Pecan Crusted Fish Sticks

– johanna | February 25th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Main Dish

Nuts have been given such a bad rap for their high fat content. The truth is raw nuts do contain a heart healthy fat and are packed full of protein. Pecans are high in plant sterols which can aide in the prevention of heart disease. Plant sterols have the ability to block your body from absorbing cholesterol lowering your LDL. When eaten in moderation pecans in particular are a great source of vitamins and minerals.

The family will go nuts over these hearty Pecan Crusted Fish Sticks.

Source: Parents Magazine December 2010
1 pound Atlantic cod fillets, rinsed and patted dry
1 cup pecan halves
1 cup torn whole-wheat bread pieces
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Coat a wire baking rack with nonstick cooking spray and place on a baking sheet or in a shallow baking pan.

Cut fish into about 14 3″ by 1″ strips.

Place pecans, bread pieces and salt in a food processor; pulse until fine. Place in a bowl or on a large plate. Put flour and eggs in separate bowls.

Lightly coat cod in flour. Dip in egg and roll in pecan mixture. Put fish on rack; coat with cooking spray.

Bake for 10 – 12 minutes or until golden.

– The eggs may be replaced with milk or water.
– Swap the flour for ground flaxseed meal.

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Family Togetherness: A Tradition of Handicrafts

– johanna | February 22nd, 2011


A tradition of family handiwork has a long history. In centuries past mothers passed on the art of sewing to their daughters. Fathers taught their sons to hunt and fish. In today’s society there is a plethora of resources available for instruction in every facet of handiwork.

The term crafts should not be limited to the stellar works on Etsy or the cute projects our preschoolers bring home from school. Crafts can be anything from constructing, knowing the details of a car and how to repair it, fixing electronics, to baking, art projects, woodworking, knitting, stamp collections, drawing or polishing gem stones. By definition a handiwork is “something that one has made or done.”

Our hobbies are essential to our wellbeing as well as our kids for they give us a sense of accomplishment. They also provide a means to bring families together. Crafts passed down from generation to generation provide the roots that join us to our ancestors. In our family my Aunt taught my brothers to work with leather. My dad taught us the basics of carpentry and mechanics. My mom taught us crochet and candy making. My brother shared a few tips on drawing. Learning new styles of handicrafts as a family help to expand our interests in addition to building memories and lasting bonds of friendship. Sitting down together as a family to make valentine’s generates conversation. We can laugh at jokes. We can tell stories. We may even start singing.

A scheduled family handicrafts time can be a once a week thing, once a month or just around major holidays. Decide as a family what you would like to work on. Sharing completed crafts with area hospitals or nursing homes is a great way to teach our family about serving others.

Examples of Handicrafts:
Flower arranging
Electronics and motor repair
Metal/iron works
Leather work
Bead work
Sewing- blankets, clothing
Cross Stitch
Paper crafting
Scrap booking
Wood work- doll house furniture, cars, blocks, chess set
Stain Glass
Clay work
Making cards
Making ornaments
Writing songs/stories/poems
Sand art
Puppets, dolls
Other craft style projects

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Flavorful Rice

– johanna | February 18th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Sides

Back when I was in college a friend of mine and I celebrated the news of her pregnancy over a plate of pork and rice. Her recipe began with a box of chicken falvored Rice-a-Roni and 2 pork chops. She cooked the rice according to the directions, sauteing the grain with a little butter. She then added the chops after she stirred in the water. Cover and in 30 minutes we had a delicious simple meal.

Occasionally when I see a box of Rice-a-Roni on sale I’ll pick one up to save for those busy nights when I do not have a lot of time to cook. If I do have time to spend chopping and sauteing vegetables I use this flavorful rice recipe. I like to roast a chicken in the crock pot throughout the day. Then when I am ready to make the rice I will add both of the legs with the water. The extra cooking time does not dry out the dark meat and the added chicken helps to give the rice that flavorful hint of chicken. You can also use raw chicken breasts.

2 celery stalks, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and diced (optional)
7 small white mushrooms, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 tbsp unsalted butter
Salt & Pepper- to taste
1 bullion cube or 1 tsp condensed chicken base
1 cup long grain rice
2 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp dried parsley

Melt the butter in a large skillet with a lid over medium-high heat. Add the vegetables: onions, carrots, celery, garlic and mushrooms. Saute until onions are transparent and the celery is tender, about 8 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper. Add the rice and cook until rice turns white. Cook 3 minutes longer. Slowly pour in the chicken stock stirring the rice mixture at the same time. Add the parsley. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 30 minutes or until rice is tender.

*Add chicken if using with the broth.

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Navigating the Meat Case

– johanna | February 15th, 2011

Filed under: THE BOOKSHELF

The first time I walked into a butcher shop I felt completely out of my element. Navigating the meat case was and can still be intimidating at times. To understand the meat case at a butcher shop or supermarket, you must first understand the different cuts of meat.

There are three top grades of beef to consider when choosing a steak or roast. Prime, Choice, and Select. The grades are based on the age of the cattle and the degree of marbling of fat.

“Prime” graded meats are the most expensive cuts. You will not find prime graded beef in the grocery store as they are almost exclusively sold to restaurants and hotels. Prime cuts are produced from young well fed cattle. The greater the marbling of fat the more flavorful, tender and juicy the cut of meat.

“Choice” graded meats has less marbling but are still tender, juicy and flavorful as long as they are not over cooked.

“Select” is the third common grade of meat. It is leaner than the prime and choice with significantly less marbling. The lack of fat means less juice but a much lower price.

You can save money by purchasing a USDA Select grade cut and marinating before cooking to obtain the maximum flavor and tenderness. So how do you know the Choice meat in the supermarket is really what the label says? Unlike the vibrant white ribbons of fat in Prime and Choice meats Select or commercial grade (or lower grade) meats appear darker and the fat has an oily or more yellowish appearance.

The various cuts of beef:

1. Chuck:
The first cut of meat behind the head is the shoulder, known as Chuck. This section of the cow although flavorful is fairly tough and fatty requiring a slow cooking method (preferably in a liquid) to break down the fibers. Chuck steaks and roasts (chuck blade, chuck fillet, under blade, top blade and roasts) are the least expensive cuts of meat and well worth the price if cooked properly. For blade steaks be sure to marinade or braise well overnight before grilling. Cook stew meat and roasts slowly in liquid.

2. Brisket:
The Brisket is located below the Chuck. This is a very course meat as it surrounds the sternum. Ideally Brisket should be smoked slowly to soften the stringy fibers. Corned beef is brisket that has been cured in a salt brine.

3. Rib, short loin and sirloin:
The meat from the middle area of the cow is tender and well marbled with large pockets of fat making steaks juicy and full of flavor.

Prime Rib:
The prime rib-eye roast is by far the most expensive. Be prepared to shell out some serious cash in the neighborhood of $70 plus dollars. You probably won’t find “prime rib” at the grocery store. Instead, look for roasts labeled “rib roast,” “eye of the rib roast” (a boneless roast) or if the ribs are attached a “standing rib roast.”

Rib Steak: a prime rib cut into individual steaks. The rib steak has the bone attached while the rib eye steak the bone is removed.

Short Loin Steak:
Without the extra ripples of fat the short loin steak is less tender than a rib eye.

The Strip Steak: A long, narrow and slightly triangular top loin steak. With the bone removed it goes by many names: strip steak, Kansas City strip, New York strip and sirloin strip steak,

The Tenderloin: Tenderloin steaks are tender but pricey and the flavor is pretty mild. The thickest part of the tenderloin is known as chateaubriand. The meat behind the chateaubriand is the popular Filet mignon.

T-bone Steak: The last steak cut from the tenderloin is known for the t-shape bone that runs down the middle. The T-bone has a little of both the short loin and the tenderloin. The porterhouse is a t-bone steak with a bigger portion of tenderloin attached.

Sirloin Steak:
The sirloin comprised of the cow’s hip. Sirloin steaks are large and thin. The most well-known is the tri-tip. Sirloin steaks and ground sirloin are leaner making them a better pick if you are watching your fat.

Flank Steak: Directly below the loin and sirloin, on the underside of the cow’s belly, is the flank. Flank steak is a thin, wide, boneless cut. Flank steaks are offen used when making Fajitas. Cook them very quickly to medium-rare and slice thinly against the grain.

*Photos curtesy of The Meat Man, Delicious Magazine, Snider Bros, Western Beef and Seafood, Kobe Beef Store, Tony’s Market and Wiki Commons,

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Double Chocolate Brownies

– johanna | February 11th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Treats

Valentine’s Day would not be the day of love without celebrating with some form of chocolate. For the ultimate chocolate Valentine’s Day dessert I highly recommend molten lave cakes. They may seem a little intimidating but are well worth the adventure.

It is true Moten Lava Cakes are my favorite Valentine’s Day dessert; they are not always practical to make. Brownies although simple can transform easily into an elegant ending to any couture Valentine’s Day fare. Top with sliced strawberries, ice cream or cinnamon whipped cream. Slice one in half, add a teaspoon of cherry pie filling then replace the top. Serve with ice cream or whipped topping and a drizzle of chocolate syrup. Use cookie cutters to make heart or circle shaped brownies. Replace this brownie batter in any recipe calling for boxed brownie mix.

Brownies are great for bake sales, thank you’s, afternoon snacks and satisfy chocolate cravings like non other. This recipe is full of fudge chocolate flavor. I love using Raley’s brand semi-sweet chocolate chips. They have an intense dark chocolate flavor.

Source: Martha Stewart
Makes 9 large or 16 small squares
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for pan
6 ounces coarsely chopped good-quality semisweet chocolate
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a buttered 8-inch square baking pan with foil or parchment paper, allowing 2 inches to hang over sides. Butter lining (excluding overhang); set pan aside.

Put butter, chocolate, and cocoa in a heatproof medium bowl set over a pan of simmering water; stir until butter and chocolate are melted. Let cool slightly.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, pepper and salt in a separate bowl; set aside.

Put sugar, eggs, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and beat on medium speed until pale, about 4 minutes. Add chocolate mixture; beat until combined. Add flour mixture; beat, scraping down sides of bowl, until well incorporated.

Pour batter into prepared pan; smooth top with a rubber spatula. Bake until a cake tester inserted into brownies (avoid center and edges) comes out with a few crumbs but is not wet, about 35 minutes. Let cool slightly in pan, about 15 minutes. Lift out brownies; let cool completely on a wire rack before cutting into squares.

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Ways to Say I Love You! on Valentine’s Day

– johanna | February 8th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Treats, THE CRAFT CLOSET

Valentine’s Day is not far afoot. What do you have planned to surprise your little, and big, cuties on the day of LOVE?

We have a few ideas to tickle your loved ones pink come the 14th.

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Garlic Prime Rib

– johanna | February 4th, 2011

Filed under: RECIPES - Main Dish

The common consensus regarding the proper way to season Prime Rib is a little salt and pepper. The meat is so flavorful that nothing else is needed. I agree. The worst experience I had with prime rib was at a restaurant whose chef covered the slab of beef with an assortment of herbs; most influential was rosemary. However, I have to vere away from traditional opinion and recommend this recipe for garlic crusted prime rib.

Lets talk meat. First the word Prime refers to the grade of meat not the cut. Prime meats are only sold to restaurants. You will not find a package labeled prime rib at the local supermarket. If you do not have a local butcher shop it is possible that warehouses such as Costco or Sams will carry Prime Rib. Otherwise you can use a Rib-Eye Roast from the supermarket. Choose between a bone in roast, called a standing rib roast, or boneless. When choosing a boneless roast ask the butcher to tie it for you.

Source: Chef Mike
1 (10 pound) prime rib roast
10 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dried thyme

Place the roast in a roasting pan with the fatty side up. In a small bowl, mix together the garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme. Spread the mixture over the fatty layer of the roast, and let the roast sit out until it is at room temperature, no longer than 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F (260 degrees C).
Bake the roast for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, then reduce the temperature to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C), and continue roasting for an additional 60 to 75 minutes. The internal temperature of the roast should be at 125 degrees F (53 degrees C) for medium rare.
Allow the roast to rest for 10 or 15 minutes before carving so the meat can retain its juices. Do not cover with aluminium foil.

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February Website Review: ChessJam

– johanna | February 1st, 2011

Filed under: THE BOOKSHELF

ChessJam began as a “What If?” idea in February of 2009 in response to an archaic cache of online chess websites. According to the ChessJam site the founders Greg and Sean, two avid chess players, wanted to determine which of the two was the uno supreme chess player. As they surfed the internet for a venue they quickly became discouraged by the unimpressive quality of online chess games. None of them delivered the modern graphic experience Sean and Greg were looking for. One thought led to a comment, several comments turned into the brillant idea to create their own online chess gaming site. They brought in Todd Williams in addition to a few other team members to help develop their creation. ChessJam was launched eight months later.

ChessJam was the first to launch instant online live chess games. Unlike its predecessors who could only provide games by correspondence, ChessJam could offer a live experience. When a player moves it is seen instantly.

ChessJam is currently free. You can download the program to your computer for offline play or connect with other chess players, beginner to advanced and children to adult, throughout the globe online. To begin you will need to register. Then just enter the castle and choose a door. They have since added live tournaments, Facebook integration and many other fun features. Happy Gaming!

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