Completed!  (almost)

In 2007 (2007!!!), I had the grand idea of making a quilt.  The idea got grander when I decided that I was going to make the whole thing by hand.  No sewing machine!  BUT, the grandest part of this idea was when I started cutting the squares and made them tiny.

I hope you caught my sarcasm.

I posted about the beginnings of the quilt in 2009 in case you want a little more history.

Anyway, here we are 4 years later and it's completed!  Almost.  The thing that makes something a quilt is that it is actually quilted.  Mine is together, has a back, and batting in between. But it's not quilted.  But I can throw it on a bed and actually use it.  I can wrap myself up in it on the couch.  I can lay my brand new sweet baby on it to play. 

And I feel proud that I did it by hand.  And my late grandmother, Mimo, is proud.

Oh, and it's HUGE.  Queen size!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I'll Walk Alone

I'll Walk Alone by Mary Higgins Clark

Super quick read!  Don't you love books that have ultra-short chapters??  This is one of them.  It looks like a lengthy book, but you'll find yourself getting through it pretty quickly.  It's fast AND enjoyable.

Product Description from Amazon:

THE QUEEN OF SUSPENSE IS BACK! Mary Higgins Clark’s new novel—the thirtieth and most spine-chilling of her long career as America’s most beloved author of suspense fiction— is about the newest and most up-to-date of crimes: identity theft.

Who has not read about—or experienced—with a sinking feeling the fear that someone else out there may be using your credit cards, accessing your bank account, even stealing your identity.
In I ll Walk Alone, Alexandra “Zan” Moreland, a gifted, beautiful interior designer on the threshold of a successful Manhattan career, is terrified to discover that somebody is not only using her credit cards and manipulating her financial accounts to bankrupt her and destroy her reputation, but may also be impersonating her in a scheme that may involve the much more brutal crimes of kidnapping and murder. Zan is already haunted by the disappearance of her own son, Matthew, kidnapped in broad daylight two years ago in Central Park—a tragedy that has left her torn between hope and despair.
Now, on what would be Matthew’s fifth birthday, photos surface that seem to show Zan kidnapping her own child, followed by a chain of events that suggests somebody—but who? Zan asks herself desperately, and why?—has stolen her identity.
Hounded by the press, under investigation by the police, attacked by both her angry ex-husband and a vindictive business rival, Zan, wracked by fear and pain and sustained only by her belief, which nobody else shares, that Matthew is still alive, sets out to discover who is behind this cruel hoax.
What she does not realize is that with every step she takes toward the truth, she is putting herself— and those she loves most—in mortal danger from the person who has ingeniously plotted out her destruction.
Even Zan’s supporters, who include Alvirah Meehan, the lottery winner and amateur detective, and Father Aiden O’Brien, who thinks that Zan may have confessed to him a secret he cannot reveal, believe she may have kidnapped little Matthew. Zan herself begins to doubt her own sanity, until, in the kind of fast-paced explosive ending that is Mary Higgins Clark’s trademark, the pieces of the puzzle fall into place with an unexpected and shocking revelation.

Deeply satisfying, I’ll Walk Alone is Mary Higgins Clark at the top of her form.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mrs. Field's Chocolate Chip Cookies

Mrs. Field's Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 3 to 3-1/2 dozen.

This is a delicious chocolate chip cookie recipe.  YUM.  YUM.  TRIPLE YUM.
Source: Diana Lee in A Taste of Bay cookbook

1 c. (2 sticks) softened butter
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1-1/2 c. packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2-1/2 t. vanilla extract
2-1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 t. salt
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1-1/2 bags (12 oz. each) semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, sugars, eggs, and vanilla.  Sift together the flours, salt, baking powder and baking soda.  Combine the wet and dry ingredients.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Place rounded tablespoons of dough on a cookie sheet and bake for 9 minutes or until edges are light brown.  Do not overbake.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Nestle Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

Nestle Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

Serves about 24.

There's no replacement for classic chocolate chip cookies, but the chocolate chip cookie bar is amazing in its own way.  Plus, it's easier and faster than baking dozens of cookies and will still please a crowd.  Don't overbake for that perfect, slightly-undercooked gooey center.
Source: cookie recipe from Nestle chocolate chip bag, baking time adapted for 13x9 pan

2-1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 c. (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
12-oz. pkg. semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine all-purpose flour, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugars.  Add vanilla.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Gradually beat in flour mixture.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Spread cookie dough into a greased 13x9 baking pan.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until top is golden brown.  Cool on a wire rack.  Cut into bars.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Big Love

The Big Love by Sarah Dunn

This was a quick, easy, brainless read.  Along the lines of Sex and the City, it traces Alison's love trials.  It wasn't a bad read, but it wasn't really rave-worthy either.  Regardless, you won't waste much time getting through it, so pick it up if it sounds like something you might enjoy.

Publishers Weekly review from Amazon:

The annals of love have recorded many a humiliating breakup over the years, but Alison Hopkins gets hit with a humdinger in this surprising, touching and hilariously deadpan debut novel. When she sends her live-in boyfriend Tom to the supermarket right before a dinner party, she figures the worst that can happen is that he'll get the wrong mustard. Instead he calls from a pay phone to tell her he's not coming back at all, because he's fallen in love with his college sweetheart, Kate Pearce—with whom he's been sleeping for five months. If Alison were a Sex and the City siren, she'd distract herself with martinis, Manolos and misappropriated men, but she's a broke columnist for the floundering weekly The Philadelphia Times. Plus, though now lapsed, she was raised evangelist Christian. So it's a new pair of hiking boots, pie-contest judging and furtive dalliances with a coworker for reluctant good-girl Alison as she tries to gauge the ins and outs of the single world that non-fundamentalists mastered in their early 20s. Alison's struggles to fit into the mainstream world are fresh and full of wisdom, and Dunn's humor is marvelously dry: "Bonnie had a sudden flash of what he might come up with on his own…so she drew a picture on a cocktail napkin of a wide band of channel-set diamonds, and she wrote down the words 'platinum' and 'size six' and 'BIG' and 'SOON.' " This is a delightful exploration of the empowerment that comes from escaping a Big Love turned Bad Love.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 8, 2011



Makes about 3 dozen "regular-size" cookies or 16 giant cookies.

A twist on the traditional oatmeal raisin cookie and perfect for a coconut lover like me!  These cookies are soft and chewy.
Source: Ace Cooks, Bakers, and Miracle Makers cookbook

1 c. (1/2 lb.) butter or margarine, at room temperature
1-1/2 c. firmly packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 t. vanilla
3 c. regular rolled oats
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. salt
1/2 t. baking powder
1 c. chopped walnuts, optional
1/2 c. sweetened, shredded dried coconut
1/2 c. raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix butter and brown sugar until thoroughly blended.  Add eggs and vanilla; beat well.  Combine oats, flour, salt, and baking powder.  Blend oat mixture with butter mixture.  Stir in walnuts, coconut, and raisins.  Spoon cookie dough onto baking sheets -- rounded tablespoons for "regular-size" cookies or 1/2 cup scoops for "giant" cookies. 

Bake for 10-11 minutes for "regular-size" and 20 minutes for "giant" cookies, or until edges are golden brown.  Cool cookies on a wire rack.  Serve or store airtight.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Take 5: Easy Breakfasts, Part 2

1. Homemade Granola Bars - Freezer-Style

Make this granola bar recipe.  Cut into bars.  Wrap each bar in plastic wrap and place in freezer.  Thaw overnight and eat on the run!

2. Avocado Toasts

A good friend of mine introduced me to these simple, amazingly delicious toasts.  Spread half of an avocado on one slice of crusty bread that has been toasted briefly under the broiler, in the toaster oven, or in the toaster (you can also use two smaller toasts like shown above).  Top with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a drizzle of freshly-squeezed lemon juice, crushed red pepper flakes, and a good-quality sea salt.  And then, enjoy.

3. Cottage Cheese "Doubles"

You could buy Breakstone's version for a buck a piece, or you could make your own with a tub of cottage cheese and some fruit preserves.  Make them up early in the week and enjoy over the course of the next week or two weeks... or even longer depending on the expiration date.

4. Classic Sunny-Side-Up Egg with English Muffin

Heat a small skillet over medium heat. When a drop of water sizzles on the pan, spray with nonstick spray and crack egg onto pan. One way to cook the yolk slightly without flipping, if desired, is to cover the skillet with a flat lid while cooking. Season with salt and pepper, or your favorite seasoning (I find traditional steak seasoning tastes great), and serve with a toasted and buttered English muffin.

5. Greek Yogurt Parfait

Scoop 1 cup of plain Greek yogurt into a bowl. Top with your favorite fruit preserves (I like raspberry) and sprinkle with granola.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Prayers and Lies

Prayers and Lies by Sherri Wood Emmons

One of the better books I've read.  You're drawn into the lives of Bethany and Reana Mae and you'll want to keep reading to learn more.

Product description from Amazon:

When seven-year-old Bethany meets her six-year-old cousin Reana Mae, it's the beginning of a kinship of misfits that saves both from a bone-deep loneliness. Every summer, Bethany and her family leave Indianapolis for West Virginia's Coal River Valley. For Bethany's mother, the trips are a reminder of the coalmines and grinding poverty of her childhood, of a place she'd hoped to escape. But her loving relatives, and Bethany's friendship with Reana Mae, keep them coming back.
But as Bethany grows older, she realizes that life in this small, close-knit community is not as simple as she once thought. . .that the riverside cabins that hold so much of her family's history also teem with scandalous whispers. . .and that those closest to her harbor unimaginable secrets. Amid the dense woods and quiet beauty of the valley, these secrets are coming to light at last, with a force devastating enough to shatter lives, faith, and the bond that Bethany once thought would last forever.
Spanning four decades, Sherri Wood Emmons' debut is a haunting, captivating novel about the unexpected, sometimes shocking events that thrust us into adulthood--and the connections that keep us tethered, always, to our pasts.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Our new addition!

We've had some recent changes in our household -- we welcomed a baby into the world!

Macey Miriam Szlag was born on Wednesday, July 20, 2011 at 1:55am.  She weighed 7 pounds, 13 ounces, and was 19 inches long.

She has been an absolute joy and we feel so blessed to have her here happy and healthy.

I'm hoping to stay on top of things, but if the blog starts to lag a bit, you'll know why!