Candy Land Birthday Party

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My eldest niece turned 4 in April (yes, I know, I’m a bit late in posting this but I have been insanely busy). My sister and I constructed a Candy Land themed birthday party for her. The “board” began outside, traveled into the house and onto the table, past “Gumdrop Island,” “Doughnut Woods,” the “Popsicle Party,” “Strawberry Shortcake Land,” “Ring Pop Meadow,” and “Marshmallow Marsh,” before ending at the cake: itself a miniaturized version of the Candy Land board game. It was fun!

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Lemony Lemon Cheesecake Cake

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My sister and I decided that for my Mom’s and other sister’s birthday this year (their birthdays are 2 days apart) we would focus more on making a FANTASTIC-tasting cake than on an elaborate-looking cake. So, we tried out this recipe for what I call a Lemony Lemon Cheesecake Cake. It was fantastic! Super zingy and tart and luscious. Everyone raved about it. And it actually just got yummier the more it sat in the fridge and the more the flavours oozed together.
How can you go wrong with a cheesecake sandwiched between two layers of beautiful lemon cake and smothered in lemony cheesecake frosting? Answer: You can’t.

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Find the recipe here: http://www.recipegirl.com/2013/03/21/meyer-lemon-cheesecake-cake/

I decorated the cake with snail and mushroom fondant toppers. I’ve only ever worked with marshmallow fondant before and this time I decided to try out a buttercream fondant. The taste was definitely way better than marshmallow fondant. But it was a little more tricky and finicky to work with because it would get quite soft. I think I would use this again for small tasks but not to decorate an entire cake.

I made the mini bunting out of little bits of fabric and baking twine. I love bunting!

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Cheesymite / Vegemite Scrolls

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As the weather outside continues to be bitter, icy, gray, and downright “frightful”, I am desperately missing NZ. Sunshine, black-sand beaches, wonderful horses, and Vegemite scrolls…. sigh….
If you have not had a Vegemite/Cheesymite scroll, then you need to get yourself to NZ or Oz – the land of the Vegemite scroll (and PIES! Sweet PIES!!!…). Or, you can just make this awesome recipe from the comfort of your own (freezing cold) North American kitchen. These Cheesymite scrolls are pretty blissful. But I do still suggest a trip to NZ.

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If you’ve never even tasted Vegemite, then you’re in for a treat. I like it particularly because, as a vegetarian, I don’t often get to enjoy “umami” flavour and this is chock full of it. Vegemite and Marmite are basically the same thing – Vegemite is the Australian version while Marmite is what it’s called in the UK, NZ, and South Africa. Because of their strange peculiarities and general hatred of the Aussies, Kiwis refuse to eat Vegemite (even during the “Marmageddon” of 2012-2013). I lived through this “Marmageddon” while in NZ, but, being a Canadian, I had no qualms about purchasing Vegemite (which IS available in the country – probably for resident Aussies) and therefore was unaffected by the shortage.

Note: “Vegemite scrolls” simply have Vegemite rolled up inside while “Cheesymite scrolls” have cheese and Vegemite.

Cheesymite Scrolls
Makes 10 large or 20 small.

3 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup cold butter, cubed
1 cup cold buttermilk
1/3 cup cold milk
3-4 tablespoons Vegemite
3 cups sharp cheddar, grated (if you’re making Cheesymite scrolls)

1. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together. Cut in butter with a pastry cutter or rub it in with your fingers. Stir in enough milk/buttermilk to make dough soft (start with 1 cup and add more as needed).
2. Knead gently with finger tips on floured surface just to bring the dough together.
3. Roll out into rectangle about 1/4″ thick.
4. Carefully spread Vegemite onto dough. This can be a bit tricky so take your time. For Cheesymite scrolls, sprinkle 3/4 of the grated cheese over the Vegemite.
5. Starting on one of the long sides, roll up the dough so it makes a long log. Cut slices about 3/4″ thick and place in 9×13″ pan or on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
6. For Cheesymite scrolls, sprinkle with remaining grated cheese.
Bake at 220 C for 15 minutes.

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Soft and Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies

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Whew! I was pretty sick of baking and of eating baking after Christmas so I took a bit of time off. And then I decided that my terrible Christmas-induced eating habits HAD to be curbed so I decided to be a strict vegan for a week. But, that’s all over and done with now so normalness can (hopefully) ensue.

I was feeling desperately like peanut butter so I decided to break out a recipe I haven’t made for quite a long time (not because it isn’t good but rather because Mr. Tim isn’t really a fan of peanut butter cookies). This is one of my old faithfuls. It came out of a Mrs. Fields cookbook back in the early ’90s that I used to be obsessed with. When I was in elementary school I even submitted it to the school’s recipe book: it was the only cookie I ever wanted to eat.

Soft and Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies
Yield: Roughly 2 dozen

1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup butter
1 cup peanut butter
2 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp soda
pinch of salt

With electric mixer, cream sugars and softened butter. Beat in eggs. Mix in vanilla and peanut butter with a rubber spatula. Then add dry ingredients and stir with spatula. Bake in pre-heated oven at 350 for about 10 min.

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Ridiculous Fudge Brownie Layer Bars (Gluten Free)

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At the behest of TBone, who complains that all of the Christmas baking I make stinks of cloves and cinnamon, I whipped up this batch of layered brownie bars that are totally CLOVE FREE. They’re also RIDICULOUSLY good. And considering the amount of chocolate and butter that goes into these suckers, that just makes sense.

So, these go out to TBone, and any of the other clove-hating, chocolate-loving, sinful-eating Christmas-festive-ers this season.

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(I split my batch in half and made half of the icing mint and half of it cranberry-flavoured. I topped the mint side with mint M&Ms and the cranberry side with chopped cranberries. I prefer the mint side but the cranberry side is nice as well).

Ridiculous Fudge Brownie Layer Bars

Brownie Layer:

1/2 cup butter
4 oz dark choc (minimum 70%)
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
3/4 cup gluten free flour (or all-purpose)
pinch of salt

Line 9×9 or 8×8 square pan with foil. Preheat oven to 325.

Melt butter and chocolate over low heat. Once melted, remove from heat and stir in sugar and vanilla. Add eggs and beat with spoon. Stir in flour and mix with spoon for 1 min.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for about 25-30 min or until the edges JUST start to pull away from the pan. Cool completely.

Mint Layer

3 tblsp butter (soft)
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tblsp milk
1/2 tsp peppermint extract (or to taste)
green food colour

Beat ingredients with electric mixer. Spread on brownie. Refrigerate.

Chocolate Glaze

3 oz dark chocolate (minimum 70%)
1 tblsp butter

Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Then spread over icing layer. Sprinkle with chopped mint-flavoured M&Ms, mint oreos, or After Eights. Refrigerate. Then cut with sharp knife into small bars.

Keep refrigerated.

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Christmas Gift Wrapping Secrets (Shhh!)

One of my very favourite things about Christmas is wrapping presents! If I could have any dream job in the world I would want to be a professional present-wrapper. Does such a job exist? (Who wraps gifts for the Queen?).

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I think my love of wrapping presents started many years ago when my Aunt and her family in Switzerland would send Christmas parcels for us filled with wonderful Swiss chocolates and little presents. The presents were always wrapped so beautifully and so tastefully and I believed that the ribbons and wrapping paper adorning her gifts were special to Switzerland and not available here in such perfect patterns.
Actually, in the past few years whenever I’ve been in Switzerland around Christmas time, I’ve always bought ribbons and paper there so that my presents are truly wrapped “like a Swiss present” as we like to say.

However, despite my nostalgia for actual Swiss wrapping paper, beautiful wrapping supplies are available in North America too.

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Want to know how to pretty-up your presents too? Here are some of my tips:

- Don’t be cheap. This is important. It’s impossible to make cheap wrapping paper look good. I repeat: impossible. You have to look for stiff wrapping paper that feels almost like a brown paper bag: this paper creases nicely and holds its shape so you can make the corners stiff and tight.

- Plan ahead. This year my inspiration came from a roll of bright pink sequins I found in a shop back in October. The sequins were just so pretty and I picked all of the paper and other accessories to coordinate with the pink sequin ribbon.

- Use a glue gun. Tape will always look tacky. Invest in a little glue gun to seal your wrapping paper shut and to adorn the present with accessories.

- Use textures. I like plain wrapping paper because it gives you a bit of a blank slate for decorating and using different patters and textures of ribbons. If you have a (tasteful) patterned paper, pair it with more simple ribbons. This year I dehydrated some orange slices and purchased dried cinnamon sticks and whole anise stars from the local health food store to dress up the gifts.

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Eggnog Cupcakes

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I was looking after my 3 y/o niece one evening and I was looking for something for us to do. I love eggnog. She loves eggnog. I love cupcakes. And she loves cupcakes maybe even more than I do. So, I decided we should make some seasonally-inspired cupcakes!

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These cupcakes got rave reviews from everyone who tried them. There is eggnog baked into the cupcake itself and the buttercream icing is made out of eggnog as well. Yummy :)

Eggnog Cupcakes
2 eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup eggnog

1 1/2 cup cake flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon1/2 tsp nutmeg

Directions:
Beat eggs, sugar, oil, and vanilla in a large bowl with an electric mixer. Add eggnog and beat just to combine. Add dry ingredients and stir together with rubber spatula. Fill foils about 2/3 way with batter. Bake at 350° for 12-15min until JUST starting to brown a little and tops are still spongy but not raw: the secret to moist, fluffy cupcakes, I think, is to keep them JUST under-baked and never let them over bake — I let mine slightly “flop” a little in the middle rather than get domey. Let cool completely on wire rack.

Eggnog Buttercream

4 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup butter, soft
5 tbsp eggnog
1 tsp cinnamon
white food colouring (if you have it)
clear sanding sugar (to decorate)

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