Friday, November 30, 2012

Most Useful Christmas Tip Ever

It's a small tip, but one that will change your life.  Okay, maybe not change your life, but at least your wrapping paper storage container.  Here it is:

Did you catch the cleverness of it all.  A lowly toilet paper tube slit down the middle and clipped on the wrapping paper roll keeps it all rolled up.  Genius, eh?

Did you notice that tomorrow is December 1st.  You still have time to make an advent calendar.  

Do you have some envelopes? Then check here for inspiration.
Do you have some crepe paper streamers? Then check here for inspiration.
Do you have a stapler and a ribbon?  Then check here for inspiration.

I'm going to take some photos of our Christmas mantel tomorrow when it is daylight.  So far I've only finished decorating the mantel, but we've been enjoying how it turned out.

I'm also working on a gift for my preteen and teenage nieces and nephews that involve using these things:

Any guesses?  I'll show you next week.  Such fun!
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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

WISH Wednesday #59

Isn't this a lovely way to display special Christmas decorations.  Each ornament is framed by being in its own cell.  I love the rustic wood of the box juxtaposed against the shine and glitter of the ornaments.  Keeping all the ornaments to white, silver, and glass helps create a cohesive display.  Love it!

Do you display ornaments around the house or keep them all on the tree?  I put a few in bowls, but most go on the tree.  This year I'm creating something special for the mantel that involves some of our ornaments - stay tuned.

Beet Salad

On the weekend I tried a new salad recipe.  I wanted to make something light and healthy for lunch with our friends who we hadn't seen in awhile.  Don't you love having a good visit with long-time friends?  It's the best - as is making a new recipe that turns out to be a winner.  The beet salad was a big hit so I thought I would share the recipe with you (and let's be honest - I might want to make it again so I need to have it on my blog so I know where to find it).  

mixed baby greens
4-6 beets (depending on the size and how much you like beets)
150 gm (about 5 oz) chèvre (a mild goat cheese)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
3 tablespoons maple syrup

1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup virgin olive oil

1.  Scrub beets, trim ends, cover with water and boil for 45-60 minutes depending on their size.  Beets are done when you can insert a fork into them.
2.  Drain and cool beets.  When they are cool rub them with your fingers or scrape them with the edge of a knife to remove the skin.  Cut into wedges or slices.
3.  Place walnuts in a frying pan and cook over medium-low heat until they just start to toast.  Then add the maple syrup and cook a minute longer until they are coated and the liquid is absorbed.
4.  Whisk together the dressing ingredients.
5.  To serve, put greens on plate, add beets, chopped cheese, and walnuts.  Drizzle with the dressing.

I know some people don't like beets, but we love them.  I often make borscht or boil up some beets to accompany a meat and potatoes dinner, but this was my first time making a beet salad.  Are beets something you like?
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Linked to Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm

Friday, November 23, 2012

Christmas Cookie Week: Chocolate Magic Bars

This week seems to have flown by.  Here we are on the last day of Christmas Cookie Week already. 

I made some bars for today's post - the recipe is written below, but be sure and keep reading to get my assessment of them.

Base - 
2 cups (500ml) coconut, toasted
2 cups (500 ml) rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted

Topping -
1 1/2 cups almonds or mixed nuts (I used a mixture of almonds, walnuts, and peanuts)
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips
2 cans (300 mls each) regular or low fat sweetened condensed milk

1.  Preheat oven to 350F
2.  Toast coconut by spreading on a cookie sheet and baking for 8 - 10 minutes at 350F or until it starts to turn brown, tossing halfway through
3.  Butter the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13 inch pan.  Line with parchment paper for easy removal (and believe me, it is necessary)
4.  In a large bowl combine toasted coconut, oats, sugar, and melted margarine.  
5.  Press into pan in an even layer along bottom and up the sides
6.  Bake in preheated oven for 18 - 20 minutes until golden brown
7.  Sprinkle cooked base with nuts, then with chocolate chips, and then pour the condensed milk evenly over the filling
8.  Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown and bubbly
9.  Cool completely for at least 4 hours before cutting into squares

If I were to rate these bars they would get a 5 out of 5 for taste.  They were scrumpdelicious.  However, and this is a big however, I had a very difficult time getting them out of the pan in nice looking pieces.  They were sticky on the bottom and the top sometimes broke apart.  The pieces in these photos were sort of pushed back together so they look okay, but that doesn't really work well when they are part of a plate of cookies and squares.  So they would rate a 2 out of 5 in terms of appearance.  

I have to tell you that it was mighty frustrating to have them not work out as I had already made a pan of maple-walnut bars last weekend and they just wouldn't come out of the pan and the centre was runny so I scrapped them (and we were forced to eat them).  To have two fails was a bit of a bummer.

My mom and I take dessert to Christmas dinner and I like to have a mix of cookies and bars on the platter - thus far I only have cookies.  So my friends, I'm sending out a plea for you to share your tried-and-true bar recipes.  What is your go-to recipe for squares?  Do tell.  I'm hoping that the third times the charm.

Don't forget to pop over to my friend Angie at Echoes of Laughter and see what yummy recipe she has for you today.

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Linked to Flaunt it Friday at Chic on a Shoestring,
Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm,
Friday Block Party at Curb Alert,
Overflowing with Creativity at It's Overflowing

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Christmas Cookie Week: Rudolph Cookies

It's Day 3 of Christmas Cookie Week and I have a cookie recipe for you that came with a rather plain name - Cottage Cheese Thumb Prints. Yawn!  I first made these cookies years and years ago and when the hubster saw them he said they looked like Rufolph's nose.  And so they were christened Rudolph Cookies.

1 container (16 oz, 500 gm) cottage cheese
2 cups (4 sticks or 1 pound) butter or margarine, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
granulated sugar
1 cup seedless raspberry preserves

1.  Puree cottage cheese
2.  Add butter and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy
3.  Stir in flour and salt until well blended
4.  Shape into a ball, cover, and refrigerate 30 minutes to firm
5.  Preheat the oven to 400F
6.  Spray cookie sheets with vegetable cooking spray
7.  Roll pieces of dough into balls the size of small walnuts 
8.  Roll dough balls in sugar and place on cookie sheets 2 inches apart
9.  Make indentations in the middle of each cookie with your thumb
10. Fill each indentation with about 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon of raspberry preserves
11. Bake for 12 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned (watch them carefully as the sugar likes to brown quickly) and remove promptly to a rack to cool.

I love thumb print cookies.  They always look fancy and yet are so easy to do - mix the batter, roll the balls, shove your thumb in the middle, and fill 'er up with something yummy.  I've made ones filled with chocolate kisses, M&Ms (like I did yesterday), and jam.  Have you ever made thumb print cookies?  What did you fill them with?

Don't forget to check Angie's blog at Echoes of Laughter to see what cookies she has baked today.

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Linked to Feathered Nest Friday at French Country Cottage,
Flaunt it Friday at Chic on a Shoestring,
Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm,
Overflowing with Creativity at It's Overflowing,
Weekend Bloggy Reading at Serenity Now

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

WISH Wednesday #58

It's both Christmas Cookie Week and Wednesday so I've found a beautiful cookie photo to share for WISH Wednesday.  I have absolutely no time to make such intricate cookies, but I think they are beautiful and would make such a pretty addition to a Christmas tree or hanging in a kitchen window.

Have you ever made really ornate cookies like these?  I'm not sure I would want anyone to eat them if I spent so much time making them.

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Christmas Cookie Week: Lemon Chocolate Drizzles

I love this recipe for not only being simple, but also looking pretty.  The cookies themselves only take six ingredients and then there are two more for the drizzle.  That's not too difficult.  I always think the star shape looks festive, but really you could do whatever takes your fancy.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp finely grated lemon peel
2 eggs

chocolate drizzle:

3 squares semi-sweet chocolate
1 tablespoon butter or margarine

1.  Measure all ingredients (except the chocolate drizzle) into a large bowl and beat until blended

2.  Shape dough into a ball, wrap with plastic, refrigerate for 3 hours or freeze for 40 minutes

3.  Preheat oven to 350F

4.  On a lightly floured surface roll half the dough to a thickness of 1/8 inch (keep remaining dough refrigerated)

5.  Use a star shaped cookie cutter to cut out the dough

6.  Place cookies 1/2 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet

7.  Bake 6 - 8 minutes until lightly browned and allow cookies to cook on a rack

8.  To prepare drizzle, melt chocolate and margarine in microwave for 3 minutes at 50% power and then stir

9.  Spoon chocolate into a bag and snip the corner 

10.  Arrange cookies on a sheet of waxed paper and drizzle with chocolate 

11.  Allow to cool for 30 minutes and then store in a covered container or freeze

Today is Day 3 of Christmas Cookie Week here and at Echoes of Laughter.  For other yummy cookie recipes you should check out Angie's blog here and see what I made for Day 1 and Day 2.  Have you started your Christmas baking yet?  

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Linked to Fall into Fall Party at DIY by Design,
WOW Us Wednesday at Savvy Southern Style,
Uncommonly Yours Link Party at Uncommon Designs,
The Creative Spark at Clean and Scentsible,
Tuesday Talent Show at Chef in Training,
Flaunt it Friday at Chic on a Shoestring,
Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm,
Overflowing with Creativity at It's Overflowing

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Christmas Cookie Week: Thumbprint Cookie Drops

I made these cookies years and years ago and have kept the recipe all this time and not made them since.  I'm not sure why because they taste great and look so festive when you do the sprinkles and m&ms in Christmas colours.

Here's the recipe (from Canadian Living)

2/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup coloured sprinkles or sugar
Christmas m&ms or chocolate kisses

1.  Beat together butter and sugar and then beat in egg and vanilla
2.  In a separate bowl mix together flour, baking powder, and salt
3.  Stir the dry ingredients into the butter mixture until smooth
4.  Shape dough by rounded teaspoonful into balls, roll in sugar or sprinkles, pressing to adhere
5.  Place two inches apart on parchment lined baking sheets
6.  Using thumb make indent in centre of each
7.  Bake in 350F oven for about 10 minutes or until golden on bottom
8.  Let cool on pans on rack for 5 minutes
9.  Place chocolate candy in each indent and let cool
10.  Store in air-tight container for up to 5 days or freeze
(makes about 42 cookies, although we made ours too big so we didn't get that many)

I always think it is fun to see what Angie at Echoes of Laughter has cooked up for Christmas Cookie Week.  You should check out her Gumdrop Cookies from yesterday - talk about bright and festive - and see what surprise she has in store for us today.

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Linked to Foodie Friday Recipes at Rattlebridge Farm,
Fall into Fall Party at DIY by Design,
From Dream to Reality Party at The DIY Dreamer,
Uncommonly Yours Link Party at Uncommon Designs,
The Creative Spark at Clean and Scentsible,
Flaunt if Friday at Chic on a Shoestring,
Overflowing with Creativity at It's Overflowing

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Little Table Talk

One of my fall goals was to re-finish our dining room table.  I've wanted to do it ever since we got the table ... oh ... about twenty years ago.  Finally the stars lined up and we had no children living at home for a few months and I just decided to do it.  

I do enjoy using this table as it is likely over 100 years old and belonged to my great-grandparents. Now I know a few of you have mentioned that you didn't think I should paint the table as it is a family heirloom, but the table was not in very good shape and every single leg had a long crack in it.  By painting the base I was able to just fill the crack, sand, and paint it.  Rest assured though, I did refinish the top and put three coats of a stain-varnish on it to protect it.  

So let's have a look at how it all went down.  

Here's the before - always a good place to start.  From a distance our table didn't look too bad, especially when covered up with a tablecloth.

However, when you got up close and personal the table really showed its age as you can see by the crack on this leg.  

So I painted the base and things were improving, but the table surface was still very worn.

As you can see here

and here.  

So I got out the sander and worked some magic on it. I used the Dremel to sand the edges. When I was finished I went over the whole table surface with a block sander by hand and it made a huge difference in giving it that glassy smooth finish.

I want you all to picture the dust.  Yep it was bad! It took me three days to sand the table top completely and then I had to spend a couple of hours cleaning every. last. surface. It was too cold outside to work in the backyard or garage so I just did it in the dining room and we survived.

I used this stain and varnish combo made by Circa 1850 on the table surface.

I wiped it on in a circular motion and then immediately wiped it off with another cloth in the direction of the grain.

So now the table was looking pretty good, but there was still one thing that really bothered me - the sag in the middle of the table. In the two photos below you can see that the tabletop is not level and that there is a gap in the apron between the two sections. 

After some contemplation and discussion the easiest and best solution was to use clamps on either side of the table underneath to hold the two parts of the table together.  You can't see them or feel them unless you actually go under the table.  That way we can just release them when we want to put leaves in the table for when the whole family is over and yes, the table will sag then, but that isn't very often and we can live with that.

See how close the two halves are?  Not perfect  but definitely good enough to make me happy. Brilliant, eh?

And here is the finished table in all its glory.

I had the table set with our glass pumpkin in the middle when my mother brought some flowers over from a wedding she performed.  Did I ever tell you my mother is a minister (retired now)?  She says this wedding was her last one, but who knows.  The flowers looked lovely so I took some more photos with the bouquet in the middle of the table.

And a final before and after.

I love the change.  Now we just need to get some chairs (and thanks for all your input on which IKEA chairs would look best - we are going with #2, if they feel comfortable that is).
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Linked to Tutorials & Tips Party at Home Stories A to Z,
WOW Us Wednesday at Savvy Southern Style,
Uncommonly Yours Link Party at Uncommon Designs,
Flaunt it Friday at Chic on a Shoestring,
Feathered Nest Friday at French Country Cottage