Product Review: V-Smile

If you want to get your child a video game, but also want them to learn while they play, then a learning game is a great choice for you! There are a wide array of learning game options to choose from these days. I have purchased several of these for my children including the V-Tech versions of this type of toy.

V-Tech’s versions of the learning game toys are called V-Smile and V-Smile Pocket. The V-Smile is the unit that plugs in to your television, and the V-Smile Pocket is the handheld game. There are a wide variety of games for these units, any of the games can be played on both units. This is a great benefit so you don’t have to have separate games for each unit. The games come in all of children’s favorite characters and are very educational. Each game is clearly labeled with what age group will benefit the most from that game. These games teach letters, colors, shapes, numbers, and even phonics and math! The concept of these games is wonderful, but does the product hold up to the hype?

We purchased the V-Smile unit the first Christmas it was on the market. My son wanted a learning game so badly and this one seemed to be the best fit for him. It was used on the home television and had lots of character games he likes. The games were right in his age range for him to have the best opportunity to learn, plus with him being at home with me during the day the stay at home version was fine for him. At first my son was in love with his new toy! He had a blast playing the different games and learning so much from them! Then came the first draw back. This product does not come with an AC adaptor, and it goes through batteries like they are going out of style! I could not keep batteries in the house for this thing! I was never able to find the AC adaptor available in the store. They always seemed to be sold out. And when I tried to order it on-line shipping was almost as much as the adaptor itself, so I wasn’t going to go that route. Then it seemed I was all of the sudden having to checng the batteries a lot more often. Once every few days. Then the unit stopped working all together. I contacted customer service to see if there was a problem with the unit since we had only had this for 3 months. The customer service representative walked me through different things to check for a problem. I was told to reset the unit and then it seemed to be working properly again. My son was so happy to have his game back! Then a few weeks later it happened again. The game would not come on at all. I tried changing the batteries, still would not come on at all.

My son and I were getting very frustrated at this point. I called customer service back and this time no matter how many times we reset it, it still would not work. So they suggested I send the unit back in since it was evidently a faulty one and they would send me a new one right out. I sent it back in and waited for the new unit to arrive. After a few weeks the new unit still had not arrived, my son was getting very impatient waiting for this. So I called customer service to check on the status. I was informed that they had received my unit and that the new one would be arriving in only a few days and they gave me a tracking number. I tracked the package and just as they said it would be arriving in just a few days. The day came and went for the package to arrive. I called customer service back because my sn had waited all day for his package and he was very upset that it had not come as it was scheduled. This time the customer service representative showed no record of them receiveing my faulty unit. However, my replacement unit came the next day, some how it got left behind on the dock instead of being put on to the truck for delivery, just my luck. This second unit worked much better, however my son was really disgusted with it not working and didn’t play it nearly as much since it had been such a hassle the first time around.

Since the new unit we were sent appeared to have no issues, we decided to purchase the handheld version of the V-Smile, the V-Smile Pocket, as soon as it came out. That way my son could use all the games he already had. After purchasing this, we ran into the exact same issues as with the standarad V-Smile. We returned it and got a new one. My son was so disgusted with the whole thing, he didn’t even want them anymore. I took them and sold them on ebay. Both of the new units appeared to work fine, but my son didn’t want to take the risk of them breaking again. So we sold his and bought him a different learning game instead with the money he made from selling the V-Smile units.

I am sure that other people have had better experiences with this product, however our personal experience was a nightmare. It was very hard for a 3-5 year old child to understand why his toy had to be sent back to the company because they made a bad product. The patience of a child that age is very thing and making them wait forever for a new toy just is not feasible. A child’s product should stand up to the test of time. In my opinion the V-Smile does not do that!! My advice if you choose to purchase the V-Smile, be cautious. Keep your receipt, and also all handbooks to all games, and to the unit and any accessories you purchase. Make sure that you contact customer service for any issues. If there are buigs in your unit get them taken care of as quickly as possible, if you wait over a year they will not replace your product. Another suggestion, if any sort of warranty is offered, BUY IT! With this product I have a feeling, you just may need it.

Product Review: Leapster Learning System

Educational games have become just as popular as non-educational games. In some cases they may even be more popular! There is always some new toy to help your child learn colors, shapes, letters, numbers, phonics, and math. Leading the way in this ever growing market of educational toys is Leap Frog. Leap Frog was one of the first companies to combine hand held video games and learning toys into one amazing toy, the Leapster.

The Leapster started out with just one style, silver and triangle shaped. Now you have several options to choose from! You can pick a triangle shaped, or a rectangle shaped. You can choose from the colors silver, pink, and green. You can even choose from the systems now Leapster TV, Leapster L-Max, and the standard Leapster. The wide array of games that Leap Frog has manufactured for the Leapster systems can be played on any and all of the 3 available systems. However, that is only one of the many benefits of choosing the Leapster for your child. I have purchased Leapster;s for all three of my children through out the past several years. The benefits of purchasing this system continue to grow as your child grows. Games are available for children starting at age 3, all the way up to children age 12. The games vary from Video Cartridges, to Arcade style educational games, to Electronic Books, and even Art games. The games are even available in a variety of characters that your child more than likely already knows and loves.

The original Leapster includes Learning with Leap. In the older version of the Leapster this came in cartridge form, however, in the newer version it is not in a cartridge it is automatically included inside the system, no cartridge needed! Leap is one of Leap Frog’s own original characters. This game has so many different ways for your child to learn and grow. Some of these learning games include: 1. Painting pictures. 2. Rabbit River 3. Chicken Coop 4. Shape Shop and 5. Catcher Fields. The picture painting game gives your child a variety of pictures to choose from that they can paint in any way that they like. In Rabbit River, your child helps rabbits get across a river by jumping on logs. Some times these logs have letters or numbers on them that the child has to identify in order to get the rabbit across. In the beginner levels there are no letters or numbers. As the levels get higher your child has to know the sound the letter makes or be able to count by 5s to get the rabbit across. At the Chicken Coop, your child will be able to learn by matching pictures. In the Shape Shop, is a game where you help mice build things with different shapes. Finally in Catcher Fields, you catch different items in a bucket. It may be letters or sounds. There are bonus games for when you do well too! Loads and loads of fun for any child! And all of that is included with the purchase of the original Leapster system. I am not sure which games are included with Leapster TV or with Leapster L-Max. We have not purchased those, only the Leapster. All of the games that we have have different degrees of difficulty as well. Games that my 3 year old can play, can also be played by my 5 year old just by changing the level. Even my 7 year old enjoys playing these games on the higher level as a refresher course! Plus you can expand your Leapster game library by purchasing more games that teach different skills, or that are more difficult. Some of the available titles are Spiderman Electronic Comic Book, Disney Princess Enchanted Learning, Letterpillar, Cosmic Math, Junie B Jones, Batman, and School House Rock and this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the available games. Some of these games even allow you to unlock codes where you can go to the Leap Frog web site and download special surprises after you have completed certain levels! My kids have loved going to put in their codes after accomplishing a hard task!

You can also purchase accessories to go with your Leapster. They have Leapster bags or cases to carry your Leapster and your games. The case does not hold as many games as the bag, but both of these come in very handy whenever you are on a long car trip!You can also purchase charging stations. However, I have not had an issue with batteries running out too quickly yet and my kids love to play their Leapsters!

If you are planning to invest in a hand held educational game for your child, a Leapster is definitely the way to go! It is versatile, durable, and fun! My family gives it an A+!

Planning the Perfect Strawberry Shortcake Birthday Party

Is your little girl as sweet as Strawberry Shortcake? She is? Then a birthday party centered around this sugary sweet character and all of her friends is the perfect choice for your little sweetie! Here are some suggestions from my daughter’s recent party with this theme.

As I have stated in my other party planning articles, always start witht he guest list. It isn’t a party unless you have all of your friends and family there to celebrate with you. Invitations can be purchased at your local store, any store with party supplies will have them. You can also choose to order your invitations on-line. Many on-line party supply sites also carry party packs including many of your party necessities. You can also make your own invitations using any card making software or by using Microsoft Word. YOu can even make Strawberry shapes from construction paper and let your child help you cut them out and decorate them! To give your guests ample time to plan to attend and to RSVP, mail invitations at least two weeks prior to the party date. Even if you do not hear back from everyone on the guest list, still be prepared for all you invite to attend. The simple act of an RSVP seems to be a dying art these days.

This sweet them gives so many options for yummy foods. Since all of the characters are named after foods, the options just go on and on. Of course the main attraction of the food at any birthday partyis the birthday cake. YOu can always order a cake from a local bakery. I have even seen bakeries put a bunch of cupcakes together into the shape of a strawberry and then ice the cupcakes all together as one cake and decorate as a strawberry. It looks almost as good as it tastes! This “cupcake” cake would be easy to do on your own as well. You can also purchase a Strawberry Shortcake cake pan from a baking specialty shop, or on-line. This does require more decorating, but once you see the finished result, it will be well worth the additional effort! Cake plans need to be made at the two week before mark also. Either order the cake from the bakery, or find whatever pans you may need to make the cake of your choice. Do not put off the cake until the last minute, this is one detail you do not want to let slip through your fingers.

After you finish all of the planning for the cake, it is time to have some fun planning the other foods for the party. Here are some of the food ideas I had to choose from when planning our party.

1. Orange Blossom Cookies – I made simple spritz cookies and added a bit of orange extract to the batter. I used a flower shape disc on my cookie press and made these. I even had my daughter add orange sprinkles to the tops of the cookies. You can even use sugar cookie dough for this same thing and roll it out and use flower shaped cookie cutters. These of course are in honor of Strawberry’s friend, Orange Blossom.
2. Strawberry Shortcake – of course this one is the obvious option. You could have this yummy dessert instead of cake or in addition to cake.
3. Blueberry Muffins – I made miniature blueberry muffins, another recipe inspired by one of Strawberry’s friends, Blueberry Muffin.
4. Lemonade – this is always a great party beverage. You could even make a lemonade punch for more pizazz. This came from Strawberry’s twin friends, Lem and Ada.

There are tons of other options as well. All you need to do is do a search for Strawberry Shortcake and Friends and see all the character names to get inspired.

Now it is time to decide on party games. You need to first consider the age of your child and the children that will be attending the party. Make sure to choose age appropriate games and crafts.

1. Strawberry Shortcake coloring pages is great for any age. You can get these out of a coloring book, or print some out from on-line. Just do a search for Free coloring pages and you will find a multitude of sites that offer all different pages with all different characters. Print them out and you are ready to go!
2. Pin the tail on Pupcake – You can draw or purchase, or print out a large picture of Strawberry’s dog Pupcake. Have the kids pint he tail on him just like pin the tail on the donkey.
3. You could decorate cookies or cupcakes or rice crispy treats with the kids. One of Strawberry’s friend’s has her own bakery and this would be fin for older kids!
4. Strawberry crafts – You could make strawberries from construction paper or pipe cleaners or many other materials.
5. Strawberry patch – You could buy or make fake strawberries and hide them in the yard, then have the kids hunt for them. You can give them buckets or baskets to put the strawberries into. These baskets or buckets can double as their goody bags!

Speaking of goody bags, no party is complete without these special packages of special treats to thank your friends for coming to the party! You can find all kinds of neat goodies for the take home bags. Anything candy, cookie, or cake related would be perfect. Candy shaped erasers, and notepads with pictures of sweet treats ont hem would be great for any age. Also you can get small Strawberry Shortcake dolls for a small price, these would also be a good choice to send home with your little guests. Strawberry candies, and even strawberry fruit snacks would make a yummy addition too. You can even purchase ready made goody bags and character themed toys at your local or on-line party supplier.

The final seven days before the party get all the final items ready. Make a trip to the store to get all the final necessities, drinks, plates, cups, napkins, plastic silverware, any other snack foods you may want, and extra ice. If you want balloons make sure to order these at least 3-5 days in advance. You can order them from a florist or party store near you. You will need to pick the cake up the day of the party or make it a day ahead of time.

All of the details will fall right into place come party day! You will love watching your little sweetheart enjoy her party with her friends. Plus all of the adults will thinkt his is the best party ever! They may just all want you to help them plan their next party too! Enjoy your party, I know we enjoyed ours!

Simple Dinner Recipes

Are you always in a pinch at dinner time? Do you constantly find yourself grabbing convenience foods out of the freezer? Is a take-out menu more familiar than your own pantry? If you said yes to any of the above, then maybe it is time for you to find some simple dinner ideas to make meal time easier and less stressful.

We all know it is more expensive to eat out all the time! But, do you realize how pricey it is to purchase convenience foods? Those frozen, ready-made meals that are found at the grocery store are busting many grocery budgets too! Dinner can be simple even without those freezer meals. Of course, I have nights when I order take-out, or grab from my freezer. However, a while back I made a choice. Each week I strive to make more home cooked meals than convenience foods or take-out food. For my family this is not an easy feat! As the mother of three children, it can be very hard to put together a meal that every one wants to eat. To be honest, that alone could drive any cook mad! All the cookbooks in the world can’t help with that problem! I have found that experimenting on my own with ingredients that I know my family enjoys can turn into something wonderfully delicious!

Here are a few ideas from my kitchen. These are all quick meals, and tips for ways to grab from the freezer and still have home cooked food! These of course are just a few of my families favorites.

Tacos are one of the easiest meals to make. You can use whatever meat your family prefers: ground beef, chicken, or turkey. It is so simple to brown the meat, season it and throw the toppings out for everyone to dig in! Did I also mention it is delicious? Well, it is! another bonus for tacos, it is the perfect meal for each person to make just how they want. If you have a picky eater around they can make their own choices as to what goes on their taco. Hard shell, soft shell, cheese, lettuce, tomato, salsa, sauce, sour cream, beans, so many choices you just can’t go wrong! I even found a simpler way to make tacos. “Is that even possible?” you say. Yes it is! You don’t even have to stand at the stove cooking this! It is a crock pot version that is absolutely delicious! Just throw thawed meat, a can of refried beans, a cup of salsa or a can of tomatoes and diced chiles, one packet of taco seasoning, and about half a cup of water all into a crock pot. Let it cook all day long. Once you are about ready to eat fill your taco shells with this meat mixture. It will knock your socks off with the flavor! You can even use this meat mixture in any of your favorite Mexican food casseroles. Plus I have a family of five, and we always have taco meat leftover. I throw the leftovers into a freezer safe container and then I toss it into my freezer. What a great home cooked meal in my freezer that is ready whenever I need it!

Next time you think about stopping at your local sandwich shop, keep right on driving and make sandwiches at home instead. We always have lunch meat and bread at our house so this is a really easy one for me. We love throwing together our favorite sandwiches and making a salad or our favorite canned soup. For variety you can grill the sandwiches, toast the bread, or heat the lunch meat. BLTs are one of our favorite sandwich night choices, You could even make sloppy Joe’s instead of flat meat sandwiches. Plus if you aren’t in the mood for typical white bread, just grab some specialty breads at the store when they go on sale, throw them in the freezer so they are there fresh and ready whenever you have sandwich night! I love grabbing deli loafs and burger buns and even white and wheat breads when they are one sale. I have a steady supply in my freezer of breads for just about any occasion. This makes sandwich night a great simple meal and you didn’t even have to stand in line at the sandwich shop and watch someone else make your food.

Casseroles are another wonderful way to make dinner simple. Most casseroles can be thrown together the night before hand. Then you leave them in the fridge until you are ready to cook them. Once you get home from your busy day, put your dinner into the oven and let it cook while you wind down. You don’t have to worry about chopping any ingredients, or cooking anything. Just put it into the oven and wait. Not to mention, many casseroles can be frozen. So why not double up your recipe the next time you make a casserole. Then your family can eat one right then for dinner, and have an extra to put into the freezer for dinner on another night! We eat lots of casseroles at my house. It is an easy way to slip vegetables in on my picky eater and also a comforting food for the adults too.

Meatloaf seems to strike fear in the heart of many cooks and eaters. It is an easy meal to make, but it is also easy to not make properly. My husband is a big fan of meatloaf, I was not. When I was first cooking for my family I did not want to make meatloaf. Finally one day I started searching for different types of meatloaf recipes. I found tons of recipes that are not your typical meatloaf. Lots of these recipes are crock pot meatloaves, Italian meatloaves, Mexican meatloaves, turkey loaf, chicken loaf, you name the style there is probably a meatloaf out there to fit! I was floored. I always thought meatloaf was boring, but not anymore. My family happens to love the Mexican version that I found. Experiment and find one that your family enjoys. Once you know which one the family likes, make a few and throw them in the freezer. It is so easy to pull one out and throw it into the oven. While the already cooked meatloaf is re-heating in the oven you can open up some canned vegetables or whatever side you like best get it good and ready. This is one meal I do not think I have seen in a family size portion at the local market, but man it tastes so good right out of my freezer! The crock pot versions we tried were good too, but I couldn’t seem to get mine to hold together as well when cooked in the crock pot. Just search in your favorite cook book or on your favorite recipe site and find the meatloaf that sounds the best to you and give it a whirl. I know that you will be pleasantly surprised, I know I was!

Seafood is becoming more and more popular these days. I love to grab a few bags of frozen seafood whenever it goes onto sale at my grocery store. My favorites are frozen tilapia and frozen shrimp. When I buy the frozen shrimp I get the raw shrimp with about 31-40 shrimps in each bag. You simply take this out and cook with it. The shrimp simply gets thrown into a pot of boiling water, cook for 5-10 minutes and they are done. You can add them to a pasta dish with some sauce and it is an instant meal! The tilapia or any other fish can be quickly sauteed in your favorite seasoning and paired with some rice or steamed vegetables and you have a quick and simple meal that is also healthy and fairly figure friendly too!

These are only a few of my tips, but I hope you find them helpful in making your evenings more simple. I know it is such a great feeling being able to sit down and enjoy a meal together with my family. Whether I slaved all day, or only 10 minutes on the meal. Sitting down with my family talking about our days and enjoying dinner is one of my favorite pastimes. Hopefully these hints will help it be one of your favorites times too!

The Butcher Shop in Cordova, TN: A Cut Above the Rest

My husband and I recently celebrated our wedding anniversary. The kids got shipped off to their grandmother’s house for the weekend so we could enjoy some time to ourselves. We wanted to make our dinner out special so we chose to go to The Butcher Shop in Cordova, TN.

The Butcher Shop specializes in steaks. However they have lots of options on the menu if steak is not your thing. The evening that my husband and I ate there, we both chose steak to eat. However, we also enjoyed an appetizer,some wine, and a fabulous dessert. We chose the Crab Cake Remoulade for our appetizer. They cost $9, for 2 crab cakes. They were absolutely delicious! One for each of us to eat, and the flavors were so intense yet not overpowering. We each also had a salad that came with our meal. My husband went with the Ceasar salad, and I chose the house salad. They both were very well put together and fresh. For our entrees my husband chose the 14 oz fillet mignon for $29.00, and I chose the Stuffed Fillet for $26. My husband said his fillet was cooked to perfection and was one of the best he had ever eaten. My stuffed fillet, was heavenly! It was stuffed with sauteed portabello mushrooms, Gorgonzola cheese and fresh rosemary sprigs and served with Au Jus on the side. We both chose to have a baked potato for our side item. We were able to choose whatever items we wanted to go into our baked potato. My husband had his loaded, and I chose a few of my favorite fillings cheese, sour cream, butter, and bacon. The presentation of our meals was gorgeous, and most importantly they were so flavorful that we really enjoyed them. The Waiter was so helpful. My husband knew exactly what wine he wanted, however, I was unsure. The Waiter brought me one to try and when I didn’t think it was the one for me, he brought me another which I loved and chose as my wine for dinner.

Even though we were almost stuffed, we couldn’t resist asking what was on the dessert menu. The Waiter described each of the dessert items to us. They all sounded divine, however, there was one that stood out. They were offering a special dessert at that time, it was Banana’s Foster. I had never had this before, but heard it was amazing, so we ordered it and enjoyed the atmosphere of the restaurant while we waited. The Banana’s Foster arrived and it looked exquisite. The Butcher Shop does not light it’s Banana’s Foster, so that was one aspect of eating Banana’s Foster we did not experience. I took a bite and looked over to my husband and asked him “Where is yours?” This dessert was so amazing, I couldn’t believe it! We ate the entire dessert and then enjoyed the atmosphere a little longer while finishing up our wine.

Since it was our anniversary, we asked the Waiter to take our picture so we could remember the night forever. However, even without the picture, I don’t think we will ever forget that night. The food was amazing, the atmosphere romantic, and the service impeccable. The prices are much too high for us to eat at The Butcher Shop on a regular basis, however, I will definitely want to go back there on our next special occasion!

Restaurant Review: Macaroni Grill, Memphis, TN

Just last week I celebrated my birthday. Instead of purchasing me a gift that I may or may not like, my sister decided to take me out to lunch. We hardly ever get time together anymore since both of us have children and stay so busy, so we figured this would be a good opportunity to enjoy some good food and some time together. We chose Macaroni Grill for our lunch destination. It was close to her work and we both like Italian food.

This was not my first time at Macaroni Grill. I have eaten there on several occasions, however I had not been there in several years. When I walked in I was not sure I was in the right place! The restaurant had been completely renovated on the inside. It really looks amazing! I love the way it changed the atmosphere of the restaurant. It makes each table seem more private and cozy instead of being in a wide open dining room. The waitress came by with fresh bread with Italian Butter (olive oil and freshly cracked pepper) and wrote her name on the table so we can ask for her by name if we needed her. She took our drink order and came back with the drinks to see if we were ready to order. We were not quite ready yet, so she gave us a few more minutes. I took my time gazing through the new menu. Lots of delicious dishes to choose from. When we finally made our decisions we could not find our waitress. We saw another Waiter walking by so I stopped him and asked for him to get our waitress. He got her and she quickly came over to take our orders. My sister chose the Chicken Florentine salad for $8.99 and also a bowl of Chicken Toscana soup for $3.99. The soup was good, however she said that the salad was not as good as she thought it was going to be. I chose the Chicken Cannelloni for $7.99. According to the menu description this is a hand-rolled pasta stuffed with oven-roasted chicken, melted cheese and spinach, then baked in an Asiago cream sauce, then it is topped with tomato sauce. It was absolutely delicious! I had my youngest child with me. She is 3 and a half and ordered the children’s spaghetti and meatballs for $4.79. It was a huge portion. It had a ton of pasta and one huge meatball for her. I really think my sister, myself, and my daughter could have split this one dish and had plenty of food for the three of us. My three year old daughter certainly was not able to finish it all, so we took the majority of it home with us.

Since it was my birthday our waitress brought out a delicious dessert with a candle in it. Usually Macaroni Grill has a singing Waiter, waitress, or hostess come over and sing you happy birthday in Italian. However, today they didn’t have any singers available during that shift. This was perfectly fine with me though! My daughter insisted on singing me happy birthday anyways though. The Smothered Chocolate Cake that was brought out was divine! It is a chocolate cake that is covered in a warm chocolate sauce and then sprinkled with nuts. It also had whipped cream at the four corners of the cake. Absolutely wonderful, especially for a chocolate lover like myself. My daughter’s meal came with her own serving of ice cream.

If you have never been to Macaroni Grill, or even if you haven’t been in a while, definitely choose this for your next evening out. On this occasion my waitress could have done better, however, that is hit and miss at times. The food was good, and the atmosphere was great! My daughter even learned some Italian while we were in the restroom. All around it was a great lunch out! Hope you give it a try and enjoy it even more than I did!

Bear Creek Soup Mix

Soup is such a wonderful meal. It is warm and it always hits the spot! I find that it is the perfect quick meal. Even though there are tons of delicious canned soups on the market these days, lots of times I am not in the mood for a canned soup. I want to feel like I have made something on my own, but who has the time to slave in the kitchen all day long to make a delicious soup?

Recently while perusing the aisles at my local grocery store, I found myself browsing the soup shelves. I scanned each shelf looking for some soup that I had not tried yet. Then something caught my eye, a pouch. What type of soup comes in a pouch? A soup mix comes in a pouch! I picked up the pouch and read the instructions. It seemed simple enough and since it only cost $4.19 I figured it was worth the risk. I only purchased one variety at first, Cheddar Broccoli. A few weeks went by and I never made the soup, then the night came. I was not in the mood to cook, but I didn’t want take out either. I stood in the pantry staring at all of the food wondering what to throw together. Then I saw the pouch again. I knew it was time to try out the soup. I grabbed the pouch and headed back to my kitchen. The directions on the package said to bring 8 cups of water to a boil. That was easy enough! I filled my pot with water and waited for it to boil. Once the water came to a boil, I whisked in the soup mix just as the directions say. I reduced the heat and let the soup simmer for 10 minutes. It says on the package for variety you can add bacon, ham, broccoli or corn. I decided to be adventurous! I added some fresh broccoli that I had in the fridge. I cut it up into bite size pieces and threw it into the pot of simmering soup. Then I decided I wanted to add some meat to my soup. I had some ground chicken waiting to be cooked, so I browned it quickly in a skillet and added it to the soup as well. I let the soup continue to cook on low until we were all ready to eat.

The smell coming from my kitchen was phenomenal. My husband and I couldn’t wait to eat! We each got a bowl and filled it up with 2 big ladles full of soup. This was some of the best soup I have had in a long time. I was amazed! How could this powdered soup mix be so delicious? I still have no clue how it works, but it really is wonderful. I have since bought 2 more varieties of this soup mix. In our pantry right now I have three mixes, Cheddar Broccoli, Creamy Potato, and Minestrone. We have already made the minestrone once and it was also delicious. The only thing I added to it was a few handfuls of frozen mixed vegetables. I can’t wait to try these again and add other things to it, or maybe even not add anything and have it as an appetizer instead of my full meal.

Bear Creek soup has been around for a while, but I am so glad that I finally picked it up off the shelf and gave it a try. It makes a ton of soup for the family or even some for a couple with leftovers for days! Next time you are at the grocery store, you should definitely give Bear Creek Soup Mix a try!

The Best Lemon Cake Recipe

Lemon flavored desserts have been around for centuries. Some of the standards are cakes and pies. My great grandmother has always made the most delicious lemon cake I have ever eaten. Finally, I was able to get this recipe from her. It is not a secret family recipe, just one she has made for as long as any of us can remember. All of my family requests this for every occasion.

This recipe is simple, but delicious. You will need to purchase a lemon Supreme boxed cake mix. This is where your recipe begins. However, pay no attention to the additional ingredients needed according to the package directions. The only directions you will need from the back of the box are the temperature for the oven, and how long to cook for each type of cake pan. Prepare your desired cake pan, and pre-heat your oven.

Pour the cake mix into a large mixing bowl. Add in 3/4 (three quarters) cup of vegetable oil, 1/2 (one half) cup of sugar, 4 (four) eggs, and 1/2 (one half) cup of apricot nectar. Apricot nectar is found with the canned juices in your local grocery store. Once all ingredients are in the bowl, you will need to mix them all thoroughly. My great grandmother just says to mix, however, I like to make sure my batter is nice and smooth without any lumps. Start mixing on low speed, then gradually move to higher speeds until the batter is smooth. This process will take a few minutes. Once your batter is mixed you will need to pour it into your prepared pan. I make sure to prepare my pan with both shortening and flour. I do not use the spray oil because I find it leaves a residue on my pan that I can not get off no matter how many times I wash it or how hard I scrub. For this cake I like to use a standard sheet cake pan, or a bundt pan. These shapes seem to work best with the type of icing I will tell you how to make later on in this article. After pouring your batter into the cake pan, you need to get as many bubbles out of the batter as possible. This is a trick that my mother taught me while I was growing up and loved helping her in the kitchen. Take your cake pan with the batter inside it and gently drop it onto the counter. Do this several times. you will see several air bubbles come to the surface of the cake batter and beginning to pop. I find it make my cake much better when I use this technique. You do not have to continue doing this until you see no more bubbles. Five or six rounds of the drops will be sufficient.

Now it is time to bake the cake! Put the cake into your pre-heated oven and cook for the shortest amount of time listed on the box for your type of cake pan. This will ensure you do not over bake your cake. Once your timer goes off, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If the toothpick comes out clean, or with just a few dry cake crumbs on it then your cake is done! If it still has wet cake crumbs or any amount of batter left on the toothpick, put it back in the oven and cook for the remainder of the time that it calls for on the box. This is usually another 5 minutes. After you remove the cake again, you will need to do another toothpick test. our cake should be done now. If not cook another 5 minutes and then repeat the toothpick test. Continue this method until the toothpick comes out clean. After it is fully cooked, take the cake out of the oven and allow it to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes.

While your cake is cooling it is time to make the icing. All you need to make the icing is lemon juice and powdered or confectioner’s sugar. Take 1 cup of the powdered or confectioner’s sugar and mix it together with half a cup of lemon juice. I find that using a hand held whisk is the best way to make this icing. However, you use whatever method you find the easiest. You can add more powdered or confectioner’s sugar or more lemon juice until you get your icing your desired consistency. This is a drizzle icing though, not an icing that you will use to frost the entire cake. So it should be somewhat liquid so it can easily be drizzled over the top of the cake.

After letting the cake cool for 10 minutes in the pan it is time to remove it from the pan. If you used a sheet pan, you will skip this step. Removing a cake from the cake pan can be a tricky process. If you do not let it cool prior to attempting to remove it from the pan, it is more likely to not come out of the pan all the way, then you are left with a broken cake. And nobody likes it when the cake gets broken! However, it is still just as yummy! I like to slowly loosen the edge of the cake with a knife. Then I place one hand on the bottom of the cake pan to hold the pan, then I place my other hand over the top of the pan, in order to hold the cake in the pan. Then I slowly turn the cake pan upside down onto a cooling rack. I move my hand which is no under the cake and let the cake pan sit and let gravity do its job. I wait a minute and tap the top of the pan to help to loosen the cake. Then I slowly lift up the pan. Most times the cake comes right out, other times it needs a little more help. I sometimes have to use my knife more on the edges, or wait longer and tap more. It just depends. Be patient with this process so you can have a beautiful finished product!

The cake is now out of the pan, that means it is time for icing! Take your lemon icing and drizzle it evenly over the entire cake. If it is in a bundt shape, then the icing will drip down the sides and into the middle for a beautiful effect. If you made a sheet cake, I like to wait and let people drizzle their own icing onto the cake after the pieces are cut. This way, they can get as much or as little icing as they want.

This cake is so delicious, you will find yourself stocking up on the few ingredients required so that you can make it anytime you start craving it! That craving comes more often than you would think! Enjoy the cake! I know my great grandmother will be glad to know that so many people can enjoy her favorite recipe!

Controversial Three 6 Mafia Banned from Memphis Music Festival

Don Imus was recently fired for making comments that were both racist and sexist. Now it seems that the media frenzy that surrounded the Imus controversy has trickled down to a local issue in Memphis, TN. The annual Memphis in May Beale Street Music Festival is coming up in a few weeks. The list of artists that will be performing is a regular who’s who of music from the past and present. The controversy has come up regarding the performance of rap group Three 6 Mafia at this festival.

Wendi Thomas is a columnist for the Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis. She has made it very clear how she feels about the degrading comments made about women in the rap music industry. she has written thirteen articles alone on this topic over the past three years. The most recent article calls for the Memphis In May Board to recall the invitation to Three 6 Mafia for this year’s music festival. The board refused to pull Three 6 Mafia from the line up. Why would they pull them from the line up? That would cost them too much money to make a statement of that magnitude! But then again, should they make that statement?

Rap group Three 6 Mafia’s music is filled with lyrics that are extremely offensive in many ways. However, they won an Oscar for their song “It’s Hard Out here For a Pimp” from the movie “Hustle & Flow.” While this group performed on the Oscar stage they had scantilly clad women prancing around them dancing in a vulgar manor while they sang about making money off of them while they work the streets. I will not sit here and fill this article with filthy lyrics, however, I do want to give you just a few examples of the filth that this group makes money singing. Songs talking about men climaxing in the mouth of a woman. Songs telling women very explicitly what they want done to them or what they will do to a woman in a sexual situation. Many times in their lyrics they call women by names that I would consider degrading and offensive.

Sure the lyrics are nasty; but what does this mean to me, and to all the people in the Memphis area, or the people in the world for that matter? In my eyes, it means absolutely nothing. Just like what Don Imus said meant nothing to me. don Imus has a right to say what ever he wishes, just as Three 6 Mafia has every right to sing about whatever they choose. This is America and we have the Freedom of Speech. I feel that the firing of Don Imus was totally uncalled for. So what, he said some offensive things! Thousands of people do that every day! Howard Stern, rap musicians, the Television show “Girlfriends”, and even the cartoon “South Park” just to name a few offenders. My solution, I do not choose to listen to these radio shows, or musicians. I also choose not to watch those television shows. That is another benefit from living in the United States of America, I have rights to choose what I listen to, watch, or believe in.

Why on earth should someone making offensive comments or singing offensive songs be cause for national or international uproar? I do not think it should. We are all individuals, different in our own way from every one else. We know who we are and if someone says something offensive about your race, sex, nationality, religion, or background then you have the right to be offended and take it up with the person who made you feel offended. Does this give you the right to cause that person to lose his job, or to cause them physical harm, or to go out of your way to make their life miserable? No it doesn’t. The college students that were offended by Don Imus are no less offended by what he said because he was fired for making the comments. People, including women, are still buying Three 6 Mafia CDs and concert tickets.

Just because something is offensive to you does not mean they had no right to say it. they had every right to say it, and you have every right to say something back. Welcome to the free world, enjoy it, love it. Speak, sing, pray, I know I do.

Book Review: Rachael Ray’s 365 No Repeats Cookbook

Rachael Ray has become more than a cooking show host. She has become a talk show star. She has a day time talk show, plus several shows on the Food Network. She has never gotten away from what she does best though, 30 minute meals. She has many cook books on the market focusing on meals that can be made in 30 minutes or less. The 365: No Repeats cook book was my most recent addition to my library of cookbooks. I received it as a Christmas gift on Christmas 2005. I was so excited about this book. I spent the evening flipping through the book and trying to decide which recipes I would try first.

The book is laid out in a very different fashion than any of my other cook books. All of my other cookbooks are separated by recipe type. This book only has dinner recipes so it is not separated by type or even by ingredient. The recipes are all numbered one through three hundred sixty-five. The book says “start here or jump around.” This book is an entire year’s worth of brand new recipes for you to try out. There are check boxes on each recipe that say “Try this later” and “It’s a Keeper” this way you will know which ones you and your family love and which ones you want to come back to another day. Many of the recipes in this book have ingredients that you would normally have in your home, others have ingredients that may require a special trip to the store. However, all of the meals can be ready in 30 minutes or less. At least they are when Rachel Ray cooks them!

I personally have made several recipes out of this book. A few of my families favorites are the Honey Nut Chicken Sticks, Cider Vinegar Chicken & smashed Potatoes, BBQ Chicken Sloppy Pan Pizza, and Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf Patties with Pan Gravy. These 4 recipes are the favorites that we have tried so far, however this is only the beginning with this book. The variety of cuisines is so wonderfully refreshing. It is so easy to get bored with the same dinners every week, this book gives you new and different ideas and helps to broaden your mind when it comes to cooking meals for your family.

One of my favorite things about this book is how you can take one master recipe and change a few things to make it a completely different meal. There are several master recipes in this book that are followed by a totally different meal using many of the same ingredients. Here are a few examples. Chicken Francese can easily become Flounder Francese or Chicken Mamacello. A Warm Lemon Chicken Sandwich recipe is quickly transformed into a Grilled Flank Steak Sandwich recipe. Once again, this is only a few examples of the hundreds of recipes available to you in this book.

This book truly has something for everyone! Inside you will find vegetarian meals, seafood, red meat, white meat, salads, sides, and even soups. The cuisines vary from all over the world too. All in one week you can travel to Italy, France, Greece, Spain, Mexico, Thailand, and the good old United States never once leaving your own kitchen. This one cook book has certainly changed the way that my family eats dinner and opened our eyes to a whole new world of food, literally!

I definitely recommend this book to any one who enjoys cooking for their family. Even if you are new to cooking this would be a good book for you since many of the recipes are so easily put together. If you are even remotely thinking of getting a new cook book, race out to the store and pick this one up. You definitely won’t regret it!

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