Sunday, February 19, 2012

Leave the movie, read the book!

The book turned film. It’s not a new phenomenon by any means, but lit-based cinema seemed to be a noticeable theme this year.

 Some titles made the transition successfully, such as Oscar nominees The Help, The Descendants, and Hugo. Others didn’t fare so well. (I’m looking at you One For The Money. It’s not a good sign when your best review includes the sentence, “It will have you groaning between yawns.” But I digress….)

If you’re looking to ditch the Netflix and grab a good page-turner for the night, I recommend the following stories so entertaining, they inspired other mediums:

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1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The first book in Stieg Larsson’s famed series entertains and intrigues. While this dark tale starts out a bit slow, it builds momentum when Larsson gets to the 40 year-old murder mystery, the troubled investigative journalist hired to solve it, and the badass, pixie-sized heroine. It’s a veritable “book noir” filled with suspense, passion, and corruption.

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2. I Don’t Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother
Okay--the recent SJP movie may have been subject to lackluster reviews, but the book is surprisingly delightful and poignant. Set in London and narrated by a clever protagonist, Allison Pearson’s debut novel recalls the charm of Bridget Jones’ Diary. And while this tale includes hilarious episodes similar to those in the aforementioned title (Reddy mangling store-bought mince pies so they’ll look homemade for her daughter’s school party to name one), it’s also filled with ever-relevant musings on how to succeed as a working parent. Wrapped in a sharp, witty package, the book is philosophical and interrogative at its core.

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3. The Help
If you haven’t jumped on The Help bandwagon, what are you waiting for? Yes, the film is touching and filled with exceptional performances. But the book is better. The strong narrative voices heighten both the endearing and heart wrenching moments, creating one of those wonderfully rare novels you don’t ever want to end. Kathryn Stockett has masterfully crafted unique characters that move through a rich story about bravery, oppression, resistance, friendship, and hope. It prompts important reflection on historical, political, and personal levels. Dare I say it’s the To Kill a Mockingbird of our generation? Better not—my fellow lit peeps will have my head. But it’s pretty darn close.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Leave the take out, grab these Super Bowl recipes.

The big day is fast approaching, and you’re gonna need some tasty munchies to go with all that football and beer.

This year, forget the frozen appetizers and try these easy-to-make party faves: New York cheesecake brownies (for those Giants); Boston cream cupcakes (for the Pats); and grape jelly turkey meatballs (just ‘cause they’re delicious).

First, let me share my go-to recipe for any sports gathering, my grape jelly turkey meatballs. It may sound weird, but these sweet and sour, deliciously tangy meatballs go like hot cakes (see recipe three for some actual “hot cakes.”). I forget where I first found this delightful recipe, but I’ve modified it over the last few years.

(Random side note: If I remember correctly, these meatballs actually began long ago as beef meatballs. And you could definitely use ground beef if you’d like. But if you’re like me and want to make at least one of your dishes somewhat healthy, no one needs to know they’re made of white meat.)

Grape Jelly Turkey Meatballs:

1 lb ground turkey
1 cup minced onion
1 egg
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp Italian seasonings
1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground pepper
¼ cup butter

1 bottle chili sauce (12 oz)
1 jar grape jelly (1 ½ cups)

In a large bowl, mix turkey, breadcrumbs, and milk. In a small bowl, whisk egg, Worcestershire sauce, Italian seasonings, salt, and pepper. Mix well into turkey mixture. Use your hands to shape meatballs in the size of an inch or so. (Oh yeah---we're gettin our hands dirty.)

Heat a large frying pan over a medium flame. Melt butter and brown meatballs. At the same time, mix chili sauce and grape jelly in a medium-sized saucepan. Heat over a medium flame until the jelly is melted. Pour sauce over meatballs and simmer until meat is thoroughly cooked.

Now for my favorite kind of food—dessert. Everybody likes a good theme, and I’ve found the perfect dessert recipes for game day this year. The best part? They’re both of the semi-homemade variety, so you don’t have to spend hours slaving away in the kitchen pre-kickoff.

New York Cheesecake Brownies (recipe from

1 package brownie mix (I prefer Pillsbury’s products)
1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese
1 egg
1/3 cup white sugar

Preheat oven to temperature indicated on the box and prepare the brownie mix as directed. Grease a 9x13 inch pan.

Spread the brownie batter evenly into the prepared pan.

Beat the cream cheese, egg, and sugar using an electric mixer until smooth.

Spoon the cream cheese mixture evenly on top of the brownie batter. Swirl together using a knife or skewer.

Bake according to manufacturer's instructions. Brownies will be done when a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in the pan, then cut into bars, and serve.

1 package of yellow cake mix (I prefer Pillsbury)
1 (3 oz. box) French vanilla instant pudding
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tsps vanilla extract
¼ cup powdered sugar

Chocolate ganache
1 cup heavy cream
¼ cup light corn syrup
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Prepare yellow cupcakes as directed on box.

In the meantime, prepare the vanilla filling. Combine the instant pudding mix and the half and half in a medium-sized bowl. Beat heavy whipping cream, vanilla, and powdered sugar at medium speed until soft peaks form (just as if you were making whipped cream).

Gently fold the pudding mixture into the whipped cream until it is fully mixed and smooth.

When the cupcakes have cooled, remove centers using a handy cupcake corer (see picture), or a small melon scoop. Fill with spoonfuls of vanilla filling.

Works like a dream!

When all the cupcakes have been filled, prepare your ganache topping by combining the heavy cream and corn syrup in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate; cover and let stand for 8 minutes. (If the chocolate has not completely melted, return the saucepan to low heat and stir constantly until melted.)

Stir in the vanilla extract very gently until smooth. Cool the glaze until tepid so that a spoonful drizzled back into the pan mounds slightly. (You can refrigerate the ganache to speed up this process, stirring every few minutes to ensure even cooling.)

Dip the tops of the cupcakes in the ganache. Place glazed cupcakes on wax paper or a cookie sheet to dry, as the ganache will drip.