Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Resolutions Week 10

I think I am finally starting to feel better. My nose still doesn't like me all of the time, but at least I feel like I can function normally! There is nothing that makes you appreciate your health quite like being sick.

-  Reducing my sugar intake again... Still not on track but doing better.

-  I definitely have made new recipes this past week!

- I did exercise videos last Wednesday and Friday - I got sick about 3 hours after I exercised. I also went on a walk on Thursday and Saturday. I will be starting to do my exercise videos on Friday again (my goal is to do videos MWF and go on walks every evening - with my husband, son and puppy.)

- Definitely will not be finishing the book that I started, but I will finish it next month and read another.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tuesday Treats: Easy Death By Chocolate Cake

I made this cake for my son's birthday - not the most effective cake for decorating... I had to make another one because his grandfather did not get any due to a miscommunication (basically I forgot to tell my husband not to eat the piece I saved for my dad.) Not that I was complaining about making a cake that has this much chocolate. Honestly this cake was absolutely delicious considering it was made out of a box! I really want to make it again, but I know if I make it I would eat all of it and that would not help me reduce my sugar intake!

I got this recipe from my husband's sister, who got it from one of her previous roommates, who actually stayed with my husband and I for a week or two while finding housing a few states away (following me still?) Small world, and before I really confuse people, let me just say: thanks for the cake recipe Elise and Margaret!

Easy Death By Chocolate Cake

First, take a large box (5 oz) of cook and serve chocolate pudding and make according to package directions. Of course if you go to a store and they only have small boxes (3.4 oz) of chocolate pudding, make one and a half boxes (more annoying, but I was not to be deterred, after all it is chocolate!).
Place milk in a pan.
Add pudding mixture
Stir until combined
It takes a minute for it all to blend.
Heat while stirring constantly
Until mixture thickens
and starts to boil
Turn off heat and add 1 cup of chocolate chips (Here's where I varied from the original recipe - I had to add chocolate chips melted into the cake.)
Stir until melted.
Let pudding cool slightly.
Take one chocolate cake mix and place in bowl.
Add pudding and mix until combined.
The mixture will be a little thick. How thick? - I held this whisk to take the picture and the batter did not fall off. 
Maybe that is why I like this cake better, it is a dense cake, but still moist. I am not a fan of fluffy cakes... I usually make brownies instead. This was a perfect cross between a brownie and a cake. I'm going to be quite now before I go make it again...I don't need to gain the 5 lbs I've lost this year back.
You want to know the best thing about this batter? No raw eggs so you can snitch the batter and not feel guilty, that is if you are the type who feels guilty eating raw cake/brownie batter and cookie dough. Is there anybody who feels guilty eating raw batter/dough? I guess I did when I was pregnant - so if you're pregnant you can eat this batter!
Put the batter into a cake pans.
Or muffin tins.
Top with 1 cup chocolate chips (I actually did not top the muffins with chocolate chips...)
Bake according to the back of the cake mix box for size of pan you are using.
Remove from oven when finished baking. Chocolate chips will be warm, I smeared them all over the cake. It felt right.
Notice the cupcakes are lacking the chocolate chips...
Next I frosted the cake.
You can just eat it without frosting, but if it is Death By Chocolate, I figured it needed one more layer of chocolate. Recipe I used for the frosting coming next week!
 So much chocolate...
Don't those cupcakes just look delicious?!
Happy Spring everybody! Overdose on chocolate, it's the right thing to do. Unless you're trying to lose weight, then keep this cake as far away as possible... unless you have better self control than I do, or do not like chocolate - but if you did not like chocolate you probably wouldn't be making the cake anyway!
All I can say is that our family sure enjoyed this cake! Though not all of us were quite this messy.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Menu - March 22-28

This past week I have been more inspired to make new food... I just realized that I was in a rut. Of course this past weekend I got sick so my desire to do anything kind of disappeared. I have a nasty head cold right now. All I can say is that it is good that you're reading this far away from where I am writing it! You can also tell that I'm not completely all together because yesterday when I was starting this post, I published it - really only those of you who subscribe to a reader would have noticed... Another fun aspect of our lives right now is that my son is cutting his 8th tooth! At first I thought he caught what I have, but luckily it is just a tooth for him.

This past week I also planted strawberry plants (and spinach seeds) in our shared garden (we're using part of my parent's garden.) It was great to finally have something planted! My mom and I also planted some vegetables and herbs in an inside container so they can sprout. I am excited for the fresh veggies and fruits when they come! Unfortunately they will not come soon enough for my liking, but I guess that is how nature teaches us patience and to enjoy the fresh produce when it comes. Also the flowers, I am getting excited to see flowers as well!

Our Menu: 

Monday: Raspberry (Strawberry and Orange Marmalade) Cheesecake Muffins and Loaded Scrambled Eggs

Tuesday: French Onion Soup

Wednesday: We had Crostinis for dinner... I was going to make a soup to go with them, but couldn't think of a good recipe that we had enough ingredients to make.
We had three different types: A chicken salad served over broiled herbed tomatoes and topped with cheese.
Second a roasted red pepper with melted mozzarella cheese topped with a slice of bacon and finally, a cheesecake cream cheese with added sugar and topped with a almond cranberry mixture.

Thursday: Chicken Soup Pizza (or that is what I was aiming for it to be, but it did not quite remind others of chicken soup, but it was really good, I think I just created an awesome white sauce...) Recipe for Pizza Crust.

Friday: Macho Nachos

Saturday: BLT sandwich (sorry no picture, but it wasn't anything fancy... Bacon Lettuce and Tomato - I did use some left over guacamole as a spread - which I would suggest doing as it was totally delicious!)

Sunday: Beef, Tomato and Red Pepper Pasta Toss
Be sure to vote for which recipe you want to see on Thursday!

Leave me a comment letting me know what your menu was!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Foodless Friday: One of my favorite Boardgames

One of my favorite boardgames is called Ticket to Ride. There are a few different versions - USA, Europe, Swiss, Nordic Countries, Marklin (Germany) and a card game. One quick side track before I start discussing the game... For those of you who do not know about current boardgames (and I mean the ones you cannot buy in stores such as Target, WalMart, etc),  there has been a movement rippling with the Settlers of Catan (not the first but the most popular at the time) to make them more enjoyable and less luck based. These mostly known as Euro Games (because the movement came from Europe). Most Euro Games have the following characteristics:
 - designed to appeal to older children and adults - both can play at the same time and enjoy it - unlike games such as candyland... (Not that candyland is a horrible game... but no adult says, let's play candyland!)
 - The games are made visually stimulating and the components are usually of higher quality (made from wood, or made to last.)
 - Time to play can range from 15 minutes to 2 hours.
 - Themes are usually tangible and offer different strategies for players and they place an emphasis on strategy and decision making
- Turns usually involve choosing between a few options (You can draw cards, build tracks, etc) instead of an automatic luck based action (roll dice, move the number of spaces rolled)
- Due to multiple actions, you use the time between your turns to plan your next turn so there is less of a down time between turns.
 - People are not eliminated, you play until the end of the game (in most instances.)
There are a few more, but these were just to give you an idea.

Today I want to explain how to play Ticket to Ride: Europe. I am using the Europe map as there are a few more situations that can occur in it than in the USA game. USA and Europe are the two most popular versions of this game. The Swiss map requires you to have another game as it is only the board and tickets, Nordic Countries was only printed in English for a short time, Marklin is a special edition and has a few other rules which only apply to Marklin.

Ticket to Ride was one of the first games that I played of this type. I played it at my sister's house and loved it. I am happy that my husband also loves boardgames as much as I do... actually he loves them more. It was my family that really introduced him to these games, and we're slowly helping his family come to love them as well. His older sister bought this game a few years ago, and once in a while a few of his siblings and us play it online together. It was really fun when we had people from 4 time zones and 2 countries playing (his oldest sister and her family lived in China for a few years for her husband's job)!  Days of Wonder has an online play on their website that is great, but you have to pay to use it after a few free introductory games.


The object of the game is to score the highest total number of points. Pretty simple, right? Sure... It is pretty easy once you've played a few times.

Set Up:
Play area: Unfold board, place 5 train cards face up near the train card draw pile. There is also the ticket draw pile.
 Each player should have a place marker to keep track of score throughout the game.
Each player is dealt 4 train cards and 1 long destination card as well as 3 regular destinations.
There are 6 long destination cards in TTR: Europe (none in USA). They are shuffled and each person gets one at the beginning, the rest are removed from play.
Each player MUST keep at least 2 of the tickets dealt to them. You can keep or discard the longest destination ticket (in this case Cadiz to Stockholm.) The number in the bottom right (such as 21, 5, 8 or 7) is the number of points that you receive at the end of the game if you have successfully connected the two cities with your trains. However, if you fail to connect the two cities, you must subtract that amount from your final score.
All tickets not kept are removed from play and put back in the game box without other seeing them.
The official rule on how to determine the starting player is that the player who has visited the most European countries in their life goes first. Our house rule is that we pick up all the score markers and have one person hold them and another person randomly grab a marker out of their hand.

Before I explain turn play I just wanted to explain when the game ends... When any player reaches 2, 1 or 0 trains remaining in their supply, each player including the player with two or fewer trains gets one more turn.
Now on to turn play

On your turn you can do one of 4 basic actions, which will be explained in detail later.
1. Draw Train Cards
2. Draw New Destination tickets
3. Build Trains
4. Build a Train Station

1. Draw Train Cards -
From the train draw pile and 5 face up cards you can draw in the following patterns:
You can take two cards from the top of the face down stack.
You can take two cards from the 5 face up cards. The top card in the face down stack replaces any face up cards taken.
You can take one from the face down deck and one from the 5 face up cards as well.
The only exception is with drawing wilds (or Locomotives)... If you take a wild from the face up cards, you can only take ONE card. If you happen to draw a wild from the face down stack you still get two cards. You cannot take a face down card and then a face up wild (people try it out of sneakiness or forgetfulness, mostly forgetfulness, but we still give them a hard time when they try to do so.)

That's how to draw new train cards.

2. Draw New Destination tickets
A player draws 3 destination tickets from the destination ticket draw deck. You must keep at least 1 ticket of the three, however, you may keep 2 or all 3. Any drawn Ticket not kept in hand is placed at the bottom of the ticket draw deck.
 If there are fewer than 3 cards in the ticket draw deck, you can take as many as are left, however you must still keep at least one ticket. Remember that if you do not connect the two cities on the map with YOUR trains, you will lose the number of points.
Destination tickets are kept secret until the end of the game.

3. Build Trains
You may be wondering how to connect the cities on your destination tickets... Easy, you build train tracks.
To build a train track you must pay the same number of cards as the segment is long.
For example, to build from Edenburgh to London (You will notice that the spelling on the map is not how we would spell them in the US but how they are spelled in that country or close thereto.) You must either pay 4 black train cards or 4 orange train cards. You can substitute wilds in as well, in fact you can pay 4 wild cards if you wish.
The tracks that are a gray color on the board can be claimed by paying a set of any color. For example, the above circled track can be claimed by paying 2 purples, 2 blues, 2 reds, etc. You can also pay using 1 card of any color and one wild, or two wilds.
Exception 1 - Tunnels
On this map, there are tunnels and Ferries. Tunnels look like the above gray tracks. When building a tunnel, you pay the required cards, in the case a set of two cards, say purple.
Then the top 3 cards from the face down train card deck are turned face up.
For each card revealed of the same color as the cards played to claim the Tunnel and for each wild card revealed, an additional card of the same color (or a wild) must now be played from your hand. Only then can you successfully claim the Tunnel route. In the case above, one more purple card would have to be paid, so you would end up paying 3 purple cards for this track.
If you cannot pay the extra card, you may take your cards and your turn ends (Basically you lose your turn.)
If any of the four examples above were turned over, you would end up paying 5 cards to build this train segment.

Exception 2 - Ferries
So before I start discussing Ferries, I want to let you know what being to a cartographer does to you...
When I first placed the word 'Ferries' on the picture, it looked like the above photo... but I knew what my husband would say about it... the F is divided from the erries. I could hear him cringing as I did it. So I changed it. Now back to:
Ferries require wilds. For each locomotive symbol in the track you must play one wild. In the three ferry routes circled above you only pay one... The fourth track (the one under Ferries) actually requires two, but they are out of the picture.
For the route circled with purple, you would have to pay 1 wild and 2 of any other color. Such as one wild and two purple cards.

As you build train tracks, you get points as follows:
As you play the game, score for train tracks are tracked along the score track on the outside of the board.

Turn Play 4 - Build a Train Station
I personally like this rule, unfortunately it is only available in the Europe game. That is unless you choose to transfer it over to any other game you play... but it is only in the rules in Europe... and you only get the train stations in the Europe game.
So why do I like train stations? Because if you have a perfectly planned out track to get from point A to point B stopping at all the cities on your destination tickets along the way and someone STEALS your track, you can build a train station. Now people do not intentionally take track that you need - they are building their own track and just happen to go the same way as you do. (I actually wish that were completely true - there are some players who purposefully 'block' others, but we have a house rule that blocking is not allowed.)
One rule I have failed to mention as of yet is that in a 2-3 player game only one set of the double track can be used. As you can see the above picture represents a two player game where Yellow and Black need to get to Kobenhavn. Black beat Yellow, so yellow places a train station, and essentially gets to use Black's track to get to the destination. The track still belongs to Black, but Yellow gets to use the train track.
Sounds great, right? It is, but there is always a catch so it does not seem too good to be true. First catch - for each train station you have not used, you get 4 points at the end of the game. So by using a train station you lose 4 points - not too bad if it gains you more, but something to be aware of.
Second Catch - If you use a train station and it breaks your track (such as if Black used one from Frankfurt to Munchen instead of having their track - pretend it is yellow) you cannot count it toward The Longest Track. Don't tell me I have not told you about The Longest Track (aka The European Express)... Ah well, I was going to get to that in scoring. Luckily we're there...

At the end of the game...
Add together the following:
1. Current score (points earned by building trains)
2. Destination ticket scores
3. Train Stations: +4 Points/station kept
4. European Express bonus - 10 Point bonus for the player who as the longest continuous train.  For Longest Train, take into account continuous lines of plastic trains of the same color. A continuous path may include loops, and pass through the same city several times, but no train segment can be used twice in the same continuous path. Stations, and the opponents’ routes they may provide access to, do not count for the longest train.
For the longest route in this game, Green had 20, Black had 23, Blue had 27, and Yellow had 36 trains in their continuous track. Notice the track for Green from Venezia to Budapest was not included in the longest track count as it was a branch off. Yellow won the longest train track so they get a 10 point bonus.

We're going to run through the score as it would be in this game... which was not a real game as you will notice not all of one person's trains were used. Normally in a game players would have taken more tickets and built more trains, but I wanted something relatively simple to explain with.
 Yellow had 52 points for train tracks built during the game. Each train segment has a number that represents the score for that segment.
Yellow also scores 48 points for destination tickets and 12 for unused train stations (the example above was not from this game, as there were 4 players in this game not two so yellow was able to build to Kobenhavn.
So Yellow has 112 points plus the 10 point bonus. Yellow total score: 122 points.
Black had a total of 29 points for trains built during the game (that is not very many, so if this was you about this time you pretty much know you would not be winning...)
Black scored 42 points for tickets and 12 points for train stations. Black's total score: 83 (Again if you tallied your score first you'd pretty much know that score wouldn't win...)
Blue had a total of 41 points for train tracks.
Blue also scored 41 points for tickets and only 8 for train stations. Blue used a train station in order to get to Zurich (however I missed it in the photos...)  Blue total score: 90 Points
Last and maybe least (in points), Green... Green scored 31 points for train tracks. (Yeah you also wouldn't want to be Green in this game...)
Green also scores 33 points for tickets and 12 for train stations. Green total: 76

So Yellow wins, Blue comes in second, Black takes third and Green is last in fourth place. Of course all these players met their destinations... If they would have missed getting one, such as if Green missed getting from Zurich to Budapest, 6 points would have been deducted from his score. So the score would have been
31 for Trains (forget that the trains connecting those cities are counted here...)
27 for Destination Tickets (completed)
-6 for missed ticket
12 for Stations
63 Total Points

If you feel there is something unclear (not that I would ever be accused of being unclear...) or something you want to learn more about, feel free to ask. Click for the Official Rules from Days of Wonder (they are probably a little more clear than mine - but do not have all the pictures.)
I also love introducing new games to others based on their likes and such, so if you would like a game recommendation, let me know! Also there are a few websites that we have bought games from or visited their websites (some have free shipping if you order a certain dollar amount, usually over $100) - (This is our site of choice)
None of the websites or businesses I have mentioned know who I am or that I am writing this post, or even this blog.