Friday, October 31, 2014

The Final Silence - Book Review

Last year I picked up a really good thriller at Book Expo America, and I managed to do it again this year with Stuart Neville's The Final Silence.
image credit

The story takes place in Belfast, Northern Ireland shortly after Rea Carlisle inherits her deceased uncle's house. Rea and her mother clean out the house, but there is one room that they can't access because it's locked. Rea eventually gets the door open, and what she discovers sheds a gruesome light on her uncle. On a desk is a catalog of hair, fingernails, and victims.

In an attempt to not ruin her father's political career, Rea is persuaded by her parents to not call the police about the book. So instead Rea calls someone from her past: disgraced former police inspector Jack Lennon. He's got a lot of issues of his own and isn't really eager to help Rea, but a murder spurs Jack to investigate and brings him even deeper into the investigation than he wants.

I could not stop reading this book! The chapters are fairly short and fast-paced, so you just keep turning page after page to find out what happens next. I gotta admit, I was kind of able to figure out a few things before they were revealed, but I wasn't able to figure out specific details and motives, so there were still many elements of surprise.

I also loved the characters and how multi-layered and sympathetic they were. Without giving anything away, there were sub-plots that almost made me cry!

Fair warning: some parts of the book were kind of graphic, so if you're not into reading about people getting murdered, then you shouldn't read this book.

The Final Silence is published by Soho Press and is on bookstore shelves now. I received a free advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Dominique Ansel's Flourless Chocolate Pecan Cookie

Dominique Ansel at BEA 2014
If you've ever eaten a cronut (I still haven't), then you've eaten the brainchild of chef Dominique Ansel. On Tuesday, his new cookbook came out, Dominique Ansel: The Secret Recipes, and I got an exclusive recipe from the cookbook (signed by Dominique himself!) at Book Expo America.

So, of course, I decided to make it!

What I like about this recipe is that it's flourless, which means that my husband can eat these cookies. The dough is made from butter, sugar, cornstarch, baking powder, salt, eggs, and melted dark chocolate chips. Fold in some whole chocolate chips and chopped pecans, and you're done! (Just make sure your chocolate chips and pecans are gluten-free. Some are processed on shared equipment and will usually say so on the package.)

The only downside to this recipe is that it does take two days to make. You have to prepare the dough and then let it sit in the fridge overnight. The actual baking is done on day two. But even with the two-day prep and baking time, there really isn't a lot of hands-on time to make these cookies.

So, here's the recipe if you want to try these out for yourselves:

Yield: 20 Cookies (I only got 12, though. Maybe I made them too big?)

2 cups dark chocolate chips (over 60% cocoa content)
3 tbsp. unsalted butte
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp. cornstarch
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3 large eggs
1/4 cup chopped pecans

One Day Before:
1. Melt 1 1/2 cups of the chocolate chips in a double boiler. (Here's how I do it: Fill a pot with two inches of water and bring it to a simmer. Place the chocolate chips in a glass bowl and place the bowl over the water.) Stir slowly with a spatula to ensure the chocolate chips are completed melted and smooth before turning off the heat.

melting chocolate in double boiler
2. Melt the butter in the microwave. Mix it into the melted chocolate. Keep the mixture warm over the hot water.

3. In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt. Add the eggs and whisk until fully incorporated and the mixture resembles pancake batter.

4. Whisk in the melted chocolate-butter mixture. (If it has cooled and begun to solidify, gently reheat it before incorporating.)

5. Fold in the remaining 1/2 cup of chocolate chips and the pecans with a spatula.

6. Transfer the dough to a baking dish. Cover it tightly with plastic wrap that touches the surface of the dough. Set in the fridge to rest overnight.
the dough in plastic wrap
The Day Of:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 and set a rack in the middle of the oven. Line a baking sheet with wax paper. (I used parchment.)

2. Using your hands, break the dough into pieces the size of your palm, approx. 3 1/2 tbsp. (The dough was VERY sticky, so I'd recommend spraying your hands with cooking spray or something to make it easier.) Roll the dough into balls and place them on the baking sheet at least two inches apart from one another. Press gently on the top of each ball with the palm of your hand to make a thick disk. This dough doesn't spread much, so the disk should be relatively close to the size of the cookie you'd like.

3. Bake for about 8 minutes on the middle rack, rotating the baking sheet 180 degrees halfway through. When the cookies are just beginning to crack on top but the dough is set on the edge and has a soft spot in the center (about the size of a quarter), remove the oven. (I left my cookies in the oven for an additional 4 minutes after the original 8 minutes of baking time.)

the finished cookies
4. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 to 7 minutes to further set. (Do this even longer if you want. The cookies are VERY soft and will break easily if you move them too soon.)

5. Remove the cookies from the baking sheet, still on the wax paper, and set aside. Reline the sheet with clean wax paper and continue with the remaining dough (if you have any left).

These cookies are super soft, and the chocolate chips inside get all melty and gooey when you break apart the cookies. Very yummy! Hopefully my little italicized tips in the directions will help you out if you make these cookies. Let me know how yours turn out!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Amrita Bars - Product Review

As you might have already seen, I found lots of cool new things at the NJ Gluten & Allergen Free Expo. Something else I've been enjoying from the Expo are Amrita Bars. I was lucky enough to take home three free samples of the bars to taste out and review.

First, the flavors because you want to know what these are going to taste like, right? There are six flavors to choose from:
- Mango Coconut
- Apricot Strawberry (my favorite!!)
- Apple Cinnamon (also very good)
- Pineapple Chia
- Cranberry Raisin
- Chocolate Maca (MUCH BETTER than similar chocolate-flavored bars)

And second, what makes Amrita Bars so great?
- free of the 8 common allergies (including gluten, soy, dairy, and peanuts)
- 4 grams of fiber per bar
- non-GMO ingredients
- kosher
- 7 to 15 grams of brown rice protein
- raw; blended not baked
-  seed-based (chia, sesame, sunflower) with 1000mg Omega 3 from chia seeds
- 70% organic
- antioxidants from sun-ripened dried fruits

These bars are great as a quick, on-the-go breakfast or mid-day snack. And if you've got kids who have Celiac disease or some other food allergy, these make a wonderful lunchbox dessert or after-school snack. You can feel good about giving these allergy-free bars to your kids because they are SAFE and healthy. 

Amrita Bars are available in specialty foods stores and online. You can use the online store locator to see where they are available in your area and suggest retailers that you want to carry Amrita Bars.

There's also an Amrita Club that gives you a 20% discount on bars, free swag, and other fun perks. You get 15 bars for $33 a month plus a free T-shirt and free shipping. Pretty cool, huh?

Anyone else at the Gluten & Allergen Free Expo try these bars? What did you think? What's your favorite flavor?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Falling from Horses - Book Review

Recently, I've been reading a lot of books that I picked up at Book Expo America, and I have to say that Molly Gloss' Falling from Horses is the best book I've read from this group of books. The writing is fantastic, and I just couldn't put the book down!

The book tells the story of 19-year-old Bud Frazer and his year in Hollywood trying to make money as a horse-riding stuntman. The year is 1938, and Bud has left his ranchhand mom and dad behind in Oregon. He's also left behind, or thinks he has, a bit of baggage from the death of his younger sister.

On the bus ride down to Hollywood, Bud meets an aspiring screenwriter named Lily. They don't really have a romantic connection, but they strike up a relationship that gets them both through the stressful times of getting jobs and losing jobs, emotional pain and physical pain.

Even as Bud narrates the story, the author breaks it up to offer flashbacks so that the reader can understand where Bud came from, his family, and just what happened to his sister.

If you're looking for a really great read for when you have some days off around Thanksgiving and the December holidays, I would recommend Falling from Horses. Some parts of the book might be hard for people to read; this is about stunt riding, after all. So if you don't want to read about horses getting injured and killed or people getting injured, then you might want to steer clear of this story. But if that doesn't bother you, this is a beautifully written, somewhat coming-of-age story with really great characters that you won't stop thinking about even after the story ends.

Falling from Horses is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and is on bookshelves TODAY! I received a free advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Meal Plan Monday - October 27

We have a little bit of an abbreviated week this week, so there's not too much on the meal plan. But that means there won't be too much on my grocery list AND not too much charged on my credit card. I can handle that! Share what you're eating in the comments!

Sunday: pepperoni puffs

Monday: tortilla-chip fish with slaw*

Tuesday: on our own

Wednesday: cheesy baked meatballs and ciabatta

Thursday: on our own

Friday: out

Saturday: out

*new recipe

Friday, October 24, 2014

Bear Naked Granola Bars - Review

You've probably had granola bars before, but let me tell you, you've probably never had a granola bar like Bear Naked's new granola bars. I got the chance to try Bear Naked's Layered Granola Bars for free through House Party's Chatterbox program. All I had to do was write a review telling you what I thought of them!

So here goes:

Right now, there are two flavors of the Layered Granola Bars: Fruit and Nutty and Nutty Double Chocolate. Of course I went for the Nutty Double Chocolate!

What sets these granola bars apart is that they have a layer of Bear Naked granola on the bottom and then a top layer of natural, whole ingredients, such as fruit and nuts. The bars are bottom-dipped in chocolate for an even more decadent flavor.

The Nutty Double Chocolate bars have 4 grams of fiber and 190 calories per bar. They contain no cholesterol, no artificial flavors, no hydrogenated oils, no artificial preservatives, no high fructose corn syrup, and, my favorite, "no monkey business". They do contain peanuts, almonds, soy, milk, and wheat, and may contain other tree nuts.

If you want the chance to try these out for yourself, I've got three coupons for $1 off one box of Bear Naked Layered Granola Bars.  Just enter using the Rafflecopter below, and I'll randomly pick three winners. (I might even throw in some other special stuff. You just never know!) 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

These coupons are only redeemable at Target stores, and this giveaway is only valid to residents of the contiguous U.S. No Alaska, Hawaii, or international entries.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

2000-2001 - TBT

Usually I post old scrapbook layouts each time I do a Throwback Thursday post, but today's post is a little different. My parents came to visit the other weekend, and they brought up a big box of my old stuff. Inside the box was a photo book that one of my high school friends made for me (and everybody in our group). I thought it would be fun to showcase those pages and take a look back at what my likes and dislikes were during the 2000-2001 school year. (I guess that would have been my junior year.)

In order to make this book, my friend had given us a questionnaire about ourselves, and then she handwrote the answers in the book. We had also provided pictures for her to scan, so that she could add them to the book, along with fun cut-outs from magazines.

Looking at this first page, apparently I was an inch taller than I am now (or at least wishing I was an inch taller).

Dislikes: superficiality, pushiness, liars
Favorite food: chalupas, macaroni and cheese
Favorite drink: french vanilla cappucino (This was before I discovered Starbucks.)
Favorite actresses: Sally Field, Cheryl Ladd (WHAT?), Bette Davis
Favorite fashion trends: flared jeans, 3/4 length shirts, stuff from Goodwill
Favorite songs: "Teenage Dirtbag" - Wheatus, anything Hanson, "I'll Stand By You" - The Pretenders
Favorite movies: Evita, Star Wars
Most memorable Crimson (the name of our group) moment: "We always go to Six Flags even though it's always unbearably hot."
Here's what I had to say about myself: "I'm shy and nice. I'm also funny and a little weird."

And here are a few things that my friends wrote about me back then:
"Laurie is always on top of things and gets things done. She's smart and is the bomb diggity of her guard work."

"Schizo is my word for her. She is really two different people. She's got her quiet, sweet, down to earth side. Then the psychotic, jumping around side. Both are cool and she's not afraid to be herself."

"At first she comes off snotty, but once you get past that, you find a really good person. She is jumpy and bubbly, but can also be as droopy as a snail."

"Laurie always finds a convo to start. She always thinks of activities, too!"