Friday, October 14, 2011

Bonus: Berry Crisp and Chocolate-y mint ice cream

Over the summer I bought an ice cream maker, and I've tried making several different flavors in it. (Check out the chocolate, vanilla, and peach that I made!) Even though Joe isn't a big fan of peppermint ice cream, I decided to make some because a). the recipe in the owner's manual for my fabulous Cuisinart ice cream freezer looked unusual and intriguing; and b). it called for fresh mint leaves, and I have a mint plant in a pot on my deck that someone gave me and I haven't used it much.

First, the ice cream recipe:


1 cup whole milk

2 1/2 cups fresh mint leaves

3/4 cup granulated sugar

pinch salt

2 cups heavy cream

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 cup chopped peppermint patties (about 10 to 12 bite-size patties)

1. In a medium saucepan set over medium-low heat, bring the milk just to a boil. Remove from heat and add the mint leaves; let steep for 20 to 30 minutes. If you desire a milder mint flavor, strain and discard the mint leaves after steeping, but for a more intense ice cream, blend the milk/mint mixture using an immersion blender.

2. Add the sugar and salt to the steeped milk/mint mixture. Use a hand mixer on low speed or whisk to combine, until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the heavy cream and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate, 1 to 2 hours, or overnight.

3. Turn on the Cuisinart ice cream maker; pour the mixture into the frozen freezer bowl and let mix until thickened, about 15 to 20 minutes. Five minutes before mixing is completed, add the chopped candy through the top and let mix in completely. The ice cream will have a soft, creamy texture. If a firmer consistency is desired, transfer the ice cream to an airtight container and place in freezer for about 2 hours. Remove from freezer about 15 minutes before serving.

(From the Cuisinart Automatic Frozen Yogurt-Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker owners manual and Recipe Booklet)

After steeping the leaves in the milk, I took out some of them, and put the rest of the mixture through the blender.

I almost never buy these. I don't really like them much (plus Moe can't eat them because they contain egg), but they sure sounded good mixed with ice cream.

Ready to go in the ice cream freezer!


The ice cream was an unusual color, but it was quite good! Joe said he thought it tasted like toothpaste (but that's what he says about anything mint flavored), and the rest of us thought it tasted more like mint chocolate chip.

I wasn't too crazy about the little bits of mint leaf in the ice cream (but the bits of peppermint patty were fabulous!); next time I might try making it with peppermint extract and crushed candy canes or something. But I'm not sure if I can wait until Christmas for that...


I took some fresh blackberries and raspberries and mixed them with some brown sugar, cinnamon, and a little cornstarch.

I made a topping with about 1/3 cup each of oatmeal, brown sugar, and gluten-free Bisquick; mixed together with about 3 tablespoons of butter.

Ready to go in the oven...

A lovely dessert, if I may say so myself.

Stay tuned for my Dear John beef stew, and then we'll dive into The Choice with some delicious jalapeno burgers!

Friday, October 7, 2011

7 Quick Takes, Volume 8


Only four more days until Nicholas Sparks' new book, The Best of Me, comes out! (Click here for a sneak peek.) Now I'll have to decide: should I go out and buy it IMMEDIATELY and read it, or wait until I'm ready to "cook" it for this blog?

Decisions, decisions. Maybe I'll at least re-read The Choice first, since that one is next in line here.


There is a new show in the works at ABC; it's a drama co-written by Nicholas Sparks called Watchers. has this to say about it:
The project revolves around the Archangel Raphael, who after spending centuries as a Watcher and invisibly providing support to humans in the time of need, decides to cut off his wings out of love for Sarah, a mortal woman, so that he can truly be with her for the rest of her days.

When Sarah’s life is cut short, Rafe is left to wander the Earth solo as a fallen angel. Dependent on the kindness of strangers and hunted by angels from above and below, Rafe travels undercover, performing miracles as he searches for the meaning of loss and clues to Sarah’s fate.
It will be interesting to see how it's received by folks in the Catholic media world. I expect some will find the concept of an archangel falling in love with a mortal to be problematic, but who knows? I will definitely be on the lookout for this one.


It kind of reminds me of a movie that came out about fifteen years ago: remember Michael, starring John Travolta?

Two struggling tabloid reporters and an "angel expert" are sent by their boss to check out an old kook who claims to have an angel living with her. Sure enough, the guy's got wings, but he's also into smoking, drinking and womanizing. Unconvinced that Michael (John Travolta) is not an Earthly being, the reporters take him to Chicago, when Michael's unconventional methods begin to work heavenly magic. Director Nora Ephron also wrote the script. (Source: Netflix)

I don't remember much about the movie; I think I enjoyed it, even though it was irreverent. (Or maybe I hated it. I don't really remember.) I know I wondered at the time if the real archangel Michael would chuckle if he saw it, or whether he'd just be annoyed. I found a review that was put out by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. (Thanks to Steven Greydanyus from for helping me find it!) They weren't too terribly impressed.


One night last week as I was lying in bed with my iPad, Curly came upstairs and heard me laughing hysterically. He wandered in to see what was so funny. This:


Of course, I just had to try it.

First of all, when I tried smashing the head of garlic with my hand, nothing happened except that it hurt like heck. I ended up smashing it with a crab mallet.

I didn't have two bowls that were the same size, so I had to settle for a smaller one nested inside a larger one.

After shaking the garlic around in the bowls for ten seconds, there were only two cloves that actually came out of their peelings.

I gave the bowls another shake, and managed to get two more cloves free, and had to do the rest by hand. I will say that it made it easier because the peelings were shaken loose and were easier to remove, so I think I will keep using this technique.

Curly says next time I should let HIM try it; he says I'm just not smashing the garlic hard enough. I suppose I'm just a wimp.


The weekend before school started, I cleaned out Moe's backpack (that's right, I didn't look inside it for three months) and found these pictures he had made last spring in art class.

Moe came wandering in as I was working on this blog post, and saw these pictures. "MO-om, don't put those up there!" "Please?" "If you put them up, can I skip Tae Kwon Do tonight?" I was thinking of letting him skip it anyway, since I wasn't sure if I could get him and Curly there, run my errands, AND pick up Larry from play practice at school. So now I'm a wimp AND a pushover.



A few weeks ago, Nick went to Africa on a safari. (I presume to celebrate his finishing The Best of Me.) On Sept. 22, he posted a few photos on Twitter. Click on the tweets to see them!

Pretty cool.

Have a great Columbus Day weekend, and be sure to check out Jen's Conversion Diary blog for more Quick Takes!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Dear John: Teriyaki Grilled Chicken with Carrot Raisin Salad and Homemade Potato Chips

For more than a year now I've been juggling two blogs, a part time job, family time, and just trying to keep my house from sinking into the pit of cluttered chaos. Often I've wondered if I should put my blogs on hold and focus on my more pressing tasks, but I'm always coming back to them because, well, it's what I do. Some people knit, some scrapbook, some run marathons; I blog. (Click here to see what I've been up to lately on my other blog, Musings of a Catholic Mom.)

I realized that last Labor Day Weekend marked one year since I started this little project. I've covered ten books (Dear John is the eleventh), and I only have five more books to go, including The Best of Me, which comes out on October 11. Six if I count Three Weeks With My Brother, and I still haven't decided what to do with that one. That's only about six more months of Cooking Nick's Books. I've been thinking lately about what to do when I run out of books; and I'm considering posting more non-Sparks related projects in the near future, just so I won't have to end this journey quite so soon. We'll see!

In the meantime, I'm past due for another stop in our trip through Nick's books; this one involves Dear John and a cookout on the beach. John has just spent his first day on furlough from the Army surfing at Wrightsville Beach. (Read a little bit more about John here.) Late in the afternoon he spots two attractive young women walking on the pier and says hello to them. One says hello back, one doesn't Just then two buff guys come to fetch the girls and bring them back to the beach house where they are staying with a group of friends, and one of them (accidentally or on purpose, we're not sure which) knocks a beach bag into the ocean. The bag belongs to Savannah, the one who said "hi" to John. The jerk who tossed her bag shrugs and acts like he doesn't care, and John comes to the rescue and swims out to retrieve it. Grateful for his help, Savannah (much to the dismay of the two hotshot guys) invites John to the beach house to join the bonfire and cookout they're planning. It is at said cookout that John and Savannah begin to get to know one another--and where John learns that Savannah and her friends are in Wrightsville Beach to build a Habitat for Humanity home for a needy family--and the romance starts to sprout.

So what's on the menu at this barbecue? Grilled chicken, chips, and potato salad. Since I've made potato salad twice already for this blog, and I was already making homemade potato chips, I decided to prepare a new version of an old favorite of mine--carrot and raisin salad.

Years ago--before kids--we spent a weekend with our good friends Erik and Patty in upstate New York. While we were there they grilled us some delicious teriyaki chicken breasts, and I was so impressed I asked them for the recipe. I have since lost the little recipe card that Patty wrote it down on in her immaculate handwriting (I swear, this woman has the most beautiful handwriting I've ever seen--I wish I hadn't lost the card so I could show it to you), but I've made this so many times I don't need to look at the recipe anyway:


1 cup Soy sauce (I used Tamari because it's gluten free)

1 medium onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 cup salad oil (I've used canola as well as olive oil; both work well)

1 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup sugar

(To be honest, I don't know if these are the exact measurements Patty gave me; depending on how much chicken you're cooking you can adjust them accordingly. I was cooking nine chicken breasts, so I needed quite a bit of marinade.)

Pour the marinade over the chicken. (By the way, you don't necessarily have to cook boneless chicken breasts; you could use this on drumsticks or thighs or anything you want.) Cover and refrigerate at least two hours. Grill until done.

Joe likes to brush the marinade over the chicken while it's grilling.

One thing I wish I had done differently was split the breasts, because these were pretty thick. I usually do this, but I didn't this time for some reason. These were delicious, nevertheless, and I had lots left over for chicken salad later!


When we lived in Maryland we had a favorite joint called Grizzly's we used to frequent, and they served homemade potato chips--just potatoes sliced real thin and fried until crunchy. (We took the kids back there over the summer--they don't have those chips anymore, but they still have the best wings ever.) Anyway, I make homemade chips quite often nowadays, because they're super easy.

First, slice the potatoes as thinly as you can. (If you have one of those Mandoline slicers, that's great. I have one, but nine times out of ten I'd just rather use a knife. But that's me.)

Fry in about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of oil on medium to medium-high heat. You'll want to turn them about halfway through cooking.

It's not easy to get the potatoes cooked to the exact crispness you want, so watch them carefully. The one on the left is under cooked, the middle one is too done, and the right one is perfect. I'll usually take one out to test it when they're starting to look done. Depending on how thin they are, some will take longer than others.

Drain on paper towels and salt liberally. I like to eat mine with ketchup!


When I was growing up, I was usually put in charge of making the salads at mealtime. Of course, I often prepared one that required little or no effort: a blob of cottage cheese and a pear half on a bed of lettuce; a stalk of celery and some peanut butter; or if I felt like working a little bit more, a carrot-and-raisin salad. Even that wasn't hard; just grate some carrots, throw in some raisins, add some mayo and stir. As I got older and more adventurous, I started adding a little lemon juice, honey, or cinnamon for variety. These days I don't make it much because, well, let's just say it isn't one of Joe's favorites. This day, however, I wanted carrot and raisin salad, and by golly, I was going to make some.

I looked online for some recipes, and found a couple that looked good (this one from Food Network and this one from, and decided to concoct my own version using some of the ingredients from each. This is what I came up with (measurements are approximate):


1 lb. grated carrots

1/4 cup grated red onion

1 T sugar

1/2 t. cumin

1/2 t. paprika

1/4 t. salt

1/4 t. cinnamon

1 1/2 t. minced garlic

1 cup raisins

2 T lemon juice

1/4 c. orange juice

1/4 c. brown sugar

1/4 c. mayonnaise, optional

Mix all ingredients together and chill until ready to serve.

I divided the salad into two separate bowls and put mayonnaise in only one of them since Moe is allergic to eggs, and not everyone in my family likes mayo anyway. Moe and Joe didn't care for the salad (dang it), but Larry, Curly, and I all LOVED it. I'll definitely be making this again!

A great meal for a fall barbecue!

Next, I think I'll be making beef stew again, and the challenge will be to find a recipe that's different from my usual stew that everyone loves, but also a stew that will satisfy all my picky eaters. Wish me luck! And stay tuned for another 7 Quick Takes, and that peppermint ice cream I've been promising to share.