Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas Recap: Part II

Ask anyone what comes to mind when you say 'Christmas' and I bet the answer you'll get is 'gifts'.
Well, that or Santa most likely.
In that vain, I'd like to share with you my gift intake this past Christmas.
I got some good ones.
John stuck with a theme and equipped me with almost everything I'll need when we go camping again in the spring/summer. I got a sleeping pad, a travel towel, my first ever swiss army knife (I used to covet my parent's knives since they had toothpicks and tweezers - now mine does too!), a head lamp (really excited about that one cause I always always steal John's), and water proof storage bags plus some extras. I also got a new super cozy bath robe, a Best Buy gift certificate, a pan and cookbook for Ebelskivers, a brie baker, cheese plates, a beautiful sweater, homemade cold remedies (greatly appreciated!), a charm to add to my bracelet, a Michael's gift card plus cupcake decorating kit, and my parents along with John's parents went in and got us a brand new flat screen TV. It's heaven. I got John a PS3 so we're all set.
He's playing Red Dead Redemption while I attempt to tidy....maybe the gift wasn't the best idea....
Anyway I got some other things as well but they're in the box that I can't see and therefore cannot recall. I know there's dish towels, lots of great hand cream, OOOOOOO! I don't know how I forgot about these until just now!
Arguably one of my favourite gifts -
ballet flats that fold up so you can keep them in your purse when you go out on the town and can put them on when your heels start to rub the skin off of your feet. THE BEST IDEA EVER!
I read awhile ago about vending machines I think in London that have them but now I have my very own pair and a stylish litle drawstring bag in which to keep them.

Hope everyone else got great stuff!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas Recap

My family is big on tradition.
My birthday dinners (save for one year) are always spent sitting down to a giant bowl of spaghetti and meatballs at the Spaghetti Factory.
Christmas is the time of year where it becomes apparent how closely we hold our traditions to our hearts.
It started well over 10 years ago, though I can't seem to pin down the exact year. I know we were doing it the Christmas I was 12 and we likely had done it the year before.
Each Christmas Eve, my family (including John, now a 4 year veteran) gets into the car and we drive downtown to Nathan Phillip's Square. It used to be that Robin and I strapped on our skates, toes frozen, and circled the rink a few times. Nowadays tradition has become watching the other skaters and taking pictures of all the lights.
Once we've had our fill we walk to the Spadina Garden Restaurant for dinner, being sure to pass by the high rise buildings, prompting Dad to tell us the story about the old woman who froze to death on her balcony when she accidently got locked out of her apartment. Morbid? Yes, but my dad's need to tell a really good story even though he's forgotten that he told us the year before means that it's tradition.
It used to be that we went to the Hoo Wa (I'll check spelling at a later date) but that has since closed down. I even cut out the article in the paper that accompanied it's closing down.
Nathan Phillip's Square on Christmas Eve

The Christmas Tree was moved to the other side of the square this year. We had a momentary panic, thinking it was gone. John made a funny joke about Rob Ford really stopping the gravy train.
This year was weird without Robin. But we'll hopefully be doing it all over again for Christmas round 2 when she comes home in a month.
This year in an effort to save money, I put together Christmas goodie tins for people.
The tins I got from Dollarama (natch) for $1, $1.50, and $2 depending on size.
I adorned them in gold ribbon and added a jingle bell, an ornament, and a cracker, all from Dollarama.

Inside the tins were coconut lace cookies, chocolate espresso snow-caps, sugar cookies, peppermint fudge, and chocolate cheesecake truffles (AMAZING, will post recipe!).

Okay I have to go pick up John from work!
Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas!
I'll have to fill you all in on my gifts tomorrow :)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Santa Came Early!

Congratulations to my best friend Tracy and her wonderful new fiance Tyler.
Tyler proposed to the most amazing girl in the world on the 23rd in England in the same place where his own mother got married.
Tracy - you are the most beautiful, caring, fiercely loyal, entertaining, and amazing friend I could have ever asked for.
You've gotten me through some rough times and been beside me through the great ones. Never once in our 12 years of friendship have I ever questioned our bond.
You've got yourself a good one who will treat you right and will love you forever.
He's a romantic at heart - and has great taste in rings!
You're a lucky girl, Tracy.
And Tyler's a lucky guy to have you as his soon-to-be wife!
And we are all lucky to have you in our lives.
Congratulations to you both, Tracy & Tyler.
I love you both soooo much and I am completely overwhelmed with happiness and love at the news of your engagement!
Hope everyone else has a Christmas Eve with as much love and joy as those two :)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Movie Clip Countdown: What's This!?

LOVE this song

How I Spent My Christmas Vacation

I've been off work for a little while and I've been absolutely loving it.
I've watched Home Alone 2: Lost in New York and Elf, and made sugar cookies, chocolate espresso snowcaps, coconut brandy cookies, peppermint fudge, gingerbread men, champagne truffles (didn't add enough chocolate, may need to do a fixer-upper mission), and I currently have early grey tea cookies and green tea cookies in the freezer awaiting their turn in the oven.
A week and a bit ago, the baking extravaganza was kicked off with the most intense chocolate cheesecake the world has ever seen.

My friend Kashyap brought this idea to my attention last summer and we we had been trying to plan a date to create it. Unfortunately in the summer I had to cancel our original bake-day as I picked up this weird awful stomach bug from the bar I had been to the night before and couldn't get out of bed.
Just terrible luck.
Anyway, a couple of Fridays ago we finally put the recipe to the test and created that monster which you see above you.
Oreo crumb crust.
Cream cheese middle filled with pieces of mars bars and skor bars.
Topped with a thin layer of butterscotch.
Topped with a slightly thicker layer of melted chocolate.
Topped even further with more peices of mars bars and peppermint patties.
We brought it into work with us the next day and honestly could not even finish a sliver of a piece in one sitting. It is the most intensely rich cake one could ever imagine eating.
No joke, one of the guys we were working with is diabetic and he gave himself an injection of insulin just so he could try some!
Hahaha and true to my love of nursing I wanted to ask him if I could do the injection for him. But I held back.
This past Saturday marked the 5th Annual Bad Christmas Sweater Party.
It was amazing.

John made meatballs and I made pulled pork and ciabatta.

We tried not to have as much food as last year (waaayyy too many leftovers) so our spread consisted of some chips, those empty bowls were later filled with pot-stickers, spring rolls, and some other type of Asian hors d'oeuvres which I forget. There was some keilbasa and a cheese platter which disappeared almost before it was put on the table.

Fontina (very reasonably priced), goat cheese, a bit of cheddar, and brie baked with apricots and figs, drizzled with a bit of maple syrup.

And since no Sweater Party would be complete without a group shot:

We thought the staircase would make it look like a really nice family portrait :)

Well that's all for today - I've got to get those cookies in the oven!

Monday, December 20, 2010

This clip is (perhaps unintentionally) hilarious. The song? Does not work with this movie. However finding the best of max clips I wanted was not yeilding any results so here ya go. Enjoy some choice clips from perhaps the best Christmas movie around.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I Love Christmas Sweaters

Tonight marks the 5th anniversary of the Bad Christmas Sweater Party!
I have to say, I wish I had found a better sweater to properly commemorate 5 years of awful tacky sweaters but I will wear the one I found loud and proud.
I even bought a 'trophy' this year for the winner of the best/worst sweater.

For your entertainment, here are some beauties I googled.

I wish. I wish I could have found this somewhere.
The 10th party. I will create this masterpiece with my own two hands.

And if only I dared....

And while not everyone might appreciate a holiday wardrobe malfunction, I think everyone can appreciate a really good couple shot. I am going to photoshop (read: microsoft paint) my face and John's face onto these shiny, happy people:

And to cap off this post (the 'cap' will be a pun in a sense in a minute, wait for it) here's a recipe for cookies I plan to make this afternoon!

Chocolate Espresso Snowcaps

  • In a medium bowl, sift together 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 cup cocoa, 4 tsp espresso powder, 1 tsp baking powder, and 1/8 tsp salt. With an electric mixer, cream 4 tbsp butter and 2/3 cup brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in 1 egg until well combined; mix in 4 ounces melted, cooled chocolate. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture; beat in milk until just combined. Flatten dough into a disk; wrap in plastic. Freeze until firm, about 45 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Pour confectioners' sugar (about 1/2 cup) into a medium bowl; working in batches, roll balls in sugar two times, letting them sit in sugar between coatings.
  • Place on prepared baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake until cookies have spread and coating is cracked, 12 to 14 minutes; cookies will still be soft to the touch. Cool cookies on a wire rack.

  • Christmas Movie Clip Countdown: Home Alone

    My two favourite lines:

    Friday, December 17, 2010

    Christmas Movie Clip Countdown: Elf

    A Day of Cookies!

    At my placement for school I am on the health and wellness committee. Yesterday we held a raffle to raise money and in order to lure people upstairs to the lunch room we offered them hot chocolate and cookies. I brought in the cookies :)
    The hot chocolate was fun to make as we heated up about 6 bags of milk in a large pot and had to take shifts stirring it so that the milk wouldn't scald.
    I made sugar cookies (mittens, stars, trees, candy canes and snowflakes) and gingerbread men both big and small.
    You'll have to forgive me for these pictures - I forgot to bring over the wire that connects my camera to my computer. Luckily I took pictures of the cookies I made on my phone and just held them up to the camera on my computer - and thus we have awful quality pictures.
    But you get the idea.

    You can juuuuust make out the cookies. I'm sorry for the terrible quality.

    Today I'm going to get super crafty and bakey! Gift baskets need to be started and finished and I have to get ready for the bad xmas Sweater Party tomorrow night!
    It's the 5th year I've thrown it and I want to commemorate 5 years by doing something special for those who come, especially if they've made it all 5 years.

    I'm making some ciabatta and will start on more cookies soon!
    I also am determined to finally make the snowglobes I've always wanted to make!

    Tuesday, December 14, 2010

    Christmas Time is Here: All About Gingerbread

    I've been moved in to the house I am sitting (also sitting a dog and kitten) for a few days now. I just took the dog for a walk and shoveled the driveway.
    There is a lot of snow out there... I have a feeling I will be shoveling that driveway again tomorrow.
    Last night I made some dough for sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies.
    I love love love gingerbread - I think it' s the molasses flavour that really does it for me.
    There is so much more that you can do with gingerbread than just make gingerbread men.
    If you're looking for something new to do with gingerbread then look no further!

    Gingerbread Cheesecake
    I made this last year for the Bad Sweater Party and it is every bit as good as it looks.
    Chocolate Gingerbread Bars

    These look so good and seem like they would package well to take as a host/hostess gift to any holiday party you might attend in the next few days. For the recipe go here.

    Gingerbread Waffles
    Want gingerbread cookies for breakfast without the guilt? Problem solved.
    Chocolate Gingerbread House Petit-Fours

    These would make perfect place settings for a holiday dinner. For the recipe and how-to go here.

    Gingerbread Linzertorte
    This is a more elegant way of dressing up your gingerbread recipe and with a delicious raspberry jam filling, this is sure to be a crowd pleaser. For the recipe go here.

    I think tomorrow I will not only decorate my gingerbread cookies, but I will also attempt some fudge and the chocolate gingerbread bars!
    Off to work :)

    Friday, December 10, 2010

    Candy Gift Ideas

    Because I am slightly poor this year, I'm thinking about doing some candy gift baskets for Christmas.
    I know sometimes it seems like a cheap way out but I think it can be done in a very elegant way, especially if you make some delicious and unique candies.
    Here are some of the recipes I'm looking into:

    I've made truffles once or twice before and they're so good. They don't take too much effort to make and they can be dressed up and packaged to look very elegant.
    Peanut Butter Cups
    (with soy butter!)
    I've never tried making these - and it's been about 15 years since I've had one - so now that I've found and experimented with soy butter, I think I will attempt these! Perhaps for John's brother...
    Caramel Popcorn

    I used my Aunt Wendy's recipe and made some to take up to John's grandparents' cottage in the summer and it disappeared very quickly! I think this is a great idea for a Christmas gift since you can find some really cute tins to put it in AND it would go great in a movie-themed basket.

    More Fudge!

    I know I posted peppermint fudge the other day but these fudge cups are adorable. AND by making them in mini-muffin cups you can individualize each one.
    Peppermint Bark

    I've made this a few times and it's so easy to eat half of the entire thing simply because you don't realize how often you go over to break off another peice! I saw another Martha recipe for peppermint bark with crispy rice in it which I think I will try!

    That's it for now - though you can believe the recipes for some of these will be going up in no time.
    I have my (one and only) exam this afternoon! Then a christmas party, and then my friend and I are creating the most amazing Mars bar cheesecake the world has ever seen.
    It's going to be a night of gluttony!

    Wednesday, December 8, 2010

    I Want To Bake These Christmas Creations

    After Friday my days will be long and lazy. This means ample time to bake and experiment in the kitchen (as well as watch all of Dexter season 5, catch up on The Event, etc).
    I have a couple of friends planning on coming over to bake an entire life-sized gingerbread house with me (this may or may not realistically happen...) but I also wanted to start looking into what else I could make while I'm christmas baking.
    Here's what I've come up with so far.
    Mint swirl cupcakes - courtesy of What's Up Cupcake

    Peppermint Fudge (Martha)

    And a Buche de Noel/Yule Log (Martha).
    I made one last year but it didn't end up looking the way I had hoped. Tasted amazing but I want it to look proper this time around.
    Also - for anyone who needs gift ideas for me, may I suggest this very appropriate (for me), practical, and stylish handbag?

    Tuesday, December 7, 2010

    Eclairs - Properly!

    I'm back!

    And if not for good, at least for about a month!

    Classes ended on Thursday so now all I have left to do is finish 2 assignments and write one exam! Then done! And this will happen on Friday! Few more days and I get a month to get myself back to health and happiness!

    In my precious few spare moments I've tried to do some baking. It really is a huge stress reliever for me and helps me to clear and calm my mind.

    November was a month for birthday baking: Two of John's cousin's celebrated 19 and 16 and my amazing cake-decorating friend Danielle celebrated 24.

    I obviously used all 3 birthdays as an excuse to do some baking.

    For John's cousins I made sandwich cookies - mainly because I bought these fantastic edible markers from Michael's and wanted to use them!

    Sugar cookies with lemon curd filling

    My friend Danielle is a huge cake decorating buff - she's phenomenal! There's a link to her website on my essential readings list, make sure you check it out. She loves (and showed it to me so I am also now in love with) this blog called Cake Wrecks. It's hilarious and I highly recommend you give it a look over if you haven't already. One thing they feature every so often are these darling (sarcasm) little things called 'Naked-Mohawk Baby Carrot Jockeys'. What are baby carrot jockeys, you ask?

    Little babies who ride atop carrots.

    I searched for these bad boys on ebay and finally found some! I bought 20 of them for Danielle's decorating pleasure and made her 4 chocolate cupcakes and put the babies on marzipan carrots.

    I also made her eclairs - complete with puff pastry cream!

    Follow the recipe here for the choux pastry.
    To make the puff pastry cream:


    • Prepare an ice bath; set aside. In a medium bowl, combine 6 egg yolks, 1 egg, and 2 tbsp sugar. Add 3 tbsp cornstarch and 3 tbsp flour; whisk until smooth and pale yellow. Set aside.
    • In a medium saucepan, combine 3 cups milk and 3/4 cup sugar. Stir over medium-high heat until milk begins to steam. Whisking constantly, add half the hot milk to the egg-yolk mixture. Stir until smooth; add combined mixture back to remaining hot milk in the pan. Bring mixture to a boil, whisking rapidly to prevent scorching. Remove from heat, and stir in butter and vanilla. Strain through a fine sieve into a medium bowl.
    • Place over ice bath and let stand, stirring frequently, until cool. Remove from ice bath, and press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto surface until ready to use. If not using immediately, refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

      *It's best if you have a 'filler' attachment for either a cookie press or a pastry bag - cause otherwise the cream will be diffiult to get into the eclair! If you don't have a filler attachment, make profiteroles instead of eclairs.