Valentine’s treats- chocolate bark!

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Valentine’s treats- chocolate bark!

I know I am a little late in posting this, but better late than never! Last week, Sam’s class was doing a little Valentine’s Day gift exchange where everyone brings in a little gift, then they shuffle the gifts and randomly give them out. We were thinking about sewing or crafting something, but it’s hard to make a lot of things that would be appropriate for boys or girls. Finally we decided that food was the safest bet, because everyone likes food. And from there, it didn’t take us long to decide on chocolate.
I have made this as Christmas presents before, you really can customize your “toppings” for any holidays or occasion.
I dug through the cupboards for all of our chocolate supplies, and I ended up finding quite a stash. I found dark chocolate chips, some Hershey’s kisses, some butterscotch chips and white chocolate melts. Then, for the toppings, I found cinnamon hearts, a package of skor bits, some heart sprinkles and some red candy dipped chocolate chips.

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We melted one kind of chocolate at a time. I started melting them in pot, but then realized I needed double broiler. The chocolate heated up way too fast, then it seized, and became difficult to stir and pour. So I would strongly recommend using boiling water and putting another pot or bowl on top.

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After much deliberation of all of the different kinds of chocolate and topping combinations, we decided on four delicious combinations:
-cinnamon hearts and white chocolate
-heart shaped sprinkles and milk chocolate
-skor bits and butterscotch chips, with red and white drizzled chocolate
-dark chocolate and red candy dipped chocolate chips
The procedure is pretty simple. Once you have a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (not wax paper, parchment paper, big difference!) you basically melt, mix and pour. Here is what a few of our combinations looked like:

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Then, here’s a trick, once you have spread out the chocolate, and sprinkle your toppings on, often it is bumpy or rough looking. To get that smooth look, bang the cookie sheet on a hard surface a few times. This relaxes or settles the chocolate, gets rid of the bubbles and smooths out the surface. Here is what it looked like before and after (sorry, photos are reversed, after, then before)
Also, if you look back at the white chocolate and cinnamon hearts picture, after banging it, the cinnamon hearts settled right into the chocolate.

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After all of the chocolate was melted, stirred and the toppings added, we put the cookie sheets outside in the cold for a few minutes.

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Then, once the chocolate was nice and hard, we snapped it into bite sized pieces. The kids love this part!

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Finally, we packed it into small containers. I have a really difficult time throwing out our sushi containers because I use them all of the time for baking. They are the perfect size and shape, and they make the food look great. Turns out that we made 7 containers, so Sam gave one to her teacher, I brought a couple into work, and we had some left over for special treats and dessert a couple nights! Here is the finished product:

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Happy Valentine’s Day.
FYI – here is the link to the chocolate bark I made one christmas
christmas chocolate bark

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5 Minute Butter Tarts! Yummy.

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5 Minute Butter Tarts! Yummy.

If you have read my blog before, you know that I am all about things being easy! Maybe 5 minutes is a bit of an exaggeration, because I didn’t include cooking time, but these butter tarts are really easy to make, they literally take five minutes to prepare. Especially when you buy the pre made frozen pie shells…. Trust me, people are just as impressed with homemade butter tarts even when you didn’t make the shell from scratch. And, sshhhh, you don’t need to tell everyone how easy they are!
All you need to do, is melt 1/3 cup of butter in the microwave, then mix in 1/3 cup brown sugar, and 1/2 cup corn syrup, 1 egg, plus 1 tsp vanilla.

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As you can see, I was lucky enough to have help today. Which was helpful because the hardest part about this recipe us that you need to mix this really well. Mix it until it starts to turn a lighter colour. You can see the difference in the pictures below:

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Then pour it into the pie shells. If I can give a bit of advice here, I would tell you not to over fill them, they bubble up and will overflow if they are filled too much.

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We watched them closely, just in case…

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So, I think you can see in the second picture how they have bubbled up. Here is how they looked right out of the oven, and after they have cooled a little. I actually had to double the recipe above to make enough to fill all of the shells.

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They were delicious. You could also add raisins, although I would get complaints around my house if I did. No one in my family is a fan of raisins in baking, we’re more of a chocolate chip kind of family. But, I read online that if you do add raisins, you can soak them in boiling water for about 5 minutes before mixing them in. This allows them to plump up and soak up some of the water.
I have a few extra pie shells in the freezer now, that I am going to keep on hand for the next time I need something to make quickly. These are definitely on my make again list!
Enjoy!
P.S. I don’t normally give glimpses into future posts (because sometimes my plans are a whole more ambitious than my reality…. If only I didn’t have a darn job!) but… I just bought stuff to tap our maple trees to collect sap for maple syrup! I am so excited! Keep posted, I am just doing some research to find out if I need to wait a few weeks… Anyone made maple syrup before? Any advice?

Meringues from Mayonnaise!

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Meringues from Mayonnaise!

So here’s the story… I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t set out this morning to make meringues, it wasn’t on my list today. Actually neither was making mayonnaise, all I actually wanted was a tuna sandwich. But here’s how it happened…
I opened a can of tuna to make a tuna salad sandwich, but then I realized that we didn’t have any mayonnaise. So I thought, “I’m pretty crafty, I can make my own mayo!” So I googled “how to make mayonnaise and found a recipe (with cooked egg yolk- just can’t do the raw egg thing) and, to make a long story short, I followed the directions, but 4 egg yolks later I ended up with a runny yellow liquid that I had no intentions of mixing with my tuna… It was pretty gross, don’t know where I went wrong…

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So, I felt a little guilty for pouring the mayo mixture down the sink, but the good news is that I ended up making a great tasting tuna melt by substituting ranch dressing for the mayo. (It was actually really good!)
But, I’ll save that post for another day….
After enjoying my delicious sandwich, I realized that I still had 4 egg whites left over from my mayo disaster. I couldn’t throw them out too! So, I thought, “I’m pretty crafty, I can make something out of these egg whites.” So I googled, “what can I make with egg whites.” And this recipe for meringues came up… So that’s how I ended up making meringues! I can’t tell you how many times I have said this, but how did people survive before Google? Seriously.
This was my first time making meringues, and I was pretty impressed with how easy they are to make!
Start with four egg whites and beat them until they are foamy, which only takes a minute or so.

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Then, very slowly, a sprinkle at a time, add two cups of icing sugar…

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And beat on high until the egg whites hold their shape when you hold up the beater.

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I spooned the mixture into a piping bag, because I wanted them to look a little fancier. Then squeezed out a tablespoon at a time on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

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By the way, here is a great trick I have figured out when using piping bags… Use a plastic clip on the end to stop the icing from squeezing out the end. I can’t tell you how many times I have ended up with a handful of icing without realizing it.

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With the clip you can also easily roll it around as you use up the filling inside.

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Anyways, it turns out that the piping bag was probably a waste of time because the meringue wasn’t stiff enough to hold the shape. A spoonful would have looked the same.
So I learned that the trick to meringues is to cook them for a long time at a low temperature. So, set your oven to 200 degrees, and the timer for about two hours. Essentially, the oven almost dries out the meringues. Be sure to leave the oven open a bit, I used a wooden spoon to prop the door open.

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Then after waiting two long hours, they were ready. Slightly browned and crunchy on the outside. They were delicious!

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The recipe actually made a few dozen meringues. I probably made them a little smaller, but still, there were tonnes of them! Next time, I might even halve the recipe. Nah… Who am I kidding….
Enjoy!

Easy team spirit cupcakes

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Easy team spirit cupcakes

What were we thinking? Today we had Dylan’s entire basketball team over for the afternoon… That was 13 ten and eleven year old boys running around our house!
They were going bowling first, so we were hoping that they would use up a little bit of their energy at the bowling alley! Not sure if that went the way we planned, they were bouncing off the walls (literally) by the time they got to our house 😃

I figured the best way to keep a large group of boys happy is to keep their bellies full. So we bought a bunch of snack foods, and I thought we needed something to show our team pride. So I decided on cupcakes. I have done variations of these cupcakes over the years. They are quick and easy, but look really cute! And who am I kidding, 10 and 11 year old boys are not going to stop and admire and compliment the hours I spent meticulously decorating their cupcakes, I am quite aware that there is about 10 seconds from the time they spot the cupcakes to the time where they shove them in their mouths. So I might as well do something quick and easy!

I started with baking the cupcakes. I always try to scoop out the cake mix as evenly as possible by using an ice cream scoop.

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Then, I dug up some orange candy melts, they are the chocolate disks that come in different colours.

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I melted a handful of chocolate chips in a mug of hot water. While I was waiting for the chocolate to melt, I laid out the Orange candy melts on a piece of parchment paper so the flat sides were up.

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Then, once the chocolate chips were melted, I snipped a tiny corner off of the sandwich bag, then used it as a piping bag to decorate the candy melts to look like basketballs.

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I also wrote their jersey numbers on a red candy melt. (And extras for the coaches)
Once the cupcakes were out of the oven and cooled, I evened them out by trimming off any lopsided parts with a knife. Then I piped some plain chocolate icing in a spiral pattern.

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I found some fancy silver sugar, so I added a little pinch of silver sprinkle to the top of each cupcake…

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Then, because I didn’t have the patience to wait until the chocolate had hardened a little, I decorated them while the chocolate was still wet. I would recommend you don’t follow my lead on this one… I stuck my finger in and messed up a couple, but hey, it’s not like the noticed or anything!
Anyways, they seemed to go over pretty well, they all picked their number, and it was quiet for a whole thirty seconds, so I am calling that a success!
Here is the final product…

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I am going to have to do the same for the baseball team! I would say soccer too, but I think soccer balls would be tricky, maybe I can just do their jersey numbers… At least I have a few months to think about it!
Have a great week!

Quick and easy cannelloni and lasagna

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Quick and easy cannelloni and lasagna

So, the boys had a basketball tournament this weekend, (they got gold btw…Go MUMBA!) Anyways, it was just Sam and I all weekend, so we did some cleaning, and went to the mall and grocery shopping. The last game ended after 5, and we were going to order in, but strangely, I decided to cook instead. (I know, weird, right?)
When Sam and I were at the grocery store, I bought some fresh pasta, ground beef and ricotta cheese to make cannelloni. You could also use oven ready shells in the place of the fresh pasta. It is a quick and easy meal to prepare, it only take about 20 minutes to prepare, and it freezes well too!
So I started with some fresh pasta, tomato sauce, ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, ground beef, red peppers and spinach. And, I ended up tossing in some frozen corn at the last minute.

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I started by browning the ground beef.

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Then, in a bowl, I mixed the ricotta, red peppers, spinach, corn, and once it had cooled down a little, I added the ground beef.

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Then I added a couple tablespoons of the mixture to each piece of fresh pasta.

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Then I rolled them up and covered them with some good old tomato sauce, and a bit of mozzarella. I also added about 1/2 cup of water, I find the pasta will soak up the extra liquid and makes the end result more moist and yummy.

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Great, done! But, I had a whole lot of filling left over…

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Don’t get me wrong, my philosophy on making stuff like lasagna is that once you have everything out, you might as well double it up… still have to wash the same amount of dishes, right? So, I kind of made extra on purpose.
I pulled out some oven ready lasagna, poured some tomato sauce, and a little water into another casserole dish then added a layer of pasta…

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Then, the ricotta mixture, pasta, tomato sauce, ricotta, pasta, tomato sauce, etc. until I ran out of ingredients, or space in the pan.

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Then, pop everything in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes, and voila!

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Best part is, dinner is done for tonight, plus enough for another night too! I will just pop it in the freezer when it has cooled, and its good at least for a couple months. Once again yummy!

Panettone French Bread

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Panettone French Bread

Hello everyone, happy new year! I haven’t posted in a couple weeks because we were away in Cuba from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Eve. Yes, I am trying to make you jealous! It was busy getting ready for Christmas, and packing, but while it Cuba, I had lots of time to relax, do some crafting and reading by the pool. Now we are back, and trying to pack up everything christmas and get ready for school tomorrow! Yay.
So, at Christmas, it is always a tradition in John’s family to have at least a couple panettones, John’s favourite is the chocolate, but I really like the fruit and raisin one. It is a special treat that we enjoy, but there is a lot of panettone in each loaf, so there are always lots leftover after the holidays. It freezes ok, but right now our freezer is looking a little cramped! Last year I tried this and loved it, so I will share with you this year!

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Basically, the procedure is pretty much the same as for regular French bread, but I do have a little trick to making it…
Start by cracking a bunch of eggs, I usually crack about two eggs for every three slices. I also add about a tablespoon of milk for every couple eggs. Use two forks to dip the bread into the eggs…

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Then brown both sides in the frying pan…

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The part I don’t like about making French toast is trying to make sure the middle has cooked properly. I can never seem to get the heat right so it is hot enough to cook the inside without burning the outside.
So, here’s my trick… After you have browned both sides, put the slices on a cookie sheet and pop them into the oven at 350.

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I cooked them for about 6-7 minutes on each side, and they were perfectly cooked. The great part is that if you are making a big batch, or are serving to company (or like me, if you just want to be lazy…) you don’t have to stand by the stove! And mmmm, I wish you could smell them right now!
I always check if they are properly cooked by checking the center of one of the pieces.

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Now, just add a little butter and maple syrup (yeah canada!), and enjoy!

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Candy cane reindeer craft!

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I have been so busy getting teacher gifts ready, baking, packaging, And wrapping, that I haven’t even thought about posting any ideas, or even taking pictures! I am such a bad blogger :( I only remembered I forgot after all the gifts were handed out, and the kids had eaten half of the gingerbread village! Oh well, there’s always next year! I will share a couple of the smaller projects. This one we did this afternoon was a quick and easy craft that Samantha and her friend made.
All you need to make the candy cane reindeers are a couple candy canes, some yarn, googly eyes, and a pom pom for the nose.

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Here are a few pics I found online for inspiration:

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To make it easier to handle, I taped the two candy canes together with a piece of making tape before we started.

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Then, we wrapped the yarn around the candy canes until they were covered.

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I glued down the end of the yarn with my glue gun.

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Then, with the glue gun, I attached the eyes and nose. You can really change the look of the reindeer by moving the eyes and nose around, and even try using different sized googly eyes.

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I added a little bell and ribbon and glued them down as well.

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Look at how they turned out using different colours of wool. I would love to do these for the kids in my class next year!

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Hopefully I will have time to post at least a couple more ideas before our holidays are finished, but if I don’t have a chance before The 25th, have a wonderful Christmas! Hope you have lots of time to celebrate as well as relax!