Sunday, 29 November 2015

5 Easy Advent Calendars

For many years the only advent calendar in our household was of a chocolate variety. Last year I bought a Lego version. It was fun to pull out those tiny blocks and build a winter scene.

This year I have decided to do something different. Each day will have an activity like going out for hot chocolate or making an ornament ,or other activity coupon.... there may be a cookie in it too.
For little kids you can take play set or a wooden train set apart or divide small puzzle, use mini figures Lego, action figures,  put in money, hair clips or mini cars, the possibilities are endless.

As for calendar design I am utilizing my freshly made blackboard (formerly a dresser mirror). I will add a photo later since I wanted to post this before December 1 and I am not finished putting the calendar together yet.

I have found many ideas that I liked but blackboard one seemed like the easiest for me.

Have a look at some other very creative advent calendars.

This one requires a bit of work but I love the fact that it is free standing

Free printable calendar

Clothespin Advent Calendar that can be made in minutes.

it is from Sunday In Bed

Paper Bag Calendar

And my favorite one:

Muffin pan calendar

Thursday, 26 November 2015

How to stay sane and on budget this Black Friday. Checklist.

If you are buying a lot of gifts it makes sense to take advantage of the sales. Keep in mind that it  is very easy to get carried away and buy way more than necessary.

Here is my Christmas shopping strategy: 

 ⎕ Make a list of what gifts you need to buy. Divide by age, gender or store category. This way, when in a toy store you do not scroll through a foot long list, risking that you miss someone and have to go back.
Create your own shopping strategy. Make it in a way that would improve and expedite the whole process.  I thing of every recipient individually and make a little notation by each name with gift ideas.

⎕ Have a BUDGET – based on experience assign approximate amount per person, and that does not have to mean the same per person.

⎕ Go for quality not quantity – if there are going to be gifts from many people under the tree.

⎕ Resist deals like buy 2 get 3rd for whatever if you only need one sweater. Yes they end up being cheaper per piece but you now have 2 sweaters that you do not need and have spent money that were for other gifts. This is a sure way to very quickly going over budget.

⎕I find that pre-Christmas sales are best for big ticket items – and if you have done your due diligence, you may be able to take advantage of some good deals. I need a new computer so am definitely keeping my eyes on the flyers!

The hardest one:

⎕Do not buy anything for yourself. Every time I go shopping all I can see are things that I like and probably could use and almost nothing that is on my list. RESIST. Unless it is really, really great deal and you would but it anyway.

Having a plan works for me.

What are your time and money saving shopping strategies?

Monday, 23 November 2015

6  Thanksgiving Table Decorations

I must admit that my table is usually set at light speed and not much beyond variety of candle holders and fresh bouquet of flowers goes on it. Or should I say that the table is too small for both the food, plates and elaborate decorations so I do not think much about setting it?

I do admire what others do with their tables. Here are a few decorating ideas that really caught my eye.

This simple idea would work long after Thanksgiving. Don’t you think?

 Not too complicated. I could pull it off.

White pumpkins seem to be “IT” thing in decorating.

 Very Old World – I love it.

The outdoor setting. We were so lucky this year with temperatures high enough to actually eat outside. First time in 20 years. Another reason to be thankful.

My very own table setting.

Almost “all white”? Why not. I like this fresh look.

I like the idea of having a buffet style dinner.

How is your table going to look like?

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Thanksgiving Roasted Turkey Recipe

Here in Canada we have celebrated Thanksgiving on October 12 but for my American readers this wonderful holiday is still ahead of them. 
You can read about my celebration here
I have not shared any recipes so perhaps this is a great opportunity to do so. I hope you will try them out for yourself.

Since we did not have a lot of guests this year my menu was quite simple.

Roasted turkey
Acorn squash with rice stuffing (vegan)
Cranberry and pear sauce (vegan)
Pumpkin Spice Cake – recipe here
Peach Crumble with vanilla ice cream
Fresh fruit platter

For a larger crowd I would also make roasted or mashed potatoes, tomato and cheese stuffed zucchini (recipe below), roasted Brussels sprouts, stewed apples with marjoram and cranberry stuffed glazed pears.

Let’s start with star of the night: Turkey

Always Moist Roasted Turkey
Prep time: 15 min Cook Time 2 hr 30 min Serves 10
12 – 14 pound turkey*
For the brine:
1 cup salt
½ cup brown sugar
4 liters vegetable stock ( I make mine using organic vegetable stock cubes)
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 ½ tsp candies ginger, chopped
1 tbsp dried thyme, when using fresh herbs, use 3 x more than recipe calls for
1 tbsp dried sage,
1 tbsp dried rosemary
Ice cold water

Sage butter or butter – 2 pieces, about 15 ml. each

*if you bought frozen turkey, begin thawing 2-3 days before roasting.

Combine brine ingredients in a stock pot that is large enough to fit the whole turkey. Wash the turkey, remove innards and place breast side down in a pot. Add cold water so the whole turkey is covered in liquid.. Mix a little to combine water with brine. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Remove turkey from the brine. Rinse it well and pat dry.

Prepare aromatics:
1 apple, sliced
1 celery stalk
½ onion, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
4 fresh rosemary sprigs
few leaves sage
1 cup water
Place all the ingredients in a small pot. Bring to boil. Drain the water and stuff the turkey with aromatics.
Brush turkey with oil.

I also put some sage butter on turkey breast. From the neck side loosen up gently the skin above breasts. Insert butter. As the bird roasts the melting butter will provide fat and aroma to the breast meat that tends to dry out quickly.

Preheat oven to 500 F. Roast the turkey for 30 min. Reduce temp. to 350 F and roast for 2 hours.
Remove from the oven and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Let stand for 15 minutes. Remove and discard aromatics.

 Warm Peach Crumble with Vanilla Ice Cream
Prep time: 20 min. Total Time 50 min.

Warm Peach Crumble with Vanilla Ice Cream

1 peach per person min. of 6, sliced into thick wedges.

1 teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon of sugar
Mix in lemon juice and sugar in a bowl. Pour over peaches, mix gently.
Transfer to 6 small dishes or one large baking dish.

For top:
100 g unsalted butter, cut into cubs
½ cup flour
½ cup brown sugar (or less)

Chop all the ingredients till coarse crumbs form. Sprinkle the mixture over peaches.

Bake in 365 F (180 C) for about 30 minutes

Tomato and Cheese Stuffed Zucchini
Serves 4, Prep time: 10 min, Total time: 30 min

2 zucchini, about 8 “ long (20 cm)
½ tsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. olive oil
½ small onion, diced
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1 tsp fresh oregano, chopped – I double the amount of fresh herbs
½ tsp fresh thyme
½ cup cheddar cheese, grated

Trim ends and cut zucchini lengthwise in half. Scoop out seeds to make a long trench. Chop seeds and pulp. Place zucchini on a parchment lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with garlic powder.

Heat oil in a skillet. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add chopped zucchini, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook for a few minutes on medium –low heat. Add fresh herbs.

Spoon mixture into zucchini halves and sprinkle with cheese. Bake for 20 minutes in 365 F 
(180 C).

Acorn Squash with Rice Stuffing
Serves: 8 Prep Time 15 min Total time 1hr 20 min

1 tbsp brown sugar
½ tsp. salt divided
2 tbsp (30 ml) melted butter,divided
2 acorn squash, halved and seeded
2 tbsp olive oil
½ small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
2 tbsp dried cranberries, chopped
½ cup long grain rice
1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped, divided
Pepper to taste
2/3 cup water

Preheat oven to 365 F (180 C). Combine brown sugar, half the salt and butte in a small bowl. Place squash halves cut side up on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Brush the butter mixture inside squash. Tent with foil and roast for 1 hour or until soft when pierced with a fork.

Heat olive oil in a skillet and sauté onion for 2 min. Stir in garlic, walnuts, cranberries, rice, half the thyme, remaining salt and pepper. Saute for another 1 minute.

Add water and bring to simmer. Cover and cook on low for about 20 min until rice is tender. Remove cooked squash from oven and stuff with cooked rice mixture. Drizzle each half with remaining butter and sprinkle with thyme. Tent foil again and return to oven for 5 minutes.

Let me know how those dishes turned out if you try them.

I would love to hear what’s on your menu.

Happy cooking!

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Discover many uses of pumpkin.

As promised here are some recipes to show you how many uses pumpkin has. You can eat it all day long and on any occasion. A few featured dishes were part of my Halloween menu, hence the décor. 
How to make pumpkin puree.

Pumpkin Apple Breakfast Pancakes

1 ¼ cup flour
1 cup milk
½ cup water
1 tbsp. oil or ghee butter
1 egg
1 cup roasted pumpkin puree
1 apple (Russet, Granny Smith)
½ tsp. pumpkin spice

Peel and shred the apple. Mix wet ingredients add to flour. Mix well. Add pumpkin puree and shredded apple. Mix.

Coat frying pan lightly with oil. Heat it up well. Pour the batter on to the pan and turn the heat down to medium. Flip pancakes once the edges and a bit over sets.
Serve with maple syrup or icing sugar.

I cannot get enough of them.

Pumpkin Spice Shake 

½ cup roasted pumpkin puree
½ frozen banana
¾ cup almond milk
1 tbsp. almond butter
1 tsp. pumpkin spice
½ tsp. vanilla
¼ tsp. Cinnamon
2 scoops vanilla protein  (optional)
½ cup ice 

Blend all the ingredients until smooth.

This shake packs lots of fibre, protein and good fats.

It is simply delicious!!!

Pumpkin Curry Soup

3 cups roasted pumpkin puree
1 ½ cup diced potatoes
1 ½ onion
3 cloves of garlic
6 tsp. curry powder
2 heaping tsp. fresh ginger, grated
3 tbsp. Oil
½ tsp. salt
3 liters of broth (chicken, vegetable)

Sour cream or Greek yogurt to garnish         

Heat oil in large soup pot. Add in potatoes and salt. Cook stirring occasionally till potatoes are translucent.  Add onions and saute for a few minutes. Move aside and add garlic and ginger. Cook for 1-2 minutes till garlic becomes fragrant. Add curry. Stir all well. Add stock and pumpkin. Blend in batches. Return to pot once all of the soup has been blended. Heat thoroughly.
Serve with a dollop of cream or yogurt.


Pumpkin Spice Cake - in a muffin version

½ cup (113 g)  unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup (175 g) brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup (250 ml) pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups (200 g) sifted flour ( I use all purpose, unbleached)
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup (120 ml) buttermilk, room temperature

Cream Cheese Frosting
4 ounces (114 g) cream cheese, room temperature
1/8 cup (28 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1.5 cups icing sugar, sifted
½  cup (50 g) toasted, chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat the oven to 355 F (180 C). Butter and flour 9-10” (24-26) cm cake pan.
Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well in between each addition. Add pumpkin puree and vanilla. Mix until incorporated. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.

In a separate bowl whisk all the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients and buttermilk alternately to the pumpkin batter, in 3 additions, beginning and ending with dry mixture. Pour the batter into pan.
Bake for approximately 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove cake from the pan. Let it cool completely before frosting.

Mix cream cheese and butter until smooth. You can use food processor or a mixer. Add maple syrup and icing sugar. Combine (do not over mix or icing will be too thin). Add more syrup or sugar to achieve right consistency.
Frost top and sides of the cake and garnish with nuts.

As I used this recipe to make cupcakes – you will need 1 large muffin pan (makes 12) and one small (makes 12). I filled the muffin paper cups in ¾. 
Bake for 18 min. small ones and 23 minutes large ones. I placed both in the oven, removed mini muffins first. Let cool before frosting.

This recipe is adapted from one that I found on 

It is a must on my Thanksgiving table. Kids love it.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
2 cups fresh pumpkin seeds

1 tbsp. oil

Preheat oven to 350 F. Place seeds on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Toss with with oil. Roast for 30 min.

Hope you lasted to the end. Do you have your favorite pumpkin recipe? Please share.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Quick guide to roasting pumpkin.

This gourd is so versatile. You can have it for breakfast, lunch, snack, dessert and dinner. Taking the advantage that it is now in season I have canned and frozen some roasted pumpkin puree for later use.

Pumpkins are rich in Vitamin A, which helps with eyesight. They are high in fiber, potassium and vitamin C to improve your heart health. Beta-carotene benefits our immune system.  

Remember to always buy firm pumpkins, without blemishes. 

Turn the oven to 375F (180C).
Wash the pumpkin. Cut in half and scoop out all the seeds. 
Once the pumpkin is clean, place it cut side down on a parchment lined cookie sheet and put in the oven. 
Smaller pumpkins take about 50 minutes to roast.
Remove from the oven, carefully scoop out the flesh. 

If you do not use it all right away, you can freeze it or store in a fridge for a week. 

To freeze, wait for the pumpkin to cool and than scoop out the flesh to a container or ziplock bag. I like to keep my portions at 250 ml (1 cup) as this is the amount most recipes that I use call for.

The same recipe can be applied to butternut squash.

It beats the canned stuff and does not require a lot of work. 

Do you use a lot of pumpkin?