Friday, October 11, 2013

Cinnamon Biscuit Bake

I recently tried a quick and simple recipe I found in Pinterest: Sticky Bun Breakfast Ring. It was tasty and my kids loved it. However, I couldn't help but think it would be even better with homemade biscuits.

So, this evening I decided to try my on the recipe. Of course, what I didn't think about before was that I started with a baking powder biscuit recipe, the Breakfast Ring calls for buttermilk biscuits. A minor difference perhaps, but it likely explains the considerable difference in taste and texture. Maybe next time I will try it with a buttermilk recipe. But as we all know, sometimes the mistakes are the best inventions.

This was no exception. My cinnamon biscuits were a HUGE success!  The result was light fluffy cinnamon goodness that didn't last long enough for a complete picture.


2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
1 tbs sugar
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 tbs cinnamon
1/4 cup maple syrup

Preheat oven 425

Combine first six ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Blend on low, only until a soft dough forms. Form small balls of dough, rolling in a light dusting of brown sugar.

lace balls in a buttered bread pan. Sprinkle balls with the cinnamon sugar mixture, then cover the top with the remaining brown sugar. Drizzle syrup over the top.

Bake in oven for 20 minutes.

An hour later it's pretty much all gone...

This would be a simple recipe for breakfast, for company, and for holidays. Hot from the oven it would be fabulous à la mode!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Murder Mystery Birthday Party: Developing the Theme

I began with searching the internet, and really it was mostly Pinterest, for murder mystery birthday ideas. There are quite a few ideas bouncing around out there, but I consistently ran into one of two problems: everything was too young (for my about to be fifteen year old) or everything was too old, mature, and racy (for my about to be fifteen year old.)

I backed off my searches, and focused on the "mystery" part. This helped some, but there was still a lot to be desired in most of the posts I found. But alas, this was about gathering ideas, and that is what I did. Once I finally had some ideas, I had work to do.

My son played an integral role in putting everything together and he helped with everything from clues to set up to playing a role in the party. The first thing was planning, so we started with a list:

1. A mystery to solve.
2. A way to reveal clues.
3. A victim
4. A perpetrator.

5. to serve food.
6. give fun and theme related gifts
7. make sure the girls had fun! (This meant games or activities...)
8. Make it Memorable

That's a lot to ask in one week.

We needed details and fast. We were still thinking murder mystery dinner party, so we wanted to give each girl an identity. Following the format of the Parker's Brothers game Clue we decided on colorful names, and why not combine those colors with famous detectives? Our hope was to match girls with favorite colors, but that was too difficult. It would have been fun to have the girls dress the part, learn about there character and in some way use those traits to solve the mystery, but again the time crunch did not allow for this.

My son and I came up with the following cast:

 And my right hand little-man:

I played the part of Cinnamon, from Mission Impossible...My son thought that was terribly nerdy, and his reasoning was that I was "way too pretty" to be Cinnamon. Whatever! But I gotta love the guy for trying.

Now just for the decorations, food, clues, invitations, and party games...No Problem!


Monday, September 2, 2013

Murder Mystery Birthday Party: How it Came About

When the kids were little I picked their birthday themes, but now it is up to them to give me an idea of what they want. This normally works well. I limit them to a theme or an idea and then I run with it.

This year, girl hemmed and hawed for the longest. She thought about talking animals--maybe a little Geronimo Stilton--or fantastical fairy land. But she didn't seem too sure. Then she hit on it, a week before her birthday: A Murder Mystery!

I thought. Easy. We have several of those dinner party events stashed away in the closet, hoping to be used one day. I will just switch it up with my amazing powers and it will work. Who needs three boys and three girls to put on a party?

Well, evidently all the murder mystery party boxes do. They also need a lot of extra-marital affairs, and lies to cook up a good murder. So, that wasn't for us.

Time for a new plan. Well, part of the reason she decided on this theme is that she and I have been watching Murder She Wrote and Agatha Christie together (and occasionally Columbo). I know what you're thinking--what a great way to bond! But really, it has been great to see her powers of observation improve. She now enjoys the puzzle and the game of working it out before the detective.

Now I had a theme I could really make happen.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

EASY Breakfast Bake

Years ago my friends and I stayed in a fabulous bed and breakfast, The Iris Inn, in Ashland, Oregon. Our breakfast treat was a decadent shirred egg with cream and spinach. I loved it!

I tried to recreate it a number of times, and I often came close, and more often under cooked or over cooked the egg. Recently I saw something similar on Pinterest and set to work creating my own variation. What I loved about the idea on Pinterest was that it used a muffin tin and did not require an aluminum foil covering.

I have made this several times since, and have found that a variety of cheeses work. When we ran out of spinach I used finely chopped zucchini in it's place.

1 pkg Thin sliced black forest ham
4-6 eggs
Fresh spinach
The completed serving looks like a rose.
Fresh Parmesan
Favorite cheese (Havarti, Coastal or other)
Heavy cream/Whipping cream
Salt and pepper to taste
2-3 Chives

For each individual cup layer ingredients as follows:

2-3 slices meat, creating a "bowl" for the other ingredients
3 spinach leaves, nest these in the bottom of the bowl
Sprinkle of Parmesan cheese
1 egg
1/3 of a slice of Havarti nestled between the ham and egg
1 1/2 tsp heavy cream/whipping cream drizzled on top
Pepper to taste
Sprinkle of chives

Bake in 350° oven for 15 to 20 minutes depending on your oven and your egg preference. Time and heat is based on a dark muffin pan in a gas oven, and an over easy/medium egg. Serves 4.

Microwave variation: Use a ramekin instead of a muffin pan. Heat for 1 1/2- 2 minutes. Again, time may vary and you may want your egg to cook more fully.

What other veggies might you add to make this a healthful breakfast bake?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Summer of Ramen

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is not my friend. In fact, I have cursed this additive on more than one occasion. For the fact is, I discovered--wow, nearly ten years ago--that this amazingly common preservative and flavoring is a headache trigger for me. About a year ago I learned that it did unhappy things to my son as well.

Because my son and I have this "sensitivity" we as a family avoid MSG like the plague. At home this isn't a problem, potlucks can be rough. However, there were two things that we missed. For me, it was mushroom soup--that stuff was a staple in so many recipes!--but I created my own recipe quite easily. For my son, he had to give up Ramen noodles.

Ramen is a quick easy meal, and it was his "go to" lunch for school. He would crunch noodles into a thermos, add the seasoning packet, and some water. By lunch he had a perfect meal--in his definition if not mine. But in all those nifty little packages of cheap Ramen, we found MSG.

So no more Ramen for us.

Until we visited World Market. They have a wonderful product by Nongshim USA: Shin Ramyun: Gourmet Spicy. We tried it, we loved the flavor, but hot diggity it was HOT! And it is quite spendy in comparison to the other stuff. Please note: there is No MSG added, this is a bit tricky, because there is naturally occurring MSG in many products, however, for us small quantities of this type of MSG creates little to no effect.

We loved the Ramen, but had to dilute it to use it. After some experimenting we have found a way to enjoy Ramen again, and we all enjoy it, because this isn't your average poor-college-kid-one-pot-dinner. In case you would like to try it here's what we've done:

Find and buy the Shin Ramyun: Gourmet Spicy. We can buy it in a six pack bundle--this gives us six lunches/dinner. Buy an inexpensive package of ramen and throw out the prepackaged spices, or find ramen noodles in the Asian department of your favorite store.

The following makes about 6-8 servings or approximately 10 cups of noodle soup. *I have listed the veggies we use, but I am sure you can substitute many others--especially fresh from the garden produce you may have.

1 pkg Shin Ramyun: Gourmet Spicy, spice and veggie packet
1 pkg Ramen--no spice packet
1 can chicken broth
1 can chicken
1 cup finely chopped carrots*
1 cup finely chopped celery*
1 cup finely chopped onion*
1-2 chopped green onions*
1 cup finely chopped mushrooms*
1 tbs Better than Boullion Vegetable base

Add the chicken broth to a sauce pan. Rinse the can, adding two full cans of water to the pan. Add the chicken, including any broth to the pan. Drop in Gourmet spicy packet, and veggie packet contents. Add veggies. Bring to a boil. Add noodles and stir. Noodles are usually done within 1-2 minutes. Serve.

PLEASE NOTE: This is still a spicy version!

I learned two things from our search for MSG free Ramen: 1. Chicken broth and or the vegetable base  are great alternatives to the included spice packets. 2. The addition of chicken and veggies makes ramen a wonderful and easy meal.

We have made up for lost time with a summer of ramen....

What is your favorite way to eat ramen?

Friday, May 31, 2013

Presumptuous: Fourth Fisherman

From November 2005 to November 2006, my family was distracted by an overseas deployment and a self-imposed moratorium on news. We were perhaps one of the few families in the US who had never heard of "Los Tres Pescadores" (The Three Fishermen) until we read this book. I had never heard of these men who had been lost at sea. I had never heard of people surviving for 9 months on raw sea animals and rainwater, much less drifting 5000 miles across the Pacific. The men were tempted by despair, and two of the original five men succumbed to despair and died. However, the remaining three were sustained by faith in God and His Providence for them during their ordeal. Their story is inspirational, and I am glad that they survived to tell it and that Joe Kissack wrote about it.

In his telling of the fishermen's story, Kissack draws parallels with these men's story and his own spiritual journey as he faced a complete paradigm shift in his life. In the end, the three fishermen came home to their families, and Kissack found his way back to God through a sea of worldly temptations. Kissack's story is inspirational in itself. 

However, I was disappointed that Kissack took his own rather protected struggle of faith and made close parallels with these men whose very physical being depended directly on God's grace and their faith in Him. He even goes so far as to figuratively put himself in the boat with the fishermen as the titular "Fourth Fisherman."

Truthfully, as I read the book, I was expecting God Himself to be occupying this position as the unseen yet present Captain and Navigator...the "Fourth Fisherman." By supplanting this position and inserting himself (albeit figuratively) into these men's ordeal, he sullies what was otherwise a decent book.

This book is two inspirational stories in one. If you can look past the artificial importance Kissack gives himself, you will be edified by both spiritual journeys. 

Note: Please be aware that due to the nature of the fishermen's ordeal, many parts of the book are not for the young and the squeamish. I strongly recommend that it be read by High School students and older. 

This book was provided by Waterbrook/Multnomah for in exchange for review.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Review - "Beloved Enemy" by Al Lacy

I have to say, I wanted to like this book. I REALLY wanted to like this book.

I like the Al Lacy books I've read in the past. In addition, I am a fan of historical fiction, I am intrigued by the events involved with the costliest war in American history and I like a good "cloak and dagger" spy story.

However, this is not what I found in Beloved Enemy, written by acclaimed writer Al Lacy, cover art by the accomplished artist Phil Boatwright, a fellow Texan from Dallas. 

The first thing that struck me was the cover art. I hate to speak ill of a fellow Texan, especially one from my neck of the woods, but the cover art appears far below the abilities of an artist such as Mr. Boatwright. I have seen examples of Mr. Boatwright's work, and he has the skill and ability to make a painted portrait come alive and look real. In contrast, the cover to this book seems as though it was hastily done, as if it were concept art rather than a polished final product. Additionally (and this is mostly my desire for detail, continuity and accuracy in fiction here), the portrait of Jenny Jordan on the cover does not match the description of her in the story.

Then we get into the story. I did not do exhaustive research as I'm sure Mr. Lacy did, so I must trust his facts, dates and historical accuracy. It is also reasonable to assume that there were Confederate spies in the government of the time, perhaps even as far up as President Lincoln's war cabinet.

However, despite the framework for a good story, the characters appear forced into the historical framework. The story reads as though Mr. Lacy were pressed for time and was fighting a deadline.

Have you ever pulled an all-nighter on a report, turned it in and then re-read it later only to realize that it was not your best work? That is the impression that this book gave me.

I enjoy Mr. Lacy's stories, but this one will not make my list of favorites.

- Displaced Texan