Wednesday, 25 June 2014

We Have a Graduate

It's hard to believe we'll be sending our fifth child off to secondary school in the fall.

Our fifth baby, our fourth son.

This boy of ours has made us very proud.  I wonder where the next few years will lead him.

Wishing these kids all the best as they start the next chapter of their journey!

Monday, 23 June 2014

Homemade Vanilla Coffee Creamer

Half of our kids are adults, two are teenagers, which leaves just one that hasn't reached his teen years yet.  Wow, just reading that sentence makes me feel a moment of panic.  This whole growing up thing has just happened way too fast, and I'm terrified to blink in case they all graduate when I'm not looking.  But this isn't about the relentless march of time, or about how we should cherish every moment because before we know it they've all grown up.  Nope, this is about coffee.  And about how we've traded in sippy cups for coffee mugs.  

We've got quite a few coffee and tea drinkers in the house now.  As newbie coffee drinkers, these kids (why is it so hard to call them adults?) load up their mugs with almost as much milk, cream and sugar as coffee.  Recently they added flavoured coffee creamers to the mix.

 As I was tossing an empty container of vanilla coffee creamer into the recycling bin, I gave the label a quick read and I had to shake my head at the ingredient list.  It looked like this:


So what's a mom to do when everyone's jumping on the vanilla flavoured coffee bandwagon?  Make up a batch of homemade vanilla coffee creamer, of course.  It took me about 10 minutes and the result was better than the store bought stuff.  I made a simple syrup with water, sugar, and vanilla extract.  Combined it with sweetened condensed milk, then added regular milk.  This is good stuff.  I actually caught my 14 year old pouring himself a glass to drink it straight up.  It's ridiculously easy, and you probably already have all of the ingredients.  And the best part?  You can pronounce them all.

Homemade Vanilla Coffee Creamer

One batch of Simple Vanilla Syrup (below)
One can of sweetened condensed milk
Two cups of milk - I’ve used both whole and 2% milk, both worked well

Combine ingredients in a clean mason jar.  Secure lid and shake until well combined.  This will keep in the fridge for up to a week, shake before using.

*I poured boiling water into my mason jar before using to make sure it was squeaky clean.

**If you prefer not to use canned sweetened condensed milk, you can make your own.  This recipe looks good.

Simple Vanilla Syrup

1/2 cup filtered water
1/2 cup organic granulated cane sugar
2 tbsp pure vanilla extract

Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat, allow to cool 5 minutes, stir in vanilla extract.

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Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Homemade Taco Seasoning

I never hear complaints about what we're having for dinner when it's taco night.  Simple, classic tacos are one of the few meals that all of my kids look forward to, so we have them often.  Some of the kids like the soft tortilla shells to hold all the ingredients together, some prefer the hard shells.  Some add hot sauce, some don't.  Some pile on the sour cream, others load up on shredded cheddar.  Regardless of how they dress them, they all insist that the ground beef, which is heart and soul of the taco, taste the way it's supposed to.  That means using the same seasoning packet in the ground beef that I've always used.  I once used a store brand seasoning packet when the name brand version happened to be sold out.  

It was not a happy taco night.  

After that, I made a point of buying a couple of packets whenever I grocery shopped, whether we needed them or not, and built a stash in my spice cupboard so as never to be caught without again.  Happy taco nights were guaranteed, until two weeks ago.  Lettuce was washed, cheese was shredded, and ground beef was frying.  And there wasn't a single taco seasoning packet to be found.  I felt the same kind of disbelief that I feel when we run out of toilet paper.  When you buy the 30 count package at Costco, you expect it to last forever.  You never think about toilet paper again, until you run out.  It was the same with the taco seasoning.  I didn't think I'd ever run out.  I tossed my spice cupboard in a panic but there wasn't a single packet left.  Then I contemplated running out to the store, but kids were hungry and the meat was close to over-cooking. 

After a quick search on Pinterest, I came up with a few different DIY recipes for taco seasoning.  I read through them, scribbled some notes, and came up with a combination of spices that would stand in for the taco seasoning packet.  It was good, really good.  It wasn't exactly the same, less salt and more heat, which was fine by me.   And the kids said it was good.  That was all I needed.  

I am never buying taco seasoning packets again.

Homemade Taco Seasoning

1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp dried minced onion 
1 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 - 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients.  These quantities equal one taco seasoning packet.  Brown 500 g of ground beef and drain off all but a couple tablespoons of fat.  Sprinkle seasoning evenly over meat.  Add 1/4 cup of water, stir and simmer for 10 minutes.

I used freshly ground Tellicherry Pepper and freshly ground Pink Himalayan Salt.  

1/4 tsp onion powder can be substituted for the 1 tsp of dried minced onion.

Use the lesser amount of the crushed red pepper flakes if you can't handle a lot of heat, more if you like your food spicy!


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Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Food on Instagram

So, my Instagram feed is full up with food these days.  Over the past few days there were cupcakes, muffins, and granola bars.  A taco night emergency resulted in some DIY taco seasoning, and now I know that I never have to buy the packaged stuff again. 

I want to make another batch of these granola bars before I share the recipe, just to make sure they turn out as well the second time around.  The taco seasoning was amazing, more heat and less salt than the store-bought stuff, and I'll be sharing that combo of spices soon too. 

The lemon glazed blueberry muffins were my kids' idea, based on this recipe, and the cupcakes were all the kids' doing as well.  

Father's Day is coming up on Sunday.  Check out last year's post if you're stuck for a quick and easy Father's Day craft.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Best dessert ever.  We're talking not a crumb left, lick your plate delicious.  Sticky Toffee Pudding.

My oldest son and his girlfriend gave me a beautiful cookbook for my birthday, Dessert of the Day from Williams Sonoma.  I'm thinking it was a not-so-subtle attempt at suggesting that I make more desserts.  We don't typically do dessert after dinner, unless it's a special occasion, or we have company for dinner.  This is a beautiful book, and it didn't take long for post-it tags to appear on pages as we all found desserts that we wanted to try.

Sticky Toffee Pudding has always been a family favourite.  I actually shared another recipe for this decadent dessert a few years ago, it was one of the first recipes I posted.  

If they can find it on a restaurant menu, Sticky Toffee Pudding is something the kids almost always order for dessert.  It just made sense to try making it at home, and I was surprised to learn that it's not a complicated recipe at all.  The star of show here is dates.  They give the pudding (which is really just a dense, moist cake) it's distinctive sweet flavour and texture.  And toffee sauce, lots of it :)

Chopped dates soaked in boiling water with baking soda make up the a large part of the batter.

The home made toffee sauce pushes this dessert over the top.  

And the half hour spent stirring counts as time spent at the gym.  I think I may have miscalculated the amount of butter or cream I used because it took forever to thicken.  However long it takes, don't stop stirring.

The end result was well worth it.  This is a very sweet and incredibly tasty dessert, best served warm.  

Sticky Toffee Pudding
From Williams Sonoma Dessert of the Day Cookbook


1/2 cup pitted and finely chopped dates
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup boiling water

1/4 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Toffee Sauce

1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Butter and flour eight 1/2 cup custard cups or individual baking pans and place on baking sheet.

In small bowl, combine the dates and baking soda with the boiling water.  Let stand until cool, about 10 minutes.  Mash the dates to break them down further.  With a mixer, beat sugar and butter together on medium speed until light and creamy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.  Add the flour, baking soda, and salt, and stir to combine.  Add the date mixture and stir well.  The batter will be thin.  Fill the custard cups about 2/3 full.

Bake until the puddings are puffed and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the toffee sauce.  In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the brown sugar and cream.  Whisk until the sauce thickens, 5-10 minutes.  Stir in the vanilla and salt.

To serve, unmold each warm pudding onto a plate and top with the toffee sauce.

Serves 8.


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Wednesday, 4 June 2014

It's June, wait...what?

I'm having a hard time getting my head around the fact that it's June.  May was a blur.  Long hours at work and a husband working out of town made for a month of just getting through the day, and then just making it to the weekend.  The weather has been glorious, although I've had little time to spend outside and enjoy it.  I'm grateful for the warmth and sunshine...something we waited a long time for this year.  And I'm happy to see so many shades of green colouring our world again.

Mother's Day was quiet.
And as busy as we are, I'm still feeling a little lost.  For the first time in 20 years no one is playing any outdoor summer sports.  No soccer, no baseball, no football.  I should be jumping for joy that I'm not running like an idiot from one field to the next, trying to keep up with their conflicting schedules... but the truth of the matter is that I miss it.  A lot.

But there's always summer hockey.  Nothing like sitting in an ice cold rink wearing shorts and sandals.

Last but not least, I have a slew of recipes to share.  I've finally managed to pull off a really good homemade,  nut-free granola bar for the kids lunches.  I've been struggling to keep their lunches interesting as we near the end of the school year, and the healthified baked goods I've been trying haven't all been well received, but these granola bars were a great success.  I've also been using my crock pot a lot lately and have a few slow cooker gems to share.   And there was sticky toffee pudding, with caramel sauce from scratch...

...which was totally worth the half hour I spent stirring.

Stay tuned.

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