Christmas Countdown: Party’s in the kitchen, but what if you don’t want it there?

How often do you invite guests over and everyone ends up hanging out in the kitchen?

To be honest, it doesn’t happen too often at our house because our kitchen is soooo small. There’s just not much room for much partying if guests are wedged in between the fridge and the stove!

If your kitchen is a lovely large space, perhaps even open to the family room or great room, kitchen parties may be quite the norm when you’re entertaining, and you may be perfectly fine with this. But, occasionally you might secretly wish the guests would make themselves comfortable in other rooms of the house (logically, the living room or dining room!) – say, when you’re putting the finishing touches on dinner or if the kitchen is a mess from putting the finishing touches on dinner! Interior designer Loreen Epp has posted a few suggestions for getting the party out of the kitchen on her hot new blog – What’s New At Home (

If you will be doing some entertaining this Christmas and would prefer that guests gather around the Christmas tree in the living room or the pool table in the family room, or in places beyond just the kitchen, check out Loreen’s suggestions.

Roasted Almonds

Roasted Almonds

One of them is to spread party nibbles throughout the house, or at least in the rooms you want the guests to be in! People tend to congregate where there is food, hence the natural inclination to gather in the kitchen.

Speaking of party nibbles, here’s a great one to serve at your next holiday soiree! Making it shouldn’t create too much mess in your kitchen – just in case you find a few guests still hanging out between the fridge and the stove!

Roasted Almonds

(Makes about 3-1/2 cups (875 mL)

3-1/2 cups (875 mL) blanched or unblanched almonds
1 tbsp (15 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp (10 mL) coarse sea salt
1-1/2 tsp (7 mL) smoked milk or hot paprika

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment (baking) paper or foil; set aside.

In a large bowl, toss almonds with oil, salt and paprika. Spread evenly on the prepared baking sheet.

Roast in a preheated 325 F (160 C) oven until fragrant and lightly toasted and unblanched almond skins have just begun to split, about 20 minutes. Let cool.

* Sweet or hot paprika, ground cumin or curry powder can be substituted for the smoked paprika.
* Roasted Almonds can be made ahead and stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.

Recipe Source: Canadian Living magazine, December 2005

Chew Over These Birthday Cards!

Yesterday was Murray’s birthday. Although no longer the handsome young man I met 28 years ago, like fine wine or cheese, he has aged well and is now the handsome somewhat older man I am proud to call my husband! With him around, life is certainly never dull!

A few days ago, a cool birthday card came in the mail for him from my sister-in-law, brother and niece.

Inside the card: So on your birthday, Eat, Drink and BE MURRAY
(Created by DCI Studios)

The card elicited an extra smile from both of us since Murray is not a cat lover, although he does seem to have a special bond with Sam, the black Burmese-ish cat who lives next door and occasionally stays with us when his family is away.

Murray’s birthday was a low-key celebration, as our birthdays tend to be. Just him and me, out for supper as is our usual birthday tradition. He picked Charbries restaurant in Waterloo as his destination of choice. I reserved the table by the fish tank. Again, his choice.

“If our conversation becomes dull or we run out of things to talk about, we can always look at the fish,” he reasoned.

As it turned out, we were able to find something to talk about all the way from pre-dinner drinks through dessert! We also watched the marine life swimming in the wall tank beside us. It included tiny fish with flourescent blue stripes on their sides and a little shark that stayed motionless on the bottom of the tank nearly all through dinner. Our server told us she once saw the shark lying on his back with his mouth open and presumed the worst, but the next day he was swimming around again!

Dinner started with a four cheese soup for Murray and curried cauliflower soup for me. A Jonagold apple and cardamom sorbet cleansed our palates before the entrees were served – chicken in a wine sauce and roasted vegetables for him, and portabello-wrapped pork with chunky applesauce and roasted vegetables for me. We shared dessert – apple bread pudding with caramel sauce and whipped cream.

Yes, we managed to eat, drink and be “merry”… Murray’s honour!

Speaking of honour, I was also able to find an appropriate card for Murray.

Inside the card: Actually, I honored you more than once.
(Created by Carlton Cards)

The Lazy Way to Slice an Apple

Apple Wedger/Corer

I used to silently wonder about people who meticulously cut their apples into wedges or slices with a knife before eating them.

What was wrong with just biting your way around the fruit until you’d found the inedible core? I suppose by slicing to the core, then cutting it away before eating each slice, you never risked not knowing you’d hit the centre of the apple! Duh!

Was cutting an apple into even sections a neat freak’s way to eat this favourite fruit? It did eliminate messy juices dripping down your chin when you chomped into an especially juicy apple. And, it did allow one to pay equal attention to each evenly cut apple wedge, if that was important to you. And I suppose it might be to someone anal about how they eat apples.

Maybe the apple somehow tasted better cut into pieces?

Then my sister tucked an apple wedger and corer into my Christmas gift bag (okay, so my family uses gift bags, not stockings!) and the light bulb went off.

Pre-cutting the apple is a neat, civilized way to eat an apple. You get rid of the core in one deft maneuvre and are left with evenly sized apple wedges that can be easily held by big or little fingers. What’s so wrong with that?

An apple may not taste better this way (although some may argue this point), but it is a simple, fast and fun way to make apple wedges to enjoy however you like (especially dipped in chocolate or caramel sauce ,which I seldom do but it’s fun to think about enjoying them this way!).

You may have to look a little to find an apple wedger/corer. Try a kitchen store, or wherever kitchen tools are sold. My sister picked up apple wedgers at a dollar store.

Chocolate as Art

Anyone who’s read my February posts so far will likely have noticed they’ve all included chocolate in one fashion or another. Since chocolate is a passion of mine, I trust I’m excused for this narrow focus, especially during the chocolatey month of February. I promise to move on to other food topics very soon, just after I share a few more chocolate thoughts.

Last year, Carol Wiebe, an artist and dear friend, created two pieces of chocolate-themed art for me. The first, Chocolate Confessions, was a commissioned piece I asked her to create when she began making personalized mixed media collages.
Chocolate Confessions by Carol Wiebe, 2007

To create the piece, Carol asked me to give her a picture of myself, and to write out some thoughts about chocolate. One thing I wrote about was that I eat chocolate everyday. Using that idea, Carol designed a chocolate mandala sun with painted rays and my own words about chocolate radiating from it. (Although you can not see the fine details, my handwriting is sprinkled liberally throughout the art quilt.)

Carol also painted a cacao tree to reflect my interest not only in eating chocolate but studying the history of it.

What about that chocolate egg? Those of you who know I work for the Egg Farmers of Ontario probably figured out the significance of the egg pretty quickly.

On the back of Chocolate Confessions, Carol appropriately penned the following: “Both chocolate and confessions can assuage the soul.”

Ancient Appetites came as a wonderful Christmas surprise from Carol. This piece included other aspects of my love of all things chocolate (like Cocoa, my poodle), historical references to chocolate and cocoa, as well as a favourite recipe for Molten Chocolate Cakes (the underbaked baby cakes that spill chocolate lava when unmolded onto a dessert plate and broken into with a fork or spoon).

Ancient Appetites by Carol Wiebe, 2007

Showing these pieces here does not begin to do proper justice to their beautiful colours, textures and sparkle, or Carol’s fine workmanship, however believe me when I say both are beautifully crafted keepsakes I will treasure always.

Carol has written about both creations on her Silverspring Studio blog. Her reflections on these pieces can be found on her posts, Chocolate Confessions and A Surprise of Beautiful Work. On her blog, you can also read some of her thoughts about art and creating and the processes she uses to design and her create her art quilts. And, of course, you can see more of her art.

The Ultimate Brownie? You Decide!

The Ultimate Brownie

Who doesn’t love brownies?

I suppose if you don’t like chocolate, you might not care for brownies.

Whoa! Back up! Who doesn’t love chocolate?

As hard as it might be for some of us to fathom, there are people in this world who are indifferent to chocolate. They can take it or leave it. Quite easily. Without much care or thought. Some of those people may even prefer to ignore chocolate altogether. Don’t pity them, however. Consider how much more this leaves for the rest of us!

But back to brownies.

Recently I found a recipe for The Ultimate Brownie on the Desserts/Baking website. I’ve never understood the idea of an “ultimate” anything because what might be the best ever version of something (e.g. brownies) to you may very well be a just okay version of that something (e.g. brownies) to me. And vice versa. If you claim something is the “ultimate” or “world’s best” or “greatest ever”, you’ve set up some pretty high expectations as to what that something will look like, taste like, feel like, act like, and so on, depending on exactly what that something is. So many things in life are subject to an individual’s taste preferences, perceptions, biases, and experiences that I’m always hesitant to label anything (and in the context of this blog, a recipe!) with the moniker of “ultimate” unless it’s been highly rated by more people than just me.

That said, I did try The Ultimate Brownie recipe, and it was pretty good! Thick and fudgey (my preference as opposed to cakey), it would rank fairly high on my scale of “best brownies ever eaten”. I’ve posted the recipe below.

Speaking of things “ultimate”, I’m also posting a link to the website of my colleague, cookbook author Mairlyn Smith and her healthy Decadent Brownies recipe. It’s from her and co-author dietitian Liz Pearson’s best-selling book, Ultimate Foods for Ultimate Health…and don’t forget the chocolate (Whitecap Books, 2007). Mairlyn’s recipe uses whole wheat flour, canola oil and cocoa powder.

As well, here’s the link to the recipe for Fudgey Special Dark Brownies on Hershey’s website; it’s made with cocoa powder and Chipits. If you make the brownies in a 15 x 10-inch (38 x 25 cm) pan instead of a 13 x 9-inch (33 x 23 cm) pan, you can cut the brownies into heart shapes for Valentine’s Day. On the Hershey’s website you can also find chocolatey recipes for mousse, cookies and truffles. Perfect fare for giving to all your loved ones and sweeties! Assuming they all like chocolate, that is!

The Ultimate Brownie
(Makes a 13 x 9-inch/33 x 23 cm baking pan)

8 squares unsweetened chocolate, chopped into chunks
1 cup (250 mL) butter, cut in chunks
5 large eggs
3 cups (750 mL) sugar
1 tablespoon (15 mL) vanilla
1-1/2 cups (375 mL) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon (5 mL) salt
2-1/2 cups (625 mL) chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted

In a saucepan over low heat, melt chocolate and butter, stirring frequently; set aside.

In a large bowl, beat eggs, sugar and vanilla with electric mixer on high speed for 10 minutes. (Mixture will be thick and pale yellow in colour.)

Stir in chocolate mixture. Fold in flour and salt until just mixed. Stir in nuts. Pour into a lightly greased 13 x 9-inch (33 x 23 cm) baking pan.

Bake in a preheated 375F (190C) oven for 35 to 40 minutes. The brownies should be moist in the centre.


  • Measure all ingredients carefully. Measure flour and sugar in a dry measuring cup. Scoop flour into the cup and level the top with a blade of knife.
  • For easy removal of the brownies from the pan, line baking pan with aluminum foil or baking paper. Grease foil or paper, then add batter.
  • Brownies can be iced, but it is not necessary as they are sweet and decadent enough on their own. If desired, top with chopped nuts and semisweet chocolate chips before baking, or drizzle with a white chocolate glaze, or sprinkle cooled brownies with icing sugar.
  • This recipe is very similar to the Blockbuster Brownies recipe inside the box of Baker’s Unsweetened chocolate squares. That recipe calls for 1-1/2 cups (375 mL) butter, 6 eggs and 1 cup (250 mL) chopped nuts. The batter is baked in two 8-inch (2 L) square pans at 350F (180C) for 35 to 40 minutes.
  • Brownies freeze well.

For more brownie recipes, visit Brownie Lover’s Diary.

From Dipping to Sipping

Over the Christmas holidays, Murray and I enjoyed a three course fondue meal with his sister Lorna at The Melting Pot Restaurant in Winnipeg, Manitoba. All that dipping inspired us to buy a new tea pot.

What? You don’t see the connection between fondue forks and tea pots? Well, let me explain. But I’ll start at the beginning and describe our meal in case you get a chance to visit this fondue restaurant.

We started with a salad (a Sunshine salad for me – mixed greens, feta cheese, red onion, olives and pecans, drizzled with a sun-dried tomato dressing). Salads were followed by a classic cheese fondue made with Gruyere and Swiss cheeses, wine, kirsch, and a medley of spices that included a wonderful punch of nutmeg.

We continued our dipping with a “surf and turf” bouillon fondue of scallops, prawns, chicken, beef and pork with three sauces (seafood sauce, a dill sauce, and a chili sauce, if memory serves). This fondue was accompanied by rice and Thai-style vegetables.

A chocolate fondue with fruit dippers finished the meal on a very satisfying note.


Along with the dessert fondue, Murray ordered tea. It was served in a see-through tea pot that housed an infuser for the tea leaves. The word “BrewT” was stamped on the tea pot.

The pot was a little taller and larger than the one shown on the left.

We were intrigued by the pot with its pronged feet. Although we had all seen clear tea pots before, this one appeared to have no pouring spout.

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Here’s how the pot works.

Tea leaves and boiling water are placed in the pot (1 teaspoon (5 mL) tea leaves and 1 cup (250 mL) water per cup of tea). The tea is allowed to steep for a few minutes.

After the leaves have steeped, the pot is set on top of the cup. This pushes the release valve open which allows the tea to pour into the cup.

The three of us were impressed by the pot’s efficiency, probably because most restaurant tea pots pour so badly you usually have tea everywhere but in your cup.

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Of course the trick with this pot was knowing when to lift it off the cup so it would stop “pouring”, otherwise the tea could overflow the cup.

But judging when the cup was nearly full proved to be not that difficult. You just had to lift the pot for a look, and to immediately stop dispensing tea.

Once we were back home, Murray was on a hunt to find a similar tea pot.

An online search revealed that BrewT was available through Cornelia Bean Ltd. in Winnipeg for $24.99.

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We decided to check a local tea shop to see whether they sold anything similar. Sure enough, Distinctly Tea in Waterloo (Ontario) carries three different styles and sizes of this type of tea pot. Each comes with a round coaster on which the pot sits to catch any drips.

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Building A Holiday House

The moment the roof collapsed, I knew it was all over. My career as a builder of marshmallow igloos, that is.

The writing had probably been on the wall of the igloo project from the start. (Too bad there weren’t support beams there as well!) I had initially started out using sugar cubes as the building blocks, but for a variety of reasons that had just not worked out.

When the idea to use marshmallows occurred, it seemed to make logical sense. The shape and appearance of the marshmallows would be perfect, I naively assumed. In fact, that was true. It was building the darn thing where the problems surfaced.

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