Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Teefers & Pretzel Candy Corn Bark!

Happy Halloween!   If you are looking for a themed after school snack to surprise your Little's, or perhaps you need a last minute sweet to bring to a Hallow's eve party, I've got two treats to share with you!  One is healthy(ish), and the other is definitely not!  But, both are fun, deeeelicious, fast and easy!

Halloween Teefers

Apples (I used Macintosh) 
Peanut Butter/Nutella/Nutbutter/cookiebutter
mini-marshmallows/candycorn/almond slivers
Optional: lemon juice

Take an apple and cut first into quarters, then into wedges, leaving the peel around the wedge to resemble lips.  Spread each slice of apple on one side with peanut butter, or nutella, or nut butter of your choice.
For the "teeth", you can use almond slivers, mini-marshmallows, or corn candy.  Place the "teeth" on top of the spread of your choice, and then place another apple slice on top with spread facing down to make an apple slice sandwich.
If these will be laying out for a bit, rub the cut portions of the apple with lemon juice to prevent browning.

White Chocolate Candy Corn Pretzel Bark
Adapted from: i heart nap time

This recipe requires a bit more fore-thought, and ingredients outside of regular pantry staples, but is still relatively easy to throw together!

Waffle pretzels (enough to line a small cookie sheet)
1 cup Butter
1 Cup brown Sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 Package White chocolate chips
Candy Corn
optional add ons: dried fruit and raisins, and peanuts.

Preheat oven to 400F.  Line a small cookie sheet with parchment paper, and place waffle pretzel side by side covering the whole of the sheet, set aside.
In a medium pot, on medium-high heat, melt butter, and add brown sugar.  Stir until ingredients begin to boil, and add vanilla.  Remove from heat, and immediately pour caramel evenly over the pretzels. You'll need to be fast and gentle at the same time, so the pretzels don't swim around!
Bake for 5-8 minutes.  Remove from oven and sprinkle white chocolate chips over the sugary pretzel, return to the oven for another minute or so, for the chips to melt faster. Remove from oven, and spread the melted chips carefully with a spatula, and then add your candy corn, and dried fruits, and peanuts.  Allow to cool, and harden, about an hour in the fridge/freezer.  Using the tip of a butter knife, break into small pieces of bark!

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Seasoned Pumpkin Seeds

Have you carved out your Jack o' Lanterns yet?  This years selection of Jack faces, were greatly influenced by movie characters, and chosen by our 4 year old.  These were a bit more complicated, and I did not attempt to draw them freestyle!  I found a great selection of free templates from Pumpkin Pile, and let Presley choose which ones he wanted from the website, and printed out the templates.  Another fave is Zombie Pumpkins.  The only downfall to their site is that you have to pay for the patterns, but they have an awesome selection, especially for more grown-up tastes. check them out Once you've got your pumpkins all hollowed out, don't throw away your seeds!   In the time that is takes to carve your Jack, you could have a delicious, and healthy snack!

I love pumpkin seeds, hull and all, and prefer the plain ol' traditional flavour.  This year, though, I got crazy and tried some new spice combos!  My surprising new fave is Cinnamon Sugar!  Give it a try!

Traditional Oven Roasted
1-2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1-2 teaspoons seasoning salt (I like Lawry's)

I've never been one to boil my seeds, or clean them for that matter, I like the stringy bits of pumpkin goo - the salt clings to them so deliciously, and imparts a deeper earthy flavour to the seeds. 

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Using a large baking sheet toss the pumpkin seeds with about a Tablespoon of olive oil and teaspoon of seasoning salt, and spread in an even layer.  Bake until the seeds begin to brown, 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the seeds.  Give them a stir about every 5 minutes so they brown evenly, and don't burn.  Add more seasoning when you toss, if you wish.  Remove from oven, and let the pumpkin seeds cool all the way down before eating.

Cinnamon Sugar
2 1/2 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1 Tablespoon Sesame oil
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon sesame seeds
2 teaspoons ginger
pinch of cayenne

1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sunday Funday = Floating Ghosties & Jack o' Lantern Jars!

It's been a while since I've shared a Sunday Funday activity for the kids, so, today I'll bring you two!  Both of these fun Halloween activities are spookily simple, and economical too!  The Jack o' Lantern jars, can easily be stored away, or re-purposed into a pencil or paintbrush holder, or filled with candy for a gift!  And once you've made the ghosts, you can reuse the tablecloths, or cheesecloths over and over, all you'll need next year are balloons!  I put these up ahead of time to Halloweenify the yard, but if you throw them together last minute, you could put a glow stick in the balloon, for a glowing floatie ghostie!  OOooOOooo!

Floating Ghosties
Gather your Materials:
Jute or String (2 strands)
Balloon (s)
Black Sharpie marker
Round white plastic tablecloth (Dollerama) OR large Cheesecloth (Superstore)

Open the plastic tablecloth, and find the centre.  I pierced holes using a pair of scissors, and then inserted jute from the inside.  This will be the string that hangs from your tree, so size it accordingly.

Place the balloon inside the tablecloth, so the string that you'll hang it with, is at the top of the "head".  Tie the tablecloth at the bottom of the balloon with another strand of jute, to secure balloon.

If it's the plastic tablecloth - draw your ghostiest face directly onto the tablecloth!
Or...If you're using the cheesecloth... can basically follow the same instructions!  However, if you try to make the ghostie face on the cheesecloth, the ink will bleed into the strands of fabric.  Draw your face on the balloon, before wrapping in the cheesecloth!

Hang from tree branches in your yard, or along a porch, where they can swing spookily in the wind!

Jack o' Lantern Jars

Gather your Materials:
Recycled Jars - Clean with labels removed
Orange Paint
Black Paint
(or whatever colours your children choose!)
Tea lights

My kids just wanted to do "normal" Jack o' Lanterns, but I've seen people get super duper creative with this craft, and do Frankenstein, or ghost faces, and cover them in a waterproof mylar coating, and get completely crazy.  I am not that type of crafter.  Cheap. Easy. Simple?  That's my style.  The kids took a paintbrush and coated the outside of the jar in the orange paint, allowed it to dry, and then came back to paint on the facial expression, or for Presley who is all about Batman right now, I painted the Batman Symbol for him.
Place a tealight inside, and checkout their ghoulish glow!

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pizza Chicken!

Yes, you read that correctly! Your eyes/my English is just fine!  Not Chicken PizzaPizza Chicken!  This is another one of my mom's recipes, one of my childhood faves.  One of those recipes that I've made myself so many times, I've made it my own, to suite the way my family likes it.  The recipe book I have pictured was a gift from my mom as part of care package when I first moved to Calgary.  It's dated April 1999, and my mom wrote out a few of her recipe standards to get me started.  Awwww:)  This book has been well used and much loved, as you can see! 
 It starts with taking boneless, skinless, chicken breasts, and flattening them to the thickness of a pizza crust.  Then dredging them in flour, eggs, breadcrumbs, and pan frying them; so the chicken stays crispy.
My mom, in her original recipe, would simply top the chicken with sauce and mozzarella cheese.  Simple and easy, probably why I liked it so much as a kid.
 But my way is to top the flattened out chicken breasts, just as you would a pizza crust: with tomato sauce, beef & sausage, onions, and olives, and top with Mozzarella cheese and Italian herbs.  
 More meat, on meat?  That's Cory's way (duh)!
 Maybe you like my style more?  Top the chicken with tomato sauce, onions, garlic, fresh chopped spinach (lots of it!), feta cheese, and a small amount of mozza, and herbs.
 Bake it all up together, and serve it along with buttered egg noodles(something the kids don't complain about!), or spaghetti squash (gluten free/paleo), and a tonne of steamed vegetables!

Pizza Chicken
2-3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, flattened
2 eggs
salt & pepper
1 cup flour
1/2 cup breadcrumbs/panko
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
Pizza toppings: tomato sauce, onions, garlic, sausage, olives, spinach & feta, shredded mozza, etc.

2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, flattened.
(I place chicken in a clean plastic bag, and flatten with a wooden mallet, then throw away the bag when finished - easy cleanup!)
In a small bowl add 2 eggs, season with salt & pepper, and beat together. set aside
In another small bowl, mix together, 1/2 cup bread crumbs or panko, and 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese. set aside.
Also,one more small bowl, with about 1 cup flour.

Dredge flattened chicken first in flour, then in egg, then in bread crumbs, and then transfer to a hot greased pan, and brown on both sides.  The chicken does not need to be completely cooked. once browned transfer to large rectangular baking dish.  Top as you would a pizza according to your preference.
Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, or until chicken is thoroughly cooked, and cheese is melted.
Serve with buttered noodles, or pesto orzo, and steamed vegetables.


Friday, October 18, 2013

Decadent Raw Cacao Brownies

One of the instructors at the gym was recently was discussing with class members, how you cannot out train a bad diet.  To this I totally agree!  You can't exercise, and then expect to go and nosh on cake and ice cream, and expect to see dramatic results!  But at the same time, even if you are eating extremely healthy, you won't get fit and toned without exercise!  Diet and exercise go hand-in-hand! 
There can certainly be allot more to it than that though, with our lives being so busy, and full of all sorts of stresses; which can all be contributing factors to weight gain, or distract us from our goals!   What we also discussed was how so many people feel entitled - you did the workout so you deserve that treat, or new shoes, or whatever.  We convince ourselves us this to justify the indulgence!  
This goes straight down to our spoiled children!  Myself, and my kids included!  I hardly even take my children shopping with me anymore, as even though we've already discussed before hand, how "we're only going to the store for this or that", "we are not shopping for toys", and "DO NOT ask me for anything".  **sigh** ...all the mama's out there, you hear me on this, right?

I do my workout every weekday morning, and maybe perhaps one day I won't want chocolate, but more realistically, I am going to crave chocolate!  And when that time comes, I would like to reach for a treat that won't omit my workout, and I don't have to feel any guilt over!  Filled with healthy nuts, cacao, and sweetened by dates, these brownies are decadent, and totally delicious!   Cut them into small bite-sized squares, for when that craving hits, and stick to your goals!

Raw Brownies 
Recipe Adapted from: Sweetly Raw

1 cup almonds
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 pecans
1 cup (about 13-15) pitted medjool dates
1/3 cup cacao powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon himalayan salt
1/2 - 1 teaspoon water, or as needed

Line an 8x8 baking dish with parchment paper, and set aside.  Add the almonds to food processor, and pulse/blend until completely ground.  Add the pitted dates, walnuts, cacao, and salt, and blend until broken down. Add vanilla and water, and pulse to combine.  Squeeze a small amount in between your fingers - it should hold together, add more water if needed for a stickier consistency that will hold together.
Add brownie base to prepared dish, and press down evenly with fingers. Place dish in the fridge to firm up, while you prepare the frosting, which is totally optional.

Raw Chocolate Frosting
The original recipe calls coconut nectar, coconut butter, and coconut oil; none of which I had on hand!  I just improvised with coconut oil, and was pleasantly pleased with the results!

1/2 cup coconut oil
1 Tablespoon vanilla
1/4 cup cacao powder
2 Tablespoons agave

Using a medium sized bowl, cream all ingredients together using a hand mixer.
Spread the frosting over the chilled brownie base, and place in the fridge or freezer to firm up completely.  


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ginger Pumpkin Cake with Brown Butter Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Sorry for not giving you any pre-Thanksgiving related posts, but I was busy enjoying the extra day off, and celebrating with family and friends!  I'm sharing this recipe with you maybe too late for your Thanksgiving feast, but this recipe would be a great fall themed treat anytime.  I brought this Ginger Pumpkin Cake to our orphan's Thanksgiving feast hosted by some lovely friends of ours.  What's Orphan's Thanksgiving, you ask?  It's a gathering of all those who cannot make/afford the trip home to be with their blood relatives.  But our motley crew has become pretty close over the years, and are our Calgary non-family family!

Our Thanksgiving hosts have built an ingenious outdoor smoker, and smoked up a huge feast!  Smoked butternut squash with brown sugar and rosemary, smoked carrots with oregano, and garlic smoked ham with honey glaze and chilli powder = So Good! 

The rest of the invited guests each brought a dish to share, and we had ourselves a potluck style feast. 
Good Food, great friends, and (no offence) no family drama!

I'm so glad I did not bring home the leftovers of this cake, although I can't stop thinking of it and craving it. It's fall, so obviously pumpkin cakes and bars and treats are everywhere.  But what makes this cake so fab is the frosting!  So. So. Good.  If you're gonna add butter, you might as well brown it! And anything with cream cheese is a winner for me, but the hint of maple playing in the background is what makes this frosting absolutely killer!

Ginger Pumpkin Cake
Recipe Adapted From: Simply Scratch
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
3 eggs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Prepare your baking dish by lightly greasing with butter, then dust with flour (tap out any excess flour and discard).   
I used a round bundt pan, but you could also use an 8x5 loaf pan.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, all spice, and salt.  In a large bowl, cream together the sugars, pumpkin, butter, and eggs. Next add in the flour mixture, and stir until just combined.  Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until and toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool for about 10 minutes in the pan, then invert the pan and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

 Brown Butter Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

1/2 cup butter, browned & cooled
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon maple extract
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 - 3 cups icing sugar

Heat a small skillet over medium/medium-high heat.  Add in the butter. The butter should instantly start to melt, keep stirring, until the butter bubbles and then gets frothy, keep stirring a take off heat, you'll notice the butter brown, and a delicious nutty aroma.  Set aside to cool.
Using a medium bowl, add the cooled brown butter, cream cheese, maple syrup, and vanilla, using a hand mixer cream together.  Add the icing sugar a cup at a time, until you reach your desired consistency.  Frost your cooled cake, and top with chopped candied ginger, for that extra somthin'!


Friday, October 11, 2013

Popcorn Au Naturel

Super duper Goodwill score!  I found this genuine Whirley-Pop, for only $4.00!!!  Amazing!  I've seen stove top popcorn makers in the stores, but their pretty pricey.  It's hard to justify spending $30.00 or more on something I can do in a pot or with my air popper.  I mean, you all know I'm obsessed with popcorn, right?  I use my old school air popper at least once per week, and it's never done me wrong.  But it's getting older, and now has electrical tape around the cord, and a cracked lid, so that it sometimes pops off, but I ignored its aging faults.  
But this Whirley-pop is so beautiful, it takes virtually no time to pop up a batch, I've even managed not to burn a batch yet, which is a feat for me on the stove top.  The kids love to be the handle cranker's, and the popcorn it makes is absolutely deeeeeelicious!   

The popcorn the Whirley-Pop creates is so crunchy and flavourful, I found it required virtually no additional oil or toppings.  Just coconut oil, and a bit of sea salt, and it's done!  If you can manage to save some for the next day, I swear it tastes even better a day old!  Extra crunchy and more buttery flavoured...How?  Dunno. So good, don't question it!

1-2 Tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
a pinch or two of sea salt

Place Whirley-Pop over medium-high heat.  Add 1-2 Tablespoons of coconut oil and popcorn kernels to the pot.  Close the lid and turn the crank slowly.  Keep turning the crank until you start to hear the popping slow down.  Remove from heat.  When popping stops, pour the popcorn into a large bowl, add salt, and toss slightly.  Serve! 


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Slow Cooker Chili & Corn Bread

To me nothing is more comforting in the fall than a hearty, filling meal.  One family fave is Chili.  This is the way my mom made it growing up, almost like a refrigerator surprise type dish, a way to clean out the crisper! With the addition of whatever vegetables were nearing their demise, use mushy tomatoes in lieu of canned, add carrots, or squash, whatever!   It never turns out the exact same way twice!  Our family recipe is chock full of vegetables and beans, so much so, that you could easily omit the meat, and go full force vegetarian.
This recipe is very adaptable and could even stay on the stove top, rather than transferring to the slow cooker.

Slow Cooker Chili

1 lb lean ground beef, or ground turkey, or chicken, or no meat!
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 onions, chopped
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
2 green peppers, seeded and chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2-4 Tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2-3 Tablespoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon  ground black pepper
1 can (28 oz/796 ml) whole tomatoes (break up tomatoes with spoon, or squeeze in hand)
1 can (19 oz/540 ml) mixed beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (19 oz/540 ml) red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (19 oz/540 ml) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (19 oz/540 ml) garbanzo bean or navy beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (11.5oz/341 ml) corn niblets, or about 1 cup frozen corn 
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste

Top of Form
Bottom of Form
In a large pan on medium high heat, brown your beef (or chicken or turkey).  Drain the grease, and then transfer beef to your slow cooker.  In same pan (no need to wash pan!) add celery, onion, garlic, red and green peppers, and saute for a minute or two until softened.  Add to vegetable your spices: chili powder, oregano, cumin, salt & pepper. Transfer veg to slow cooker.  Stir in tomatoes, chickpeas, and all your beans.
Cover and cook on low until vegetables are tender, 6 to 8 hours.  Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary, if you find it too acidic - add a Tablespoon of sugar!
Serve topped with Cheddar cheese, or sour cream and fresh chopped cilantro, and of course fresh baked corn bread.

We didn't serve it with cornbread growing up, but in my home, it must always be served with this sweet and light version of cornbread, or I'll never hear the end of it!

Corn Bread

1 cup milk or buttermilk (I add a tablespoon or 2 of lemon juice to 2% milk, as cheater buttermilk)
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 egg
1 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400 F.  Prepare an 8x8 dish, or muffin tins, by greasing with butter or spray with oil.
In a large bowl beat together cooled butter, with milk and eggs.  Add all remaining ingredients to bowl, and stir all at once until flour is just moistened.  Batter will be lumpy!  Pour batter into prepared dish or tins, and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Buffalo Chicken & Black Bean Quesadillas

We are back into the hectic season of school, work, and extra curricular activities, with minimal daylight to boot!  Something fast and easy is what's on the menu pretty much every night.
These quesadillas are a perfect solution to the rush!  They are a perfect use for leftover chicken, or if you like to grab those ready-to-serve rotisserie chicken from the store.  Or try one of my shortcuts -  using your slow cooker, with about a cup or two of water, and add salt and pepper to the water along with some fresh chopped or pickled jalapenos, place in frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts, and cook on low for 4-6 hours.
The fully-cooked chicken is super moist and flavourful, and ready to shred and add the creamy buffalo sauce ingredients!  This only takes a few minutes to throw together, at the end of a long day, hooray!
For the picky little ones in your home, simply make a plain cheese quesadilla, and everybody is happy!

Buffalo Chicken & Black Bean Quesadillas
2 -3 cups cooked and shredded chicken (leftovers or rotisserie or slow cooked)
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1-2 cups shredded cheddar and/or Monteray Cheese
1/4 cup Franks Red Hot sauce (or other wing sauce)
1/4 - 1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
2 green onions, chopped
salt & pepper to taste

In a small bowl combine chicken (re-heat if necessary), sour cream, wing sauce, black beans, and salt and pepper to taste. 
Pre-heat a large non-stick pan to medium heat.
Place tortilla on the heated skillet, on one half of the tortilla sprinkle about 1/8 cup cheese, then spread roughly 1/4 cup chicken mixture as evenly as possible, and sprinkle more cheese on top.  Fold un-used half of tortilla over top of chicken, so you half a half-moon shape - this allows you to use the same pan to make two quesadillas at a time, and they are much easier to flip!
Cook for about 3-4 minutes or until bottom side is golden brown, flip and cook for another 2-3 minutes or until cheese is melted.  Continue until you run out of tortillas or fillings!
Garnish with additional sour cream and/or salsa, and/or guacamole, diced green onions and/or sliced avocado, and serve with salsa'd rice and a salad!