Creamy Mashed Potatoes

Friday, November 30, 2012

For the longest time, I made mediocre mashed potatoes. However, once I came across some mashed potato recipes, I tried them and to my surprise they turned out really good! The key to obtaining that thick, sticky mashed potato dish is mixing with a mixer, hence the term here should be mixing not mashing. In all honesty I never EVER thought of using a mixer for mashed potatoes, but this is the trick that helps to make them sticky, thick and oh-so creamy! However, be warned! Overbeating can cause a gummy-like dish, since it breaks down cells and releases more of the starch. I love the mashed potatoes served at The Keg, so this recipe is as close to it as possible. Of course, I will try to perfect it over the years!

Creamy Mashed Potatoes
Prep time: 25 min        Cook Time: 25 min           Yield: 4 servings

- 4-6 medium potatoes (I use Yukon Gold), peeled and diced
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1/4 cup cream
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- Salt and pepper

1. Boil potatoes in a large pot until cooked thoroughly, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside. In a small saucepan, warm up milk, cream and butter. Add to potatoes and mash with a potato masher until chunky.
2. Using an electric mixer, beat potatoes on low speed for 30 seconds. Do not exceed one minute. If potatoes are too dry, add more milk/cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm.

If you want garlic mashed potatoes, either boil 2 cloves of minced garlic with the potatoes or add 1 tsp garlic powder when adding salt and pepper.

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Spinach and Onion Dip With Sour Cream

Thursday, November 29, 2012

With the holidays coming, I always find myself preparing some sort of appetizer for my guests. Whether I make it from scratch or just pop some frozen puff pastries in the oven, I make sure to always have something on hand. This appetizer is so yummy, healthy, and very easy to make! All you need is some spinach, onions, cheese, sour cream and whole grain pita breads and you're set! Enjoy!

Spinach and Onion Dip
Prep time: 5 min        Cook Time: 10 min           Yield: 4 servings

- 1 spinach bunch (about one pound), washed and chopped
- 1/2 tub sour cream
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 3 scallions, chopped
- 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 bag whole wheat pita bread (about 4 pitas)
- Pinch of salt and pepper to taste

1. In a frying pan, fry onion and garlic until soft, about 1 minute. Add spinach and fry until spinach is soft and almost wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the sour cream and stir until well combined and sour cream starts to heat up. Add mozzarella cheese and stir until melted. Season with salt and pepper. If you like it more cheesy or more runny, add either more cheese or sour cream.
2. Heat oven to 300°F. Cut pita bread into quarter slices. Place directly on lower racks of oven. Bake until crispy (about 5 minutes). Serve warm with dip.

For a lighter dip, omit the cheese, or sprinkle the finished product with 1 tbsp. of Parmesan cheese.
Substitute regular sour cream with light sour cream for a healthier take on this dip.

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My 10 Fave Holiday Movies

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Christmastime is the season to spend with your family and friends. And why not have a movie marathon to get you in the holiday spirit? Below is a list of my all-time favourites that I like watching while snuggled up with a big mug of hot chocolate!

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
This is my most favourite Christmas movie! I just cannot go a holiday without watching it once (or twice!). All Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) wants to do is have a nice fun-filled old-fashioned Christmas for him and his family. But things start slowly falling apart as the rest of the family start arriving. This movie will leave you laughing out-loud the entire time.
A Christmas Story
This is one that I recently started watching, and most of you have probably seen as well. This 1983 movie is based around Ralphie Parker(Peter Billingsley), a nine-year-old boy trying to convince his parents that he wants a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. The story is set in the 1940s and shows a more simpler time in US history.
It's A Wonderful Life
This 1946 movie always makes me cry, no matter how many times I watch it! It always makes you realize and be thankful for what you have. Similar to "the ghost of Christmas future", an angel named Clarence shows George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) what life would have been like if he was never born.
While I am not too fond of Will Ferrell's movies (don't hate!), I just love this Christmas movie. He played a very funny elf that, as a human boy, gets carried away mistakenly by Santa in his sleigh. As he grows up with the other elves, he notices he does not belong with them. So he leaves the North Pole and heads for the Big Apple. Follow him on his journey through his silly and hilarious journey through New York.
Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
There are two versions of this movie, a 1947 and a 1994 version. I have (in all honesty) never watched the 1947 version, but dearly love the 1994 version. I have always loved this movie - it makes you believe in Santa all over again! A young nine-year-old Susan Walker grew up never believing in Santa. But once she meets the Macy's department store Santa, who claims to be the real thing, she tests him by asking him for three things she wants most for Christmas: a house, a brother and a dad.
Christmas With the Kranks
Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis were wonderful together in this movie! Another true classic for me during this time of year. When Luther (Tim Allen) and Norah (Jamie Lee Curtis) decide to "skip" Christmas this year with their daughter gone to Peru, they soon find themselves throwing away their plans when their daughter suddenly decides to come home for Christmas after all.
The Family Stone
This is a nice comedy/drama movie that you can watch with your girlfriends or your significant other. Sarah Jessica Parker's character, Meredith who is an uptight business woman, meets her boyfriend's family during Christmastime. But she soon realizes that no one from his fun, rebellious family really like her. When Sybil (Diane Keaton) discovers that Everett (Dermot Mulroney) wants to propose to Meredith, she is appalled at the thought of Everett giving Meredith their family's heirloom wedding ring. However, things turn to what seems for the better by the end of the movie.
The Santa Clause
This is one of my favourite Disney Christmas movies. I liked the sequels, but the first one is my favourite! When Scott (Tim Allen) accidentally kills Santa by startling him and making him fall from the rooftop, Scott takes over as Santa due to some legal technicality known as the "Santa clause". As the year passes, Scott finds himself gaining weight, growing a white beard, and having trucks deliver sacks full of letters to Santa.
Home Alone
While there are 5 (I believe) sequels, I still love the first one as it is a classic. I haven't even watched the last 3, but plan to watch them this year. After Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) is left home alone, he thinks his wish that he made the day before of not having a family came true. He later discovers that he was mistakenly left by his family who is en route to France for a holiday vacation. He soon learns to fend for himself when thieves try to rob his house.

What are your favourite holiday movies?

Chocolate Pretzel Cookies

Friday, November 23, 2012

Hello and thanks for stopping by on this busy Black Friday. I don't live in the states, but many of our retailers here in Canada are taking part of this Black Friday mayhem and having deals of their own. So I will be stopping in our local mall and taking a peek to see what they have after work! Also, hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I made these cookies this week since we are all out of sweets in the house. It is not the first time I made them, nor will it be the last. I love the combination of sweet and salty in this cookie! Just perfection! Enjoy and have a great weekend!

Chocolate Pretzel Cookies
Prep time: 10 min        Cook Time: 8-10 min           Yield: 24-30 cookies

- 1 cup butter
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
- 1/4 cup large flake oats
- 1 tsp baking soda

- Pinch of salt 
- 1 cup pretzels, broken into pieces
- 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup rice krispies cereal

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. In a small bowl, cream together butter and both sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla extract. Mix until combined.
2. In a large bowl, combine flour, coconut, oats, baking soda, and salt. Stir well. Add flour mixture to butter mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon until combined. Add pretzel pieces, chocolate chips and rice krispies cereal until combined.
3. Drop teaspoonfuls of cookie dough onto parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Space out cookies 2-inches apart.
4. Bake in the center of the oven for 8 minutes for chewy cookies or 10 minutes for crispier cookies. Cool cookies on wire racks before eating!

Instead of chocolate chips, use chocolate pieces for "chocolate chunk" cookies.
For a nuttier take on these cookies, add peanut butter chips.
For a different take, add crushed chocolate covered pretzels. But make sure to reduce either the amount of chocolate chips or sugar from the recipe, or it will be too sweet!

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Bathroom Reno Reveal

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Hello and thanks for stopping by! First off, Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers!! Hope you have a great day and the rest of the holiday weekend! I have been talking about my bathroom reno for the past month or so now, and I am happy to say that our bathroom reno is finally complete!

So you have probably heard me talking about my bathroom reno that we started last week. I am happy to say that after 8 days of working on it, the bathroom is finally complete! When we first bought this house last year, I didn't think too much of the bathroom since it looked clean and useable (believe me, during our house hunting days, there were a couple homes whose bathrooms were very far from this statement). And since it was a neutral colour with a white cabinet, I thought it was a perfect design. Oh, little did I know that this colour (you have probably heard me say this over and over again...every. single. room. is painted the same colour!) would be eating me alive after only a few short months. I didn't like the fact that it was the same colour as my bedroom, living room, dining room, and kitchen. Need I say more?

So, after convincing my hubby to redo the bathroom, we started our bathroom shopping. Now, this process took a while. We had a budget in mind, and didn't want to spend more than what we wanted on this tiny little bathroom. So we looked for sales and deals where we could. And we did find them! The vanity, vanity top, shower faucets, and extras in the bathroom were all on sale. Yay! So lets walk you through this bathroom before the reno:

And like I mentioned before, we barely  had any room to store our things. As you can see, everything was laid out on the counter. I thought I had a pretty good organizational system underneath the counter, but after a few weeks I was sick of searching for my hair spray and comb. So I had no choice. 

The light fixture...need I say more? I think every standard bathroom built comes with these. Nothing special...just provides the basic light. Not anything pretty! Oh and the standard ol' mirror...again nothing pretty.

The tiles...those ugly, yellowy tiles. I think these were the originals from when the house was built in the 70's. I'm sorry, I don't mean to hate on them, they were probably pretty to the previous owners. But I personally don't like them. And plus that 2-handle faucet and shower head kept dripping non-stop. Another reason to update the bathroom, no?

My dad helped us with this reno. He is such a good handyman, and hubby really learns a lot too. We had to take down the soap holder and towel rod first. We bought the plastic tub walls, and what was great about them was that they can be placed right over top the tiles....easy peasy!

Since we were upgrading from a two-handle faucet to a single-handle faucet, we had to cut out holes in the wall for that. I am so happy to be done with this old faucet!

And just a touch of greenery I added to the bathroom when we moved in to give it more texture. I guess it worked for only so long!

So after 8 days of working on it, running out to the hardware store some 20 times (the pipes are old, things went wrong and needed to be replaced), our bathroom is finally complete! Here are the pictures! The wall paint is Behr "Light French Gray".

I just have to mention that I love this mirror! I bought it at BouClair Home and it fit the perfect size that we needed in this space. I love how the brass nickel matches the door handles, light, towel rod and toilet holder.

A closer look at the detail on the mirror.

The vanity light. A very classy update from what we previously had!

I spray painted the floral pot in a cream colour. I like it for now, but am thinking of spray painting it blue to add some colour in here and match the walls.

And the shower. Updating the faucet and shower head feels like heaven now! And the tub walls add so much space for the bodywash and shampoo bottles. There are four shelves in total, but the right side is hidden in this picture by the shower curtain. Also, replacing the shower curtain with a white one really made the inside of the tub look and feel big when showering! What a major improvement!

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A Little Christmas Spirit

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hello friends! Thanks for stopping by! The tree and the outdoors are finally decorated with Christmas spirit over here! I will post the decor soon. I just need some time to take the photos! This one was a quick picture of my favourite ornament.

PS - come back tomorrow to see my bathroom reveal! It is finally complete and I have pictures to post!

Why I Eat One Brazil Nut Daily

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Recently I have been researching online about the many health benefits of nuts. 'Tis the season to bake with nuts, and so I wanted to learn just how healthy they are. I am familiar with Brazil nuts, but have never really known just how healthy they are until I did a recent search online. And now, I make sure to eat one (or two) a day at work.
So why are they so super healthy? For starters, they are filled with selenium, and is one of the best sources of it. Selenium is an antioxidant, and antioxidants help prevent cellular damage and may reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers. Selenium is also found to improve the immune system against viral and bacterial infections. However, because only one Brazil nut contains up to 100 micrograms of selenium (the daily recommended amount is 400 micrograms), it is recommended to eat up to two Brazil nuts a day to avoid selenium overdose. Brazil nuts are also high in unsaturated fats, which help reduce chronic inflammation, and are known as the "good" fats that help raise your HDL, or "good", cholesterol and lower your LDL, or "bad", cholesterol. Brazil nuts are also rich in other vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6 and folates. And they contain high levels of certain minerals such as copper, magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron, phosphorus and zinc.

Creamy Tomato Basil Spaghetti

Friday, November 16, 2012

Happy Friday! It's finally the end of the work week and the beginning of another great weekend. This week was super busy for us, since we are working on our bathroom renovation. It has been a slow-going project since the house is old, the plumbing is old, and things needed to be updated to standards. And therefore I haven't had the time to really cook or bake. We ate out a couple times, ate left-overs from the weekend, and made a frozen pizza one night. Needless to say, this recipe was from the weekend. It is a yummy and filling recipe that uses the new "Philadelphia Cooking Creme". I substituted regular pasta sauce with this cooking creme, and added a bit more mozzarella cheese to make it cheesier (I love cheese!). Have a great weekend! Be sure to come back next week to see the bathroom reveal!

Creamy Tomato Basil Spaghetti
Prep time: 15 mins        Cook Time: 25 min           Yield: 4 servings

- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tomato, diced
- 1 tub Philadelphia Cooking Creme, Tomato and Basil flavour
- Mozzarella cheese, grated
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 chicken breast, cooked and cubed (optional)
- 1 tsp basil

1. Cook pasta according to package directions in a large saucepan. Drain once cooked. Leave pasta in saucepan.
2. Heat oil in medium skillet. Add onions and garlic and saute to allow flavours to mix together, about 3 minutes. Add cooking creme and stir, allowing the creme to melt into a smooth sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.
3. Add sauce mixture to pasta. Stir until well combined. Add chicken and tomato. Garnish with mozzarella and basil. Serve immediately.

Use bacon instead of chicken.
Add mushrooms and/or broccoli for more flavour.

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12 Days of Christmas Cookies Series

Thursday, November 15, 2012

With the Christmas season in full swing now, I have begun to think about the food that will be served during this season. This is my most favourite time of the year - it brings a feeling of comfort, joy and happiness to me. I love getting together with family and friends, talking into the late night hours while munching on some cookies. I love the smell of sweet vanilla and sugar that fills the home. This is a nice memory of my childhood. I grew up in a home where my mom loved to bake a variety cookies and pastries and my dad loved eating them! And naturally, being surrounded by this I have grown to especially love baking during the holiday season. I always make sure to have something sweet for whoever drops by. Because it is just me and the hubby, we go to both sides of the family for Christmas dinner (or should I say dinners!). So I like to see myself in charge of the dessert side of the dinner!

This year, I was wanting to try an assortment of cookies and types, and maybe even take a crack at some cookies made in different countries. As I tend to do my research before starting to do the work, I was looking online for Christmas cookie inspirations. And boy did I find many! Since I just heart Pinterest, I created a board specifically geared for Christmas cookies 2012! And thus I decided to do a "12 days of Christmas cookies" mini-series. Join me in this series to get ideas and recipes for your Christmas baking. I will be starting December 1. I'm excited! Hope to see you there!

Clockwise from Top: Chocolate-Raspberry Tassies, Candy Stripe Cookie Sticks, Chocomint Blossoms, White-Chocolate Cherry Shortbread Cookies, Buried Cherry Cookies

If you would like to participate and have one of your recipes featured, send me an email and let me know!

Bathroom Reno - Days 1-4

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hello! I haven't had time to really post these past few days. We are hard at work over here, fixing up and renovating our bathroom. I made a post a month ago about some bathroom reno ideas that I wanted to incorporate in this renovation. While we started the reno on Saturday, it is still in the works so I have no "after" pictures for you. We have yet to put up the bathroom walls, buy a mirror, replace the light fixture, and thoroughly clean up and vacuum the bathroom.

This post will show you what we started with. Unfortunately I didn't take pictures during the renovation so far. I just did the pictures before we started. Looking back now, I am so happy we decided to redo the bathroom.  So here are the before pictures:

And the vanity, with the stuff on top! It is because we barely had any space underneath the cabinet (well, we did but the only thing we had for organization were baskets. And those big baskets didn't really organize my makeup and hair clips).

The drippy shower...drip...drip...drip! So happy this is fixed now! Oh and might I mention the old faucet. I hated that thing!!

And here is what we bought for the reno. There is also the tub walls, mirror (which we still need to buy) and light fixture which were not pictured. 

So this is the process so far. I hope that we are done the bathroom soon and then I can finally post the final pictures! So be sure to come back and see the process!

9 Ways to Save On Christmas Gifts

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Yes you guessed it, there are only 42 days left until that jolly ol' man flies down your chimney, leaves you that new blender you were asking for, and the realization that you are hosting this year's New Years party hits you. Before you go into panic mode, I have compiled a list of 9 ways to save on Christmas this year that will help you save time and your money...and help you enjoy this holiday season.

1. Make a List
In order to save money and have a stress-free holiday, make yourself a list of the names of every person you are planning to give a gift for and the gift ideas. If you usually give a coffee shop gift card to your mailman, don't forget to put him down on your list as well! And don't forget to check your list twice!

2. Buy Gifts After Christmas
This might sound strange, and might not help your situation this year (unless you have a time machine out back) but it might be a great way to save on gifts for next year. Stores are always getting rid of the old to make way for the new or the next holiday. So you can for sure find sales around this time. It's always best to think ahead, and with ideas fresh in your mind it might be best to buy some gifts right after Christmas.

3. Start Your Shopping Early
The worst thing about the holiday season is the last-minute shopping. Malls and stores flooded with people scrambling left and right looking for their gifts to purchase. This tends to put a negative image on the holidays and puts a strain on your wallet. Thus to avoid all that stress (and save more of your money), shop early! That way you can enjoy your nice peppermint latte with peace of mind that you are well ahead of the game!

4. Set A Budget
This is an important aspect to saving money. By setting a budget, you know how much you can spend. Yes your family deserves the best, and you might feel that you need to give them the best. But if you can't afford to give expensive gifts then you shouldn't. Make sure you know how much you can spend this year and don't go beyond that.

5. Shop During Sales
This is probably a no-brainer for your grocery shopping, so why don't you think like this for Christmas gifts, too? My main rule to shopping for gifts: I never buy at full price. No one will ever know (unless you tell them) and you are happy to give a gift that is expensive without paying the full-price.

6. Make Homemade Gifts
While this might not work as well on children, it does work best on your adult friends and family. Giving homemade gifts is a neat way to give a one-of-a-kind unique gift that you are sure they won't receive again. Think of baking cookies for your elderly neighbour, or creating a scrapbook or photo album for your grandparents.

7. Keep In Mind What Christmas Is About
Whether this is the day of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ or coming together and spending time with loved ones, keep in mind what Christmas means to you. It isn't always about giving the biggest gift or spending the most money. It should be about what you value and what is important to you.

8. Do a Secret Santa Exchange
This one is a great way to save on gifts. I remember doing this when I was in high school with my friends. Have your family draw names of only one person. This way, everyone receives a gift and comes together to celebrate Christmas.

9. Be Practical With Your Gifts
Why give someone something that they already have? By giving practical, you know you are giving a gift that they will most likely use. You don't have to only give practical gifts. But try to incorporate them with your other gift. If you are giving a pajama set to your sister,  add a new bath towel that she told you she needed.

I've Been Featured!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Happy Friday to all! I wanted to make a post on being featured! I've been blogging for over two months now, and quite frankly I've become addicted to it! While I used to make food and sit down at the table to eat it, I now find myself taking a thousand pictures of the dish I just made in order to share with you guys! And now that I have been linking up with many food link parties, I am honoured to have been mentioned!
The Country Cook
Sunflower Supper Club
The Better Baker
4 Little Fergusons
Meet Penny

Focaccia Pull-Apart Bread

Yes yes, I know that focaccia bread is a dimpled Italian bread, but after seeing just how popular pull-apart breads were all over Pinterest, I just had to make a pull-apart version of focaccia bread. This recipe is different than an original focaccia bread - it has more dough, more flavour, and is just a fun appetizer to make! It is flavoured with olive oil and herbs and baked to perfection. I have a bread machine, so I allowed my machine to do the dough-making for me (easy!). But for those of you that don't have one, I wrote out the steps on how to make dough. Don't worry, it's still easy (am I contradicting myself then from the last sentence?). Enjoy it with your favourite warm dish or alone as an appetizer. I like to dip mine in some tomato sauce...yumm!

Focaccia Pull-Apart Bread
Prep time: 1.5 hours        Cook Time: 20-25 min           Yield: 1 loaf

- 2 cups warm water
- 2 tsp dry yeast
- 4 cups all purpose flour
- 2 tsp salt

- 6 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tomato, cubed
- 1/3 cup feta cheese
- 1 tsp basil
- 1 tsp chives
- 1 tsp rosemary

1. Add yeast to water. Stir until well combined. Let stand for 5-10 minutes until bubbly and foamy.
2. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and yeast mixture. Mix with a wooden spoon until combined (or until the dough keeps sticking to the spoon). Use your hands or a mixer with the dough paddle attachment to ensure all ingredients are incorporated and the dough is smooth, about 5 minutes.
3. Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead the dough a few times. Form into a ball. Place dough in a bowl with 1 tbsp olive oil, covering the dough in oil to avoid the dry skin that tends to form on dough. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside, allowing the dough to rise to double it's size in a warm place. This process will take about an hour to an hour and a half.
4. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Coat a 10-inch round baking pan with 1 tbsp olive oil. I used a 10-inch springform pan. Roll the dough and shape into small balls (this recipe gave me about 13 balls). In a separate bowl, combine the remaining 4 tbsp olive oil with spices. Toss the dough balls individually in the mixture (if more oil is needed, add to the bowl along with a bit more of the spices). Arrange the balls in the pan. Sprinkle evenly with tomatoes and crumbled feta cheese.
5. Bake on the bottom rack for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden. Serve warm or at room temperature alongside chili or stew dishes, or as appetizers with tomato sauce as dipping sauce.

Topping Suggestions:
Black/green olives, mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, minced garlic.

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