Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Book Review and Giveaway: Love Inspired Books "Texas K-9 Unit" Series

All to often in the news, we hear about the negative side of law enforcement. I am a proud police daughter and my father will retire this June after 30 years of service. 
That's why I am so happy that Love Inspired Suspense has a new book series called "Texas K-9 Unit" that focuses on a positive and exciting storyline about law enforcement along with their canine companions working together to track down a crime ring. The three books, "Tracking Justice", "Detection Mission" and "Guard Duty" are now available as a box set.  
As we celebrate Women's History Month, one of the things I love about this book series is the fact that each book is written by a female author, and this Oklahoma girl loves the fact that one of them lives in Tulsa. I also love the fact that one of the books in the series features a female police officer as the heroine. 
A little about the three authors in the "Texas K-9 Unit" series: 
Shirlee McCoy knew early in life that she wanted to write inspirational fiction and began writing her first novel when she was a teenager. Still, it wasn't until her third son was born that she truly began pursuing her dream of being published.
Margaret Daley loved teaching and working with students with special needs, and recently retired from teaching to write full-time. She and her husband, Mike, to whom she has been married for over 40 years live in Tulsa.
Sharon Dunn first fell in love with mystery and suspense about the time she read Nancy Drew mysteries in the fifth grade. The second book in that series Sassy Cinderella and the Valiant Vigilante was voted Book of the Year by American Christian Fiction Writers. 
I received each of the books in the box set and have thoroughly enjoyed reading each of them. All three stories take place in the fictional town of Sagebrush, Texas.

"Tracking Justice" by Shirlee McCoy centers around the abduction of a little boy from his bedroom window and this story kept me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. A love story is woven into this mystery that was very touching.

"Detection Mission" by Margaret Daley centers around a police detective and his canine companion finding a woman who has no memory of her life, but indications suggest she might have a criminal past. I loved that this story weaves a web of impending danger throughout.

"Guard Duty" by Sharon Dunn features a female K-9 unit police officer, Valerie and is a thriller revolving around her as a potential murder witness. I thought the romance storyline in this one was so touching.
One of you will win a copy of Shirlee McCoy's newly-released book, "Protection Detail".  To enter, leave a comment below and let me know you would like to win this book. Giveaway closes Friday, March 20 at noon EST.
You can print a coupon for $1.00 off Shirlee McCoy’s “Protection Detail” by going to the link here.
Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.
 Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Style and Soda Bread

St. Patrick's Day is here and with my Irish heritage, I especially look forward to this fun holiday! 

This is my St. Patrick's Day style for 2015.Vest by Marley Lilly.

This is my outerwear on a chilly St. Patrick's Day here in NY's Hudson Valley. The scarf is once again a creation by Marley Lilly.

Here is a favorite treat for this fun holiday. Irish Soda Bread is Ireland's version of a classic quick bread. Baking soda was introduced to the country in the 1840s and was used as a leavening agent in this bread made from staple ingredients. A tradition in the preparation of this bread, carried on by many to this day, including me, is to cut a cross shape into the dough with a knife before baking the bread to ward off the devil and protect the household. Many families have treasured recipes abounding with favorite variations of this beloved bread, including my Grandma Cleva's recipe. She loved buttermilk in her soda bread and I carry on her buttermilk tradition in my own recipe.

In the United States, this bread has come to be known by many as a dessert bread, but in Ireland, as with many traditional Irish families in the US, it is to this day enjoyed served with the main course meal rather than as a dessert bread
This is my recipe take on Irish soda bread that includes raisins, a favorite ingredient addition of mine for pairing with this bread's tangy flavor and tender texture topped with a hard crust.

"Easy Irish Soda Bread"

4 cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup margarine, softened
2 cups raisins
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray and dusting of flour. In large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, margarine and raisins. Add egg and 1 cup of buttermilk. Stir until mixture is combined. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead slightly. Form dough into a round shape and place on baking sheet. In small bowl, combine melted butter with 1/4 cup buttermilk. Brush buttermilk mixture over bread. Use a sharp knife to cut a cross shape or an 'X' into the top of the loaf. Bake 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on wire cooling rack. Enjoy! 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Getting ready for St. Patrick's Day: Mint Chocolate Delight Cupcakes

I always look forward to the calendar rolling around to St. Patrick's Day. It is a special day for me to celebrate my Irish heritage. I have fun coordinating my outfit ensemble and look forward to serving up some fun green treats. Here is a favorite I will be sharing with my friends and neighbors this year. 

"Mint Chocolate Delight Cupcakes" 

1 stick butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1  teaspoon peppermint extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 muffin pans with cupcake liners or spray with cooking spray. In large bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt and mix until well-combined. Set aside. In large bowl, cream butter and sugar with mixer on medium speed. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well in between each addition. Add milk, oil and extract and mix until well-combined. Add flour mixture in thirds, mixing between each addition. Pour batter into cupcake tins. Bake 16-20 minutes, or until a toothpick placed in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool before frosting. Makes 24 cupcakes.

"Mint Buttercream Frosting"

1 stick butter, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp peppermint extract
4 drops green food coloring 
Combine butter and powdered sugar in mixing bowl and beat with electric mixer. Add milk and peppermint extract, mix well. Add 4 drops of food coloring and mix well until frosting has a smooth consistency. If needed, add additional 1/2 teaspoon of milk if mixture is too stiff. Spread over cooled cupcakes. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Happy Mardi Gras! Fat Tuesday and Mini King Cakes

Happy Mardi Gras! I love the history of the Mardi Gras celebration. Here are some fun facts for you about this annual event imparted to me by a number of the French Quarter's fabulous tour guides: 

*"Mardi Gras" is French for "Fat Tuesday"and it is an official holiday in the state of Louisiana since 1875.

*French explorer Sieur d'Iberville is credited with bringing the Mardi Gras tradition to America in 1699 because the festival had been celebrated as a major holiday in Paris, France since the Middle Ages.

*Some historians have said New Orleans' grand traditions began in 1827 when a group of students returned from school in Paris and donned strange costumes and danced their way through the streets during Mardi Gras after taking part in this type of revelry in Paris celebrations. Other history sources attribute early French settlers to Louisiana to the growing revelry of this literal holiday. During the years 1827-1833, the New Orleans' Mardi Gras celebrations became more elaborate, culminating in an annual Mardi Gras Ball. 

*The exact date of the first revelries cannot be determined, but  it was well-established by the middle of the Nineteenth Century. The Mystick Krewe of Comus presented its 1857 Torchlight Parade with a theme taken from "Paradise Lost" written by John Milton.

*The colors of Mardi Gras are purple for justice, green for faith and gold for power. 

I am serving up a "piece" of Mardi Gras tradition in a bite-size cake at my house today to celebrate. I am a huge fan of Nordic Ware baking pans because of their durability, non-stick coating and even baking nature. I love mini cakes for personal-size treats and this pan was perfect for my miniature King Cakes for Fat Tuesday. For their 65th anniversary, the Nordic Ware company released a special edition cake pan for mini cakes. They are called "bundtlette" cakes and I think the name is just as cute as the pan. 

Native New Orleanians and locals alike can tell you about the history behind the King Cake and here are some fun facts about this tasty treat. It is traditionally oval in shape, made from a sweet dough and covered with a poured sugar topping decorated in the traditional Mardi Gras-colored sugars of purple, green and gold, symbolizing the  Three Wise Men who visited the Christ Child. This cake tradition is believed to have begun with French settlers around 1870, who were themselves continuing a custom which dated back to Twelfth Century France, when a similar cake was used to celebrate the coming of the Magi twelve days after Christmas bearing gifts for the Christ Child. As a symbol of this Holy Day, a tiny plastic baby (symbolic of the baby Jesus) is placed inside each King Cake but other items sometimes used are coins, beans, pecans or peas. In 1871, the tradition of choosing the Queen of Mardi Gras was determined by who drew the prize within the cake. Today, finding the baby or other prize in the cake is a sign of good luck to the one who finds it. It can also mean the person who finds the prize has to host the next King Cake Party.

I make an easy mini King Cake using Pillsbury reduced fat cinnamon rolls and ready-made writing icing found in the cake decorating section of the baking aisle. It is customary to place a plastic baby inside the cake, but for times when I don't have or want to use a small plastic baby in the cake, I have found a good and fun substitute is to use a pecan instead, and the recipients had just as much fun seeing who finds the pecan in their cake. 

I hope you enjoy your Fat Tuesday and as they say in NOLA, "Laissez les bons temps rouler!" (let the good times roll!)

"Mini King Cakes"

1 can Pillsbury reduced fat cinnamon rolls
1 shelled pecan  
1 small tube purple writing icing
1 small tube green writing icing
1 small tube yellow writing icing

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray mini bundt pan with cooking spray and dusting of flour. Remove rolls and glaze from can. Cut each roll in half to make each mini cake. In one of the pieces of dough, add the pecan and shape dough around pecan. In each mini cake mold, shape dough halves around center of bundt mold, then gently press the ends together. Bake 11-13 minutes, or until top is golden brown in color. Cool for 10 minutes and revert pan onto cooling rack or heat-safe surface and remove rolls from pan. Coat rolls with the glaze that comes with the can of rolls. I then drizzle the purple, green and yellow icings across the cakes in sections. Allow to cool 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Presidents Day and a Cherry Pie tradition

Happy President's Day! My family has always had a tradition to bake a cherry pie on this holiday synonymous with George Washington's childhood cherry tree tale. This is the quick and easy recipe I use to carry on this family tradition in my household. 

Did you know this holiday never falls on the actual birthday of any American president. According to the History Channel's website, four US presidents were born in the month of February—George Washington, William Henry Harrison, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, but their birthdays all come either too early or late to coincide with Presidents’ Day, which is always celebrated on the third Monday of the month. It is celebrated on a Monday as part of The Uniform Monday Holiday Act passed by Congress, which took effect in 1971 to  create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers. 

Easy Cherry Pie

1 box Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts, softened according to directions on box
2 cans Wilderness cherry pie filling
1 teaspoon granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 425°F.  Using a 9-inch pie plate, place crust across bottom of pan and seal crust around sides of pan. Spoon pie filling into crust-lined pan. Top with second crust; seal edges and press in with fingers to flute crust. Cut slits in several places on top crust. Sprinkle sugar over crust. Bake 40-45 minutes or until crust is golden brown. After 15 minutes of baking, remove pie from oven and use strips of foil to cover edges of crust to prevent excessive browning. Remove from oven and cool at least 1 hour before serving. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Homemade Treat: Cherries Jubilation Refrigerator Jam

Happy Valentine's Day! The Southern Fried Husband and I enjoyed valentine breakfast here at home this morning, including some of my "Cherries Jubilation Refrigerator Jam". I make this cherry refrigerator jam with not one, but two kinds of cherries. I love the flavor combination of red cherries and black cherries. As a special touch for my valentine, I served it on slices of toast that I cut into a heart shape using a heart-shaped cookie cutter. This is also a fun jam recipe to celebrate the President's Day holiday on Monday.

"Cherries Jubilation Refrigerator Jam"

*makes 6 half-pint jars

1 cup red cherries, pitted and chopped
1 cup black cherries, pitted and chopped  
4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 (1.75 ounce) package powdered no-sugar fruit pectin
3/4 cup water
6 half-pint canning/freezer jars

Rinse 6 clean half-pint freezer-safe canning/freezer jars with boiling water. Dry thoroughly. Wash cherries, remove pits and chop in quarters. Place in medium bowl. Do not drain cherries. If cherries have been chilled, set aside until the cherries reach room temperature. In large mixing bowl, combine room temperature cherries with sugar and lemon juice. Stir well. Set mixture aside 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes. In saucepan, combine powdered fruit pectin and water. Stir well. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil 1 minute. Remove from heat. Immediately add pectin mixture to cherries and stir well. Keep stirring mixture about 3 minutes until sugar is completely dissolved. Quickly pour into sterile jars to within 1/2 inch of top of jar. Wipe off top edges of jar and cover with lid. Makes 6 half-pint jars. Let stand at room temperature 24 hours to set. After jam has set, enjoy immediately or it can be frozen for up to one year. Once opened, it can be stored in refrigerator up to 3 weeks. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

DIY Treat Goodness: Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce

This year I have made several jars of this salted caramel sauce as a valentine gift for friends and loved ones and the response to their homemade valentine treat has been overwhelming. Here is the four ingredient recipe that yields an 8 ounce jar full of this caramel splendor that can be used for so many sweet concoctions such as an ice cream topping, cake filling (recipe coming soon!) and sweet bread drizzle.

Homemade Salted Caramel Sauce
Yield: 1 cup

1 cup granulated sugar

3/4 stick salted butter, cut into 6 slices
1/2 cup light whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon salt 

Wash and dry an 8 oz. size jar and lid. Set aside. In medium saucepan, heat sugar over medium heat, stirring constantly as sugar melts and turns to a thick amber brown-colored liquid consistency.  Once sugar is completely melted, immediately add  butter, placing each slice of butter slowly and carefully into the saucepan. Stir butter into the caramel 2-3 minutes, until completely melted. Slowly add heavy cream to mixture carefully because adding the cold heavy cream to heated mixture will cause rapid bubbling than can splatter when added. Allow the mixture to boil for 1 minute. It will rise in the pan as it boils. Remove from heat and stir in salt. Pour into jar and allow to cool before sealing jar. Store up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. arm caramel for a few seconds before using in a recipe.