Loaves and Dishes

Coconut Chocolate Chip Banana Loaf

I have two current obsessions: making loaves of quick bread and buying unique or pretty dishes to add to my collection.

One obsession makes my family happy. The other gets me into trouble because we’re running out of cupboard space to put all of the dishes.

Dishes

A few favourite dishes: tea cup from Greece; square plate from Mexico; beloved platter from Grandma; lovely new blue bowl and a saucer bought on honeymoon in Florence.

There are just so many reasons to make a loaf of quick bread: it’s a great way to use up ripe bananas; it packs up nicely as a school or work snack; they make great gifts; and you can mix up all the ingredients and pop it into the oven in five to ten minutes. Although I think my favourite reason is the way the house smells when you’re baking a loaf—it takes you right back to childhood.

With any luck, the loaves will keep my husband in a sugar coma long enough that he’ll stay out of our overflowing cupboards and won’t discover all the new dishes I’ve bought recently. Although I think it’s too late—my friend Nancy was commenting on the weekend about all the new dishes she’s noticed in my recent posts.

Okay then, I guess my best bet is to win him over with the cost savings of the Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf. The girls absolutely love the version that you get at Starbucks—but a family visit to Starbucks these days comes close to setting you back as much as your monthly iPhone bill if everyone splurges on a drink and a snack. That was the incentive for coming up with this version of Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf, as I’d much rather spend my spare money on dishes save money to pay down our mortgage.

Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf

If that doesn’t work, there’s always Coconut Chocolate Chip Banana Bread. My oldest daughter started requesting a new version of banana bread . . . she was getting sick of my Butterscotch Chip Wholewheat Banana Bread. That lead to thinking that I needed to try the coconut oil that I’ve been reading about all over the blogsphere in my recipe. Have you tried baking with it yet?

If not, you really should. I reckon that it’s better for you than broccoli—and it tastes a lot better too. According to Dr. Oz, it can help our bodies resist illness-causing viruses and bacteria; boost thyroid function helping to increase metabolism, energy and endurance; increase digestion and help to absorb fat-soluble vitamins; and help fight off yeast, fungus and candida.

I’m meeting my friend Eva tomorrow after work to go shopping at Tap Phong Trading Company in Chinatown. It’s a great place to buy dishes and cooking utensils at great prices. Do you think I need to bake another loaf this week?

Coconut Chocolate Chip Banana Loaf

Coconut Chocolate Chip Banana Loaf

  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted (measured solid)
  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350° and grease 9 ½“ x 5 ½“ loaf pan
  • Mix dry ingredients (flours, salt, sugar and baking soda) in small bowl and set aside.
  • Mix wet ingredients (bananas, egg, melted coconut oil and vanilla) in large bowl. Add in the dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in chocolate chips and shredded coconut until incorporated.
  • Pour batter into greased loaf pan.
  • Bake for 45 – 55 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf

Lemon Poppy Seed Loaf

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ cup oil
  • ½ cup sour cream 
  • ½ cup milk (I use 1%)
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1/3 cup poppy seeds

Drizzle

  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp milk

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350° and grease 9 ½“ x 5 ½“ loaf pan
  • Mix dry ingredients (flour, salt, sugar, baking soda and baking powder) in small bowl and set aside.
  • Mix wet ingredients (oil, sour cream, milk, eggs, lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla) in large bowl. Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix well. Add poppy seeds.
  • Pour batter into greased loaf pan.
  • Bake for 50 – 60 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
  • Allow loaf to cool completely. Mix drizzle ingredients in small bowl and spoon glaze over bread.
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Dinner With A Couple Of Little Rats And Roosters

Dumplings and Ribs

Dumplings, Sweet and Sour Sauce, Soy Dipping Sauce and Chinese Spare Ribs Braised in Soy Sauce

It didn’t take long for me to figure out that the ponytails were fired up about Chinese New Year. My oldest daughter was working on writing a short play about it and was talking non-stop about how great it was to be a rooster (her Chinese zodiac animal). Meanwhile my youngest daughter was counting down the days until the Chinese New Year parade at school.

Don’t you love the way children find such joy in learning new things?

We really want to encourage and embrace this interest the girls have in different cultures and traditions. So, I bought them each a children’s book about Chinese New Year on my way home from a business trip and decided that we would celebrate it too.

Soon after that I asked my colleague Amanda if she could recommend a few authentic Chinese dishes. But she didn’t just provide me with some ideas—she surprized me with a very large carrying case full of all the essentials for a Chinese New Year celebration: decorations, candies, sauces and noodles. I was blown away by her generosity!

Treats

Some of the treats from Amanda: crunchy peanuts, candies and Korean crackers.

However, we did encounter a set-back. At the last minute, my husband was asked to go to an important work event on Feb. 1oth. But after Amanda’s kind gesture, there was no turning back. Close friends Carolyn and Glen agreed to join the girls and I for our celebration. With two young daughters the same age as the ponytails, it would mean an evening with two little rats and two roosters (according to their Chinese zodiac animals of course)!

Armed with a great dumpling recipe from Amanda, I set out to research some other ideas for our feast. Two bloggers came to mind immediately: Norma from Garden to Wok and Sissi from With a Glass. Norma teaches cooking classes and has written two cookbooks: My Students’ Favorite Chinese Recipes and Wokking Your Way to Lowfat Cooking. An avid gardener, she also keeps her loyal readers up-to-date on the adventures in her garden with regular Harvest Monday posts. Based in Switzerland, Sissi has a flair for creating innovative recipes that are inspired by her love of a diverse range of cuisines, particularly Asian and Hungarian cuisines. I met Sissi in the early days of blogging and I’ve been a fan of her site ever since.

When I saw Sissi’s Chinese Spare Ribs Braised in Soy Sauce I knew that I had to make them. They looked sticky and fall-off-the-bone good. Well, I can tell you that they didn’t disappoint. Best. Ribs. Ever. OMG, you must make these ribs. The flavour combination of the dark soy sauce, star anise and cinnamon is really incredible. However, you MUST use the dark soy sauce (which I had never used before) because the regular soy sauce simply will not achieve the same result. The dark soy sauce is thicker and more intense in flavour than regular soy sauce.

Sissi’s Chinese Spare Ribs Braised in Soy Sauce

I also returned to Norma’s Shrimp Stir-fry recipe that I’ve made a number of times with great success, but I used snow peas in place of the asparagus this time. This dish went really well with the Chinese noodles that Amanda gave us. Best of all, it’s a low-fat recipe!

Shrimp and Snow Peas

Norma’s Shrimp and Snow Peas Stir-fry

I also found inspiration from the online version of one of my favourite magazines, House & Home. The lemon sauce for this chicken is nothing like the version that you get at a restaurant or with your favourite take-out. You’ve got to try this Lemon Chicken recipe—the flavour is just amazing.

Lemon Chicken

Almond cookies are a traditional way to end a Chinese New Year celebration and kids love them. The texture of these cookies was spot on with what I’ve had in restaurants—they had a bit of a crunch but still melted in your mouth. Next time I make them I’m going to play around with the recipe, as I prefer not to use shortening in my baking.

Almond Cookies

And what celebration would be complete without a live performance? Our two adorable roosters and rats entertained us with original songs such as: We Are the Roosters; Sweet Love and a rap song entitled Hurricane.

Two Rats Performing

Two cute “rats” ham it up.

Performance

Rockin it out with the rats and the roosters!

It was a night of great food, with great friends. In fact, we had so much fun that I think this just might become an annual celebration for us. Now I just need to find a way to repay Amanda’s generosity. Any suggestions?

Recipes from Our Chinese New Year Celebration

Sissi’s Chinese Spare Ribs Braised in Soy Sauce

Norma’s Shrimp With Snow Peas Stir-Fry

Lemon Chicken from House & Home Magazine

Sissi’s Baked Wonton Crisps and Sweet and Sour Sauce from Chow.com

Almond Cookies from Canadian Living

Pork Dumplings

Adapted from Amanda’s recipe

  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp white wine
  • 2 tbsp chopped chives
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 package of dumpling wrappers

Dipping Sauce

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil

Mix all ingredients (except dumpling wrappers) well in a large bowl.

Place a level tablespoon of filling in the centre of each dumpling wrapper. Moisten edges with water. Fold in half and pinch together to create a pouch that seals in the mixture. Alternatively, you could use a dumpling or ravioli maker as I did that automatically seals each dumpling. I did need to double check each dumpling and pinch any spots where it wasn’t completely sealed by the ravioli maker. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.

Steam the dumplings for 10 to 12 minutes. (Use a pan/wok of boiling water and bamboo baskets for steaming.) Alternatively you can boil them in water for 5 to 6 minutes. They can also be fried afterwards (but I didn’t do this).

For the dipping sauce, mix the soy sauce and sesame oil in a small bowl. Serve with the dumplings.

Prep work

Thanks to Sissi’s suggestion, I used my ravioli maker to make the dumplings.

Tips/Notes:

  • I followed a tip from Sissi and used a ravioli maker to make the dumplings. It worked really well. You could also use a dumpling sealer, but I didn’t have one.
  • I used 2 kg of pork ribs, so I tripled Sissi’s recipe for Chinese Spare Ribs Braised in Soy Sauce. Be sure to cut the ribs into individual portions as this is key to the success of the recipe. However, I didn’t cut the ribs in half vertically as Sissi did and I was still happy with the results.

Can Cupcakes Mend A Broken Heart?

Oreo Cookie Cupcakes
It was a gift from my mom for my 20th birthday and I knew we were destined to be the best of friends. It was stylish, yet practical. Not too big, not too small. Just the right size to hold a summer’s worth of shorts and tees . . . and a souvenir or two from my travels. It was the cadillac of backpacks. And it was all mine.

Old backpack

And while it has definitely seen better days—it’s faded and well-worn at the seams—it remains a treasured possession. A dear old friend.

Recently my old backpack set off on a new adventure, with a brave new explorer. My trusted old friend went to camp with my seven-year old ponytail. It was her first weekend away.

Getting ready for camp

I was quite excited about my daughter’s milestone adventure with her Girl Guide Brownie Troop until we started loading up my old backpack with her weekend essentials. All of a sudden I was overwhelmed with emotion. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was setting sail on one of life’s great adventures myself? Okay, so this time it’s camp. Next time it’ll be Europe, right? Where’s the pause button?

There were definitely tears. But not from me. (Okay, I did come very close.) The tears were from a younger sister who was utterly devastated to be excluded from this grand adventure. I needed a distraction.

A helping hand

So I pulled out my baking pans and we set to work. Within no time, the cloud of flour in the air and cookie crumbs on the counter, floor and all over my ponytail’s little face worked their magic. The injustice of being younger was soon forgotten.

The thrill of an oreo in every cupcake was the perfect diversion.

An oreo in each cupcake

And something to look forward to once they were baked and decorated.

A peek inside

Oreo cupcakes + dinner with a best friend from kindergarten = a very happy little ponytail.

As for mom? Well, she enjoyed the cupcakes too . . .  but she has realized that she needs to cherish every last minute with each of her two little ponytails. Even those times when she wants to pull out her hair from all the craziness and the tantrums . . . because one day that backpack will be headed for Europe. What do you think the odds are that the girls will take me too?

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Oreo Cupcakes

Cupcake recipe from Bakerella

Cupcakes:

  • 1- 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup natural unsweetened cocoa
  • 1- 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup hot water
  • 22-24 Oreos

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Line tray with baking cups.
  • Place one whole cookie in each cup.
  • Mix the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl using a wire whisk.
  • Add the eggs, oil, vanilla and milk and mix well until thoroughly combined. Add the hot water and mix until combined.
  • Using an ice cream scoop transfer the batter into each baking cup so it’s about three quarters full. Makes 22- 24 cupcakes. (Yield was 23 for me)
  • Bake for 18-20 minutes.

Oreo Buttercream Icing

(Adapted from my Peanut Butter Buttercream Icing Recipe)

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 3- 1/2 to 4 cups icing sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 6 tbsp crushed cookie crumbs (approx 5- 6 oreos)

In a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter at medium-high speed until smooth, about a minute. Add 2½ cups icing sugar and salt; beat at medium-low speed until most of the sugar is moistened, about 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl and beat at medium speed until mixture is fully incorporated, about 30 seconds; scrape bowl, add vanilla and milk, and beat at medium speed until incorporated, about 20 seconds. Add remaining one to one-and-half cups of icing sugar and beat until incorporated.  Then increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down bowl once or twice. Add cookie crumbs and beat on medium-high for one minute until well incorporated.

Frost the cupcakes when cool.

Decorate with mini oreo cookies (optional)


10 Soul Warming Soups For A Cold Winter’s Day

Beef and Barley Soup

Karista’s Beef and Barley Soup

When time is short and the “to do” list is long, I reach for my slow cooker. Then I throw all my ingredients into the pot and set out to tackle that nagging list that just won’t leave me alone. But I’m always somewhat excited when I walk through the door at the end of the day. It is the next best thing to coming home to one of my mom’s home cooked meals . . . which incidentally is one of the many perks of having my mom stay with us every couple of months. (We’re very lucky because my mom has a wonderful, giving spiritshe’s the most generous and helpful person I know.)

One of my favourite things to make in the slow cooker is soup—especially in January. It’s a time when many of us are trying to lighten things up in the kitchen or being lured to the great outdoors for fun, family snow adventures (well, here in North America anyway). Is there any better way to soothe away the winter chills than with a piping hot bowl of nourishing soup? It just feels like home.

Here are 10 hearty, healthy and delicious soups that may just make you feel as good about yourself as walking up 19 flights of stairs two or three times a day. Some are from my trusty “tried and true” collection of soups and a few are on my “must make soon” list after discovering them on blogs I love to read.

1. Beef and Barley Soup from Karista @ Karista’s Kitchen. This was my first attempt at making Beef and Barley Soup and I’ll never eat Campbell’s again. Thanks for the great recipe Karista! My only modification was to add an extra carrot and extra tablespoon of tomato paste.

2. Tortilla Soup from Ali @ A Few Stories.  I’ve made this soup a few times and we all LOVE it!

3. Fassolada (Greek Bean Soup). I’ve made this soup countless times on the stove top and in the slow cooker. The ponytails never complain when I make this soup and that is really saying something. For my post on this soup, click here.

Fassolada

Greek Bean Soup (Fassolada)

4. Acini di Pepe with Meatballs from John @ from the Bartolini Kitchen. This is one of four soups that John has posted that are based on his mother’s homemade brodo (broth). I can’t wait to make this soup!

5. Oatmeal Mushroom Soup from Sawsan @ Chef in Disguise. I am quite intrigued by the addition of oatmeal to this mushroom soup. That’s why it is high on my list of soups to make soon.

6. Asparagus Soup with Herbed Goat Cheese Balls. For my post on this soup, click here.

Asparagus Soup with Herbed Goat Cheese Balls

Asparagus Soup with Herbed Goat Cheese Balls

7. Chicken Leek and Corn Soup that can also be transformed into Chicken and Leek Pot Pie from Saskia @ One Equals Two. Saskia says that this soup is a hit with parents and kids alike–and I believe her!

8. Cauliflower Soup and Pecorino Puffs from Under the Blue Gum Tree. I’ve been wanting to make a cauliflower soup for a while now and so this recipe caught my eye. I’m equally excited about giving the pecorino puffs a try. I’m sure I could stop at just one puff. . . or ten!

9.Chorizo & Bean Soup from Sophie @ Sophie’s Food Files. Chorizo is a family favourite, so I know that this soup is sure to be a big hit.

10. Greek Lentil Soup. I made this soup on the weekend because I have a cupboard full of lentils that I need to start using. I pureed one cup of the soup to thicken it, but you could puree the entire soup if you prefer it that way. For the recipe, see below.

Greek Lentil Soup

Greek Lentil Soup

Greek Lentil Soup

Adapted from Three Sisters Around the Greek Table

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup brown lentils, dried
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery, diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp oregano, dried
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Pepper to taste
  • 6 cups water
  • Red wine viegar, as desired
  • Kalamata olives (for garnish)

Directions:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the lentils, onion and garlic and saute for 3 minutes.
  2. Add the carrots celery and saute for 2 minutes further.
  3. Add the bay leaf, oregano, salt and pepper and stir.
  4. Add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes, or until the lentils are soft. If the soup becomes too thick, just add some hot water.
  5. Discard the bay leaf before serving and adjust the seasoning if needed.
  6. Ladle the soup into bowls and drizzle with olive oil. Add a teaspoon of red wine vinegar to each bowl and garnish with olives before serving.

Keeping Your Soup Jazzy

Biscuits on the side . . . croutons on top . . . sprinkled with cheese . . . there are so many ways that I try to jazz up soup for the ponytails. I can’t wait to try these Goat Cheese and Scallions Muffins from Anne (at Uni Homemaker) or Naan Bread from Eva (at Kitchen Inspirations) with my next batch of soup. In the meantime, here’s my current favourite biscuit recipe:

Mini Cheddar Biscuits

Recipe from Cuisine Grilling Magazine

Makes 12 biscuits

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 3 tbsp shortening
  • 1/3 cup shredded sharp cheddar
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh chives
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 1 tbsp melted unsalted butter

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450˚. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
  3. Cut in shortening with a pastry blender or two knives until pea-sized. Mix in cheddar, chives and parsley then stir in buttermilk.
  4. Knead dough on a floured surface just to incorporate. Shape into a 6” square, 1 inch thick. Cut into 12 pieces and arrange on prepared baking sheet, spacing 2 inches apart; brush with melted butter. Bake until golden, 15 minutes.

“There Are No Words . . .”

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“There are no words to describe how good this is,” said my husband after just one bite of the Nutella Molten Lava Cakes that I made for a dinner party over the holidays. One of the ponytails was quick to follow up with: “This is the best dessert ever!”

So, it is without hesitation that I recommend this recipe to you as one to make when you want to impress and delight your dinner guests. Your guests will love the luscious chocolately goodness that oozes onto your plate and melts in your mouth. You will love how easy it is to make.

Now, I have to say that I’m all for making my husband happy these days. He really hit the ball out of the park on Christmas morning with a beautiful new automated cappaccino maker and the Larousse Gastronomique Culinary Encyclopedia. Both items were a complete surprize, as I had forgotten all about the book recommendations that many of you left on the blog post for my book giveaway in November. I owe a special thanks to Tandy from Lavender and Lime for recommending this book. It’s nice to know that my husband reads the blog, isn’t it?

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From what I’ve read so far, this book is a must-have for foodies. Packed with recipes, tips and detailed explanations, it is regarded as the French cooking bible. In fact, Julia Child once wrote, “If I were allowed only one reference book in my library, Larousse Gastronomique would be it, without question.”

I’m sure that this book will successfully keep me out of trouble for countless hours this year and I promise to share a few highlights with you.

In the meantime, I’ll be able to keep up with working by day and blogging by night thanks to my convenient new source of caffeine! (I must tell you that I’m addicted to cappuccinos!)

Our dinner guests Tammy and Les asked for the recipe for these Nutella Molten Lava Cakes, so this post is really for them. They both enjoyed these molten lava cakes and liked that the recipe is no fuss, no muss. (The microwave conveniently melts the butter, chocolate chips and Nutella for you and then you just have to stir in the remaining ingredients.) The recipe is from my new favourite cookbook Savory Sweet Life, which my mom gave me for Christmas along with Ina Garten’s Foolproof.  I’d say all around I’m a pretty lucky foodie, wouldn’t you? (Remember, my husband reads this blog . . .)

Molten Lava Cakes

Nutella Molten Lava Cakes

Makes 12 cakes; recipe from Savory Sweet Life

Cakes

10 tablespoons (1-1/4 sticks) unsalted butter

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/3 cup Nutella (chocolate-hazelnut spread)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1- 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar

3 large eggs

3 egg yolks

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Garnish

confectioners’ sugar

Nutella

Whole hazelnuts, toasted

fresh strawberry slices

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Place the butter, chocolate chips and Nutella in a large microwave-safe bowl. Heat the mixture in the microwave for 60 seconds, and then in three 30-second increments, stirring it until smooth after each interval. Stir the flour and confectioners’ sugar into the chocolate-butter mixture. Mix in the eggs and egg yolks, one at a time. Add the vanilla and mix until combined.
  3. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling them about three-quarters full. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the edges are firm but the centres are still soft.
  4. Allow the cakes to cool in the pan for 3 minutes to set up. Run a knife around the edges to loosen the cakes and invert them onto a cutting board. Transfer each cake to a serving plate. Lightly dust confectioners’ sugar over each one, followed by a dollop of Nutella, a hazelnut and strawberry half (optional).

Notes:

  • Molten lava batter can be made up to a week in advance. Spoon the batter into the muffin tin and cover it with plastic wrap. Store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake them. Set the muffin tin on the counter while the oven is preheating. The baking time will be the same.
  • Because I only needed six of these cakes for my dinner party, I scooped the batter for six cakes into my muffin tin to cook that day and the remaining batter into six small ramekins to store in the fridge for a later date. This worked well. I just found that the cakes in the ramekins needed to cook for a minute or two longer than they day that I first made them.

Little Hands A Big Help In the Kitchen

Reindeer Cupcakes

There’s nothing like . . . the soft glow of lights on the tree that illuminate a treasured collection of decorations . . . the excited giggles of delight that fill the air while snuggling with two sweet little ponytails to watch a holiday movie . . . the way that with each sip of wine, the tensions of the past year melt away . . .

It truly is a magical time.

Now that I’ve hung up my baking mitts for another year, it’s time to relax and enjoy my favourite holiday activities. I hope that you are able to do the same.

But I didn’t do it all alone this year. The ponytails were a BIG help during cookie baking season. So, for this last post before Christmas I thought I’d share a few of the sweet treats that the girls and I made together.

First up–Reindeer Cupcakes. My oldest daughter decided that we were going to bake Reindeer Cupcakes for the school potluck–and she sketched out how she wanted them to look. A couple of the materials were going to be a bit tricky to work with, so we negotiated between her ideas and one that I spotted on a Facebook foodie group that I belong to. Thanks to Sue H. for positng a link to With Spinkles on Top’s version of these Reindeer Cupcakes!

Decorating reindeer cupcakess

Decorating the reindeer cupcakes with: mini marshmellows cut in half (eyes), chocolate chips (eyes), pretzels, Nilla biscuits and Swedish Berries (nose). For the cupcakes, use your favourite cupcake and chocolate icing recipe.

Earlier in the year when I saw the beautiful ma’amouls that Fati at Fati’s Recipes and Betsy at Bits and Breadcrumbs had made, I knew that I had to try them . . . but I decided to wait until Christmas. The girls were quick to get into the action with these cookies and they got the knack of whacking the molds very quickly!

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The end result was well worth the effort. Look how beautifully they turned out:

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Our entire family fell in love with the Glaciers and Bear Paws from The Fudgery in Banff, Alberta this summer. So, we tried our hand at recreating them . . . it was as easy as making a small circle with five cashews and squishing a caramel on top. Mom (me) popped them in a 325 degree oven for 6 minutes. Then the girls drizzled with melted semi-sweet chocolate (for the Bear Paws) and melted white chocolate (for the Glaciers).

Bear Paws and Glaciers

Gingerbread and Sugar Cookies make the cookie list every year. My youngest daughter really enjoyed the rolling and cutting process of making both these cookies. Here she is in action with the Gingerbreads.

Ponytail gingerbreads

And here’s the final product of the Snowflake and Tree-shaped Sugar Cookies . . .

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Who knew that little hands could be such a big help in the kitchen? Now I certainly do and I imagine that these little hands will only be more helpful with each passing year. Baking for three weeks solid is always a lot of work, but memories like these make it all worthwhile . . . and so does a peek into one of the cookie boxes . . .

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Recipes

Reindeer Cupcakes — Use your favourite cupcake and chocolate icing recipe. For decorations: mini marshmellows cut in half (eyes), chocolate chips (eyes), pretzels (antler), Nilla biscuits and Swedish Berries (nose). We used white icing to “glue” the ingredients to the cupcake and it worked well.

Ma’amouls — I followed Betsy’s Recipe since I had bought the farina flour at a local specialty shop.

Bear Paws & Glaciers — Make a small circle with five cashews and squish a caramel on top. Pop them in a 325 degree oven for 6 minutes. Then drizzle with melted semi-sweet chocolate (for the Bear Paws) and white chocolate (for the Glaciers).

Sugar Cookies (used for Snowflake and Trees) Martha Stewart Cutout Cookie Dough

Gingerbread Cookies — From Martha Stewart; I double this recipe.

I wish you all a very happy holidays. I hope that they are filled with all the things that you love, like the soft glow of Christmas tree lights and treasured ornaments . . .

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My treasured Eiffel Tower ornament made by my friend Shailyn many years ago and a ballerina to commemorate a first Nutcracker performance for my oldest ponytail.

And sweet things, both big and small . . .

girls with cookies

Getting ready for Santa (Christmas 2011).


The Best Kind of Cheer

Eggnog Martini

Eggnog Martini

There’s no way around it. This time of year is hectic for all of us. I mean that in a “non-stop list of things that need to be done to make your life festive” kind of way.

Evenings and weekends have become a blur of shopping, wrapping, baking, decorating (inside and out) and organizing gifts for teachers and caregivers. The day-to-day parts of life don’t go anywhere either–the laundry, grocery shopping, meal preparation and chauffeuring services–they all need to be taken care of as well.

I guess that I’ve given you a hint to what my weekend was like. It was jam-packed, but I must admit it was fun-filled as well. One of the more unusual tasks was the time I spent assembling and altering a very special costume. You see, I’m on a first name basis with Fritz from the play Beauty and the Beast put on by a group of young people in our neighbourhood.

Behind the scenes with Fritz from Beauty and the Beast and her younger sister.

But all that costume prep was well worth it because it was a very special and memorable production. You can see for yourself. Here’s Fritz in action:

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Fritz (far left-hand side) in action during a Beauty and the Beast performance.

So obviously there are some rewards to all of this work. But, there’s another reward that I look forward to at the end of a long day . . . the holiday cocktail.

It’s the best kind of cheer, isn’t it? My new favourite holiday cocktail is an Eggnog Martini. I love eggnog, but I’m not a huge fan of rum and eggnog. Made with Amaretto and Vodka, this martini is a great alternative. My husband and I had these while we trimmed the tree last week, and then again tonight after we returned home from the big performance. I think it’ll become a holiday tradition for years to come.

Hope that you can find time to put up your feet, relax and enjoy the best kind of cheer.

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Eggnog Martini

Adapted from Single Minded Women

  • 1 ounce Amaretto
  • 3/4 ounce Vodka
  • 3.5 ounce eggnog
  • pinch of nutmeg

Add ice, eggnog, vodka and Amaretto to a martini shaker. Shake for a minute. Pour into martini glass. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Makes 1. Repeat as many times as necessary.