Sunday, January 11, 2015

Review of The Skinnytaste Cookbook by Gina Homolka

The nutshell: Gina Homolka puts together a cookbook that has you cooking more healthy. The subtitle is: light on calories, big on flavor. An assortment of recipes ranging from appetizers to sandwiches to meat, poultry and fish dishes to veggies. Her introduction helps you learn how to navigate through her cookbook and gives you tips as to what to look for. Some recipes are dairy free, some gluten free, some veggie only. With freezer friendly and slow cooker recipes included, this cookbook covers everything you can think of.

Pro's: I love the pictures. I'm a lover of cookbooks and I love pictures. Being a visual learner, it's what my eye goes to first. I find I skip over recipes that don't have pictures and am drawn to the recipes that do have the pictures. The pictures in this cookbook are vibrant and eye catching.

Con's: As in any cookbook, there are recipes I wouldn't necessarily make. Some I am turned away from as I am cooking for a teenager and a pre-teen and I know they wouldn't eat muscles or seafood stew.

Recommendation: I'm enjoying this cookbook now that my husband and I are counting calories and with it being a low-cal book, it's fitting perfectly in my recipe planning. The recipes are fairly easy and some do call for unusual items (but that depends on your personal cupboard).

The recipe I made out of this cookbook:

Chicken Marsala on the Lighter Side
Serves 4

  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (8 ounces each)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour (I substituted gluten free flour)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots (I substituted a white onion)
  • 8 ounces sliced cremini mushrooms (I substituted regular sliced mushrooms for the cremini and shiitake mushrooms)
  • 3 ounces sliced shiitake mushrooms
  • 1/3 cup Marsala wine (I substituted sherry cooking wine)
  • 1/2 cup Swanson 88% fat-free chicken broth (I used natural chicken stock)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Preheat the oven to 200°F.

Slice the chicken breasts in half horizontally to make 4 cutlets. Put each cutlet between two sheets of plastic wrap and lightly pound them until they are about 1/4 inch thick. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a pinch of black pepper.

Place an 18-inch-long length of wax paper on the counter. Put the flour in a shallow bowl and lightly dredge the chicken pieces in the flour, shaking off any excess. Put the chicken on the wax paper; reserve the 1 teaspoon remaining flour to use later.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1/2 tablespoon of the butter and 1 teaspoon of the olive oil to the pan and swirl the pan until the butter has melted. Add the chicken and cook until slightly golden on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a baking dish and place in the oven to keep warm.

Add the remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter and 1 teaspoon olive oil to the skillet. Add the garlic and shallots and cook until soft and golden, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms, season with 1/8 teaspoon salt and a pinch of black pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle in the reserved 1 teaspoon of flour and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds. Add the Marsala wine, chicken broth, and parsley.

Cook, stirring and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, until thickened, about 2 minutes.

Return the chicken to the skillet with the mushrooms, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer in the sauce to let the flavors blend, about 4 to 5 minutes.

To serve, put a piece of chicken on each of 4 serving plates. Spoon the mushrooms and sauce evenly over the top, and serve hot.

Per serving (1 breast + mushrooms and sauce): calories 241; fat 8 g; saturated fat 2.5 g; cholesterol 80 mg; carbohydrate 10 g; fiber 1 g; protein 26 g; sugars 2 g; sodium 428 mg.

Adapted from The Skinnytaste Cookbook by Gina Homolka, Clarkson Potter 2014.

Waterbrook Multnomah sent me this complimentary book to review for them. Opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Review of A Promise to Protect by Patricia Bradley

Nutshell: A dead brother, a missing mysterious flash drive, a sheriff haunted by his past, and a sister whose life is at stake. This sums up the main characters in this fast paced story of danger and thrills. Mix in a little romance and you have book 2 in the Logan Point Series. Old memories come to the surface for Sheriff Ben Logan as he fights to save his long-ago girlfriend and her son from being killed. Someone is after the flash drive that his old girlfriend's dead brother had and the killer won't be stopped.

Pro's: A good, quick read that will keep you in suspense until the end. This can be a stand-alone book easily with not requiring a lot of back story to understand what is going on.

Con's: The romance got a bit mushy at times.

Recommendation: If you enjoy romance suspense novels, this is the one for you. Enjoy suspense novels? You'll more than likely like this. Don't enjoy suspense novels? You may yet still like this book.

Revell Books sent me this complimentary copy to review for them. Opinions are my own.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Review of The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate

Nutshell: A southern girl transplants herself to the big city of New York to make her way in the publishing business. She lands a job at a prominent book publisher and within a week finds a manuscript mysteriously placed on her desk. The only place it could have come from was the oversized "slush pile" in the board room that no one was allowed to touch. She is gripped by the story  before her and it leads her on a journey back to her home city where she has to deal with the family she left and a very abrasive, popular author who wants nothing to do with this story she says he wrote.

Pro's: I loved, loved, loved this book. Two stories in one. I literally could not put this one down. Not a suspense novel by any means, but the way Lisa writes, it grabs you and you feel like you can smell the mountains as the main character drives through them. Lisa has a way of storytelling that is like no other.

Con's: The first page threw me for a loop, but in a way that I felt like I needed to figure out what in the world was going on. Otherwise, a fantastic book.

Recommendation: A great story. Forgiveness, family messes, understanding others, God's love and just a great story line. This book will have you hooked too.

Tyndale House Publishing sent me this complimentary book to review for them.

Review of Miracle in a Dry Season by Sarah Loudin Thomas

Nutshell: A new lady in town with her daughter stirs up a lot of conversation of her past life. A wood working mandolin player man who's interest is peaked by this newcomer. A drought reveals the newcomers gift of the biblical story of five fish and two loaves that keep multiplying. She is blessed with the gift of making food stretch and keeps the town alive through the drought. A story of forgiveness of the past, understanding of God's love and a sweet love that brings the entire town together.

Pro's: A quick read. A sweet filled story of love that makes you feel good after reading it.

Con's: Not a deep story and seemed a bit choppy in parts of the story that took a bit to figure out what was going on.

Recommendation: If you'd like an easy read, then you'll like this. Not a lot of depth, but a good story for the heart.

Bethany House Publishers sent me this complimentary book to review for them.

Review of Deceived by Irene Hannon

Nutshell: Kate Marshall's husband and four year old son disappear on a summer fishing trip. Her husband's body was found, but her son's body was never recovered. Fast forward three years, a move to a new city and a new life. But one moment, one voice, of her thought-to-be-dead son changed the trajectory of her life forever. Ride along side Kate, and her hired PI, as she seeks to find her son.

Pro's: Even though this is book three in the Private Justice Series, this is easily a stand-alone novel that will suck you in. Irene does a fantastic job weaving suspense and softness into this story.

Con's: None. I love Irene's books!

Recommendation: If you like suspense and a good page-flipping book, this is the one for you!!!

Revell Books sent me a complimentary copy of this book to review for them.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Review of Murder at the Mikado by Julianna Deering

Nutshell: This is book 3 in the Drew Farthering Mystery Series. Super sleuth Drew and his new fiancé Madeline are on the hunt for a murderer who keeps eliminating people at the local theater. Narrowing down the suspects list becomes quite the challenge until the killer is caught.

Pro's: You really don't know the killer until the end and it's a twist!

Con's: I had a very hard time getting into this book. Without having read the previous two books, I had no backstory to rely upon and not much was given. It took awhile to piece together why people knew each other and who went with who. Maybe if I had read the first two, I would have a different outlook on this book. 

Recommendation: If you enjoy mysteries, you may enjoy this series, but I would suggest starting with the first book and not the 3rd like I did.

Bethany House Publishers sent me this complimentary book to review for them. Opinions expressed are my own.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Review of Nowhere to Turn by Lynette Eason

The Nutshell: A mom and son running from the shadows of her husband's grave. A rescuer comes along side as protection. Twists and turns take them on a dangerous adventure where they come face to face with life and death. All because of one dead man's decisions.

Pro's: This book moved fast! An easy one day read that keeps you searching for one more clue to solve the mysterious puzzle. This is book two in the Hidden Identity Series but can very easily read as a stand-alone. And I honestly think it's better than the first book.

Con's: It moved so fast! I just wanted it to keep going and not stop, but unfortunately, it did.

Recommendation: Read this book! Read this series for that matter! There is a bit of violence and semi-graphic scenes. If you're looking for light and fluffy, this is not that book. Suspenseful and faced-paced? This is it!

Revell Books sent me this complimentary copy to review for them. Opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Review of The Chopped Cookbook by Food Network

Nutshell: Have you ever seen Chopped on the Food Network? This book revolves around the show, pairing items together to make a meal. Items that you will most likely find in your pantry. But think of your pantry like the baskets the chef's open on the tv show. Sometimes quirky items, like on the show, but mostly normal, every day items.

Pro's: I loved this cookbook. Many pages are ear-marked of recipes I would like to try. Each chapter also has pages of suggestions of quick put-together's, based on the subject of the chapter. Like different pan sauces, playing with pasta, and different types of grains and how to cook them, just to give a few examples. I also really liked the bright, colorful pictures and easy to follow steps.

Con's: Some recipes were a bit "out there" and I wouldn't necessarily make for my family. Some items I can't find here in Michigan (like flat iron steak), so learning what to substitute made it a bit challenging, but a good learning experience.

Here are two recipes I tried from this book:

Shrimp Ramen 

8 ounces bacon, chopped
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 cups slices stemmed shiitake mushrooms (about 6 ounces)
7 cups chicken broth
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 (3 ounce) packages ramen noodles, flavor packets discarded
12 ounces peeled and deveined medium shrimp halved lengthwise (about 20)
2 Tbs 1-inch-long pieces chives

Cook the aromatics: Put the bacon in a cold medium saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 6 minutes. Remove all but 3 tablespoons of the bacon fat from the pan. Stir in the garlic and cook until golden, about 3 minutes. Stir in the shiitakes and cook until well browned, about 6 minutes more.

Make the broth: Stir in the chicken broth, soy sauce, and Worcestershire and bring to a boil. Stir in the ramen noodles and boil until tender, about 2 minutes.

Add the shrimp and serve: Remove the broth from the heat and stir in the shrimp. Let stand until the shrimp are cooked, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve topped with chives.

Serves 4

What I did different: I halved the recipe and it made one bowl for each of us, which turned out to be enough (as the kids were not huge fans of this). I also used white mushrooms as the store didn't have shiitake mushrooms. Still tasted pretty good.

Butter Basted Flat Iron Steak with 
Tomato Butter Sauce and Parsley Noodles

Kosher salt
2 Tbs vegetable oil
4 (1/2 inch thick) top blade chuck steaks (flat iron steaks), 1 1/2 pounds total *
Freshly ground black pepper
6 Tbs (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
6 ounces egg noodles
2 Tbs chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tsp balsamic vinegar

Start the water: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Sear the steaks: Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, pour in the oil. Sprinkle the steaks with salt and pepper and sear 2 steaks until browned on one side, about 4 minutes. Remove the steaks from the skillet. Add the other 2 steaks and sear until browned on one side, about 4 minutes. Flip these steaks and return the first 2 steaks to the skillet, raw-side down. Add 2 Tbs of the butter and the thyme. Once the butter melts, tilt the skillet slightly to pool the liquid, then constantly spoon the butter over the steaks until the meat is medium-rare, about 4 minutes more. Transfer the steaks to a rimmed plate to rest. Keep the skillet handy.

Cook the noodles: Add the noodles to the boiling water and cook according to package directions. Reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking water and drain. Return the noodles to the pot and toss with 2 Tbs of the butter and parsley.

Blister the tomatoes (I did this while the noodles were cooking): Put the tomatoes in the same skillet and blister over medium heat until blackened in spots and softened, about 4 minutes. When the tomatoes are very soft, remove the thyme sprigs and carefully mash the tomatoes with a slotted spoon or potato masher. Stir in the remaining 2 Tbs of butter and the vinegar until incorporated, thinning out with the reserved cooking water if necessary to make a smooth sauce. Season with 1/2 tsp salt.

Serve: Slice the steaks thinly against the grain and add any juices that accumulate to the tomato sauce. Divide the noodles among 4 plates, set the sliced steak on top, and finish with the tomato butter sauce.

Serves 4

Vegify It: Instead of egg noodles, use strips of raw zucchini (shave them with a vegetable peeler) to get a double dose of veggies in.

*I could not find flat iron steak, but the butcher suggester sizzler steaks. I used 2 thicker ones and they turned out amazing.

All of us were huge fans of this recipe (my kids love steak), so I will definitely be making this one again! The sauce was delish and this was a fast meal to make!

Waterbrook Multnomah sent me this complimentary copy to review for them. All opinions are my own, as are the food pictures used in this post.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Review of Blind Trust by Sandra Orchard

Nutshell: Kate Adams is back in the spotlight as her trouble continues. Someone seems to be out to still keep her silent with new accusations and behind the scenes secrecy to take her down. Another who-dun-it in the Port Aster Secrets Series.

Pro's: This book keeps you guessing! With every turn of the page you still don't know who's out to get the main character.

Con's: If you pick this up without reading the first book, it may be a bit more difficult to understand what is going on. It can be a stand-alone fiction, but better to go in reading book #1. The "what-ifs" got a bit weary to keep reading throughout the book. The characters coming up with different scenarios as to why someone said one thing, or why another person came from the basement, or why another's wallet was empty at one time of day and bulging later in the day. I understand it goes along with the detective work, but it seemed to be in abundance in this book.

Recommendation: Read book #1 first. If you like mystery, you may like this book. It wasn't my favorite, but also, that's my opinion.

Revell Books sent me this complimentary book to review for them. Opinions expressed are my own.