Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Kids, Books, and a Greyhound!

And a beautiful quilt but I'll get to that in a little bit!

As some of you may know, I've had Greyhounds since 2003 when I first adopted Reminisee Blair now known as Remi. Shortly thereafter came PB's Honey Fritz now known as Sugar, then Yopon Laverne now known as Lucy, and lastly Oakland Scarboro now known as Sami. The latter being a total "uh oh" as she was definitely not planned but that, my friends, is an entirely different blog post!

So, when you have dogs, you like to include them in activities, right? The old mantra - a tired dog is a happy dog holds true in my household, that's for sure! Well, I've done lure coursing with Remi, Sugar (who was #4 in Greyhounds in 2005), Lucy, and Sami. I've also participated in pet therapy with all four. Pet therapy is where we visit nursing homes and children's hospitals with our Greyhounds. The patients and children just love loving on the dogs. We all know that therapy using pets is quite beneficial for our health. For those in nursing homes, it is known to:
  • Diminish emotional pain
  • Diminish physical pain
  • Reduce boredom
  • Reduce anxiety
  • And it makes people happy

For children, therapy with pets teaches them:
  • Gentleness
  • Caring
  • Responsibility
  • How to interact safely with an animal, and most importantly,
  • Allows them to love an animal
Researchers found even one 30-minute long session of animal assisted therapy reduced loneliness to a statistically significant degree. Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, 7/02. Pets provide internal chemical therapeutics for people. Tests show that within minutes of petting a dog, the humans and dogs alike experience massive release of such beneficial hormones as prolactin, oxytocin and phenylethylamine.

So, with all this being said, I have been very active in pet therapy since adopting my first Greyhound in 2003. We've certainly enjoyed our experiences and most every month, the patients at the nursing home crack me up with something they say or do. They know us and we know them and when we see an empty bed, it truly is a very sad moment. Our only hope and thought is that a new patient will reside in that room who will enjoy our visits as much as the last patient.

At one visit many years ago, we stopped in the hallway and chatted with a woman who was trying to tell me about her day. Afterwards, a nursing assistant stopped me to ask what we had done because this particular patient hadn't spoken a word in over 6 months. Of course, it was nothing we did specifically but I suspect having the Greyhounds spurred some memory for this particular patient. Perhaps she had had dogs of her own in the past and seeing them made her remember them fondly and, quite frankly, come to life right before our eyes. It was quite a thing knowing we had a small part in helping that patient "reconnect", for lack of a better word. I will never forget it, that's for sure.

Another form of therapy using our dogs is called R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistance Dogs). This is where trained R.E.A.D. teams visit schools and libraries and serve as reading companions for children. The program is very successful with proven results by increasing reading test scores and improving reading levels for children of all ages. It works because the children aren't intimidated by reading to a dog as they sometimes can be reading to an adult or teacher. The dog does not criticize or judge the child. The program increases their self-esteem, thus making the children enjoy the reading experience.

So, Lucy and I embarked on this next journey by completing the necessary training and registering as a R.E.A.D. team. In Georgia our program is called Reading Paws. We then started searching for a library who would welcome our program with open arms. We found that with the Smyrna Public Library.

Our very first visit was March 19th. Lucky for us, our entire hour was filled with appointments made by four children. The first to read to Lucy was a little boy named Varun. He is from India, I believe, and if there was ever a very animated and enthusiastic reader, this is Varun. It was quite comical but you could tell he loved to read and loved reading to Lucy. After Varun was done, a little boy from Africa read to Lucy. He had a bit more difficulty but he did pretty well for a child his age. The book he chose was a difficult one, I think. Next time, we'll get one that is a bit easier for him. Then a Mexican girl read to Lucy. She was a really good reader. By this time, the hound in Lucy had come out and she was sprawled out on the blanket fast asleep. I told the children that Lucy was listening and was just resting her eyes. The last child was the best friend of the first Mexican girl. She also was an excellent reader. I believe three of these children have signed up for every session until June or so and we will be there two Saturdays a month. Whoo hoo!!

What an excellent start to what I foresee to be a wonderful journey with kids, books and a Greyhound!!

Oh, I cannot forget to mention the beautiful quilt my sister made for us (see picture above). We were very lucky to have Brooke Shenson of ShopMollyd fame donate several Greyhound appliqués which my sister included on the four corners of the quilt. With the largest appliqué that Brooke sent, Pam made a most awesome quilted bag that I will use to transport the quilt to and from the library. Obviously we will use the quilt to sit on while the children read. It is absolutely a stunning piece of art!! I am very proud of the quilt and thank my sister profusely for dedicating her time and talent to the cause. We truly appreciate it and will take very good care of my new artwork! Pin It

Monday, March 14, 2011

Themed Dinners!

As you probably have guessed by now, I really enjoy hosting themed dinners! I always have!! And this past weekend was no exception. With it being Mardi Gras last week, I decided to cook an entire meal based on Cajun recipes.

We enjoyed Shrimp and Sausage Jambalaya, Shrimp Creole, Red Beans and Rice, Corn Muffins and for dessert, a delicious Bread Pudding. Oh, and I cannot forget the Hurricanes to drink!!

Everything was very good, even if I say so myself. The Jambalaya recipe is courtesy of my favorite food blogger, Brown-Eyed Baker. The Corn Muffins recipe is from my cubemate at work and the Bread Pudding was Paula Deen's recipe, of course!! The Shrimp Creole is my recipe and the Red Beans and Rice came from Southern Living. Oh, and the Hurricanes, from an online source!

I couldn't have been more pleased with how everything turned out and I think my guests also enjoyed the dinner.

Hurricane Drink

1 oz vodka
1/4 oz grenadine syrup
1 oz gin
1 oz light rum
1/2 oz Bacardi 151 Rum
1 oz amaretto almond liqueur
1 oz triple sec
grapefruit juice
pineapple juice

Pour all but the juices, in order listed, into a hurricane glass three-quarters filled with ice. Fill with equal parts of grapefruit and pineapple juice. Garnish with a half orange slice and maraschino cherry "flag".

Shrimp and Sausage Jambalaya

Serves: 6 to 8

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound sausage, kielbasa or andouille, sliced
1 pound smoked ham, cubed
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup diced celery
1 green bell pepper, cored and diced
1 red bell pepper, cored and diced
1 cup seeded and diced tomato
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced OR ½ teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoons diced fresh oregano
1 teaspoon diced fresh thyme
2 tablespoons tomato paste
6 cups chicken stock
3 cups long-grain rice, rinsed
3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 to 8 dashes hot sauce, optional
½ cup chopped scallions, divided
¾ cup chopped fresh parsley, divided
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 pound medium shrimp, deveined (20 to 24 count)

1. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, add the kielbasa and saute for 8 to 10 minutes, until browned. Remove the kielbasa to a bowl, and set aside.
2. Add the ham to the same pot and cook 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove to the bowl with the kielbasa, and set aside.
3. Add the butter, onion, celery and peppers to the same pot and saute for 8 to 10 minutes, until the onion is translucent.
4. Add the tomato, garlic, jalapeno or cayenne, oregano, thyme, and tomato paste and cook until all the vegetables and herbs are blended well.
5. Add the stock and bring to a rolling boil. Stir in the rice, and add the sausage, ham, bay leaves, salt, pepper and hot sauce. Return to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
6. Add ¼ cup of the scallions, ¼ cup of the parsley, the lemon juice and the shrimp, and stir well. Cover the pot, remove it from the heat and allow the jambalaya steam, for 15 minutes, before serving.
7. Garnish with the remaining ¼ cup scallions and ½ cup parsley, and a dash of hot sauce, if desired.

(Recipe adapted from Barefoot Contessa)

Red Beans and Rice

Serves: 8-10

1 pound dried red beans
1 pound Andouille
sausage, thinly sliced
3 celery ribs, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 sweet onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning
Hot cooked long-grain rice
Hot sauce (optional)
Garnish: finely chopped green onions, finely chopped red onion

1. Combine first 8 ingredients and 7 cups water in a 4-qt. slow cooker. Cover and cook on HIGH 7 hours or until beans are tender.
2. Serve red bean mixture with hot cooked rice, and, if desired, hot sauce. Garnish, if desired.

Shrimp Creole

Serves: 6 to 8

2 quarts water
2 pounds shrimp unpeeled
1 cup onion chopped

1 cup green bell pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 14 oz cans tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 6 oz can tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper

1/4 teaspoon pepper
sh red pepper
2 cups cooked rice

1. Bring water to a boil in a large Dutch oven; add shrimp and cook 3 to 4 minutes. Drain well; rinse with cold water. Chill. Peel and de-vein shrimp.
2. Saute onion and green pepper in oil. Drain. Combine tomatoes, tomato p
aste, bay leaf, Worcestershire, oregano, salt, lemon pepper, pepper, and red pepper in large Dutch oven.
3. Add green pepper and onion. Simmer over low heat for about 45 minutes. Add shrimp and simmer until shrimp are heated.
4. Ladle hot shrimp creole over hot white rice.


2 packages Jiffy Cornbread Mix
5 eggs
½ cup sour cream low fat
3/4 cup milk (would go with less than that)
1 15-oz can cream corn

Preheat oven to 350 F., grease a 9 x 13 pan or muffin pan.

Mix eggs. Add sour cream until blended. Add milk to eggs and sour cream until blended.
Add cream corn to mixture. Gradually add in cornbread mixes until blended, but still may have lumps. Pour into greased pan.

Bake approximately 30-40 minutes (or more) until a toothpick comes out clean in the middle. Top should be golden brown.

Let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

Bread Pudding

Serves: 8 to 10

2 cups granulated sugar
5 large beaten eggs
2 cups milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups cubed Italian bread, allow to stale overnight in a bowl
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
1 cup chopped pecans

For the sauce:

1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup brandy

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 13 by 9 by 2-inch pan.
2. Mix together granulated sugar, eggs, and milk in a bowl; add vanilla. Pour over cubed bread and let sit for 10 minutes.
3. In another bowl, mix and crumble together brown sugar, butter, and pecans.
4. Pour bread mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle brown sugar mixture over the top and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until set. Remove from oven.

For the sauce:
Mix together the granulated sugar, butter, egg, and vanilla in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir together until the sugar is melted. Add the brandy, stirring well. Pour over bread pudding. Serve warm or cold.

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Friday, March 11, 2011

An Italian Feast

A few weeks back I hosted a dinner party where Italian was the theme! And who doesn't love an authentic Italian meal?

We started with Arancini di Riso as an appetizer, then a nice Caesar Salad and crunchy Cheesy Garlic Bread, then the most awesome Lasagna I've ever made (complete with homemade noodles), followed by New York Style Cheesecake with Strawberries! Yes, it was all so delicious.

Here are the recipes! I didn't include the noodle recipe as that is just an egg noodle dough. I believe it's on my blog from a previous posting!

Arancini di Riso
(Rice Balls with Marinara Sauce)

Serves 6

2 eggs
2 cups cooked rice
4 oz. mozzarella cheese, cut in ½-inch cubes (about 1 cup)
¾ cup seasoned bread crumbs
2 Tablespoons olive oil

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Beat eggs lightly with fork. Add the rice and stir gently but thoroughly.

Take 1 tablespoon of the mixture, place a cube of mozzarella in the middle and then top with another tablespoon of rice. Shape into a ball and roll in the breadcrumbs. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the rice mixture.

Refrigerate pan of rice balls for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425°F. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over rice balls.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve with warm marinara sauce.

World's Best Lasagna

Serves 10

1 pound sweet Italian sausage
3/4 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup onion minced
2 cloves garlic crushed
28 ounces crushed tomatoes
12 ounces tomato paste
13 ounces tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon italian seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 tablespoons chopped parsley
12 lasagna noodles
16 ounces ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound mozzarella cheese sliced
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese


In a Dutch oven, cook sausage, ground beef, onion, and garlic over medium heat until well browned. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water. Season with sugar, basil, fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons parsley. Simmer, covered, for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain noodles, and rinse with cold water. In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, remaining parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

To assemble, spread 1 1/2 cups of meat sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Arrange 6 noodles lengthwise over meat sauce. Spread with one half of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with a third of mozzarella cheese slices. Spoon 1 1/2 cups meat sauce over mozzarella, and sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers, and top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil: to prevent sticking, either spray foil with cooking spray, or make sure the foil does not touch the cheese.

Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 25 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.

New York Style Cheesecake

Serves 16

1 1/4 cups HONEY MAID Graham Cracker Crumbs
1/4 cup butter, melted
5 (250 g) packages PHILADELPHIA Brick Cream Cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup sour cream
4 eggs
1 (19 ounce) can cherry pie filling (I substituted fresh strawberries)


Heat oven to 325 degrees F if using a silver 9 inch springform pan (or to 300 degrees F if using a dark nonstick 9-inch spring-form pan). Mix crumbs and butter; press firmly onto bottom of pan. Bake 10 minutes.

Beat cream cheese, sugar, flour and vanilla in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Add sour cream; mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing on low speed after each addition just until blended. Pour over crust.

Bake 1 hour 10 minutes or until center is almost set. Run knife or metal spatula around rim of pan to loosen cake; cool before removing rim of pan. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. Top with pie filling before serving. Store leftover cheesecake in refrigerator. Pin It

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Yummy - Homemade Pancakes

I recently came across a very awesome blog about one of my favorite subjects - cooking!! It's called Brown Eyed Baker. A read her blog religiously as she has some very awesome recipes.

This one came across her blog the other day. I have to say I like pancakes but don't make them at home that often but this recipe just called out to me to try it! And so I did! She was right, they are the very best pancakes I think I've ever eaten. Worth a try everyone!

Best Buttermilk Pancakes

Yield: Sixteen 4-inch pancakes

Prep Time: 20 minutes | Cook Time: 15 minutes

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk
¼ cup sour cream
2 eggs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 to 2 teaspoon vegetable oil, for greasing the pan

1. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl. In a second medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, sour cream, eggs and melted butter. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients; gently stir until just combined (batter should remain lumpy with a few streaks of flour). Do not overmix. Allow the batter to sit for 10 minutes before cooking.

2. Heat 1 teaspoon of the vegetable oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Using a paper towel, carefully wipe out oil, leaving a thin film of oil on the bottom of the pan. Using ¼ cup measure, portion batter into pan in 4 places. Cook until edges are set, first side is golden brown, and bubbles on surface are just beginning to break, 2 to 3 minutes. Using a thin, wide spatula, flip pancakes and continue to cook until second side is golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Serve pancakes immediately. Repeat with remaining batter, using remaining oil as needed.

*Note 1: This recipe was formulated using lower-protein flour such as Pillsbury and Gold Medal. If you use flour with a little higher protein content like King Arthur, you will need to add 1 to 2 more tablespoons of buttermilk. I forgot about this at first, and when I mixed the batter I saw how thick it was. I added 1½ more tablespoons of buttermilk and the batter was perfect.

*Note 2: If you make these on an electric griddle, preheat it to 350 degrees F.

(Recipe adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)

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