School Years Storage

Every parent reaches that point; do I keep the craft, hide it, throw it away? How do you deal with the never ending crafts, poems, colouring pages, paintings? When your kids are younger you want to keep it all! You feel so guilty not holding onto something your beautiful child created. As the years go by, the stash of crafts gets bigger and bigger before you have no idea what you will do with everything. It is ok to let some items go. As the adult, think about the childhood momentos you held on to. What was your reaction? One day your child will be you. Let go of the guilt, and the clutter and get organized!

My kids are older now at 11 and 13. The crafts have definitely slowed as have the finger paintings! Neither of them look at their collections and ask where a specific art piece is. I promise, as parents we are much harder on ourselves than our kids are. I started minimizing and sorting their artwork years ago. This is a system that keeps things under control, but also allows for memories and storage solutions.

I started with an accordion file folder. Each section has a year and that is all the space the year gets.

Each year is labeled so it makes for easier storage and sorting. I put the crafts that come home up on our big cork board. Each piece is named by the child and dated as it is put up. This makes sorting so much easier as some years it was hard to tell who did what!

Whatever fits in that year in the file is what they get to keep. They can look back at years past and see how they have grown. By keeping all the items in one simple folder it means less clutter, easy to find and organized! Bonus, the files have a handle so the kids can take their old art pieces with them when they move out!

Fudgy Chocolate Brownies

These brownies are perfection! Crispy outer edge, soft, fudgy center perfect on their own or as the base of the most awesome sundae. Such a simple recipe to make and they bake perfectly every time. This recipe involves a lot of butter, eggs and sugar but it is so worth it! This recipe makes a 9×9 pan or ~48 mini muffin cup size brownies.

Ingredients

1C Butter

2C Sugar

4 Eggs

2 tsp Vanilla*

2/3C Cocoa

1C Flour

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

*I will do 1 tsp vanilla 1 tsp peppermint extract for mint brownies

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350F. Melt the butter. Pour into a mixing bowl. Add in the sugar and stir. Add in the eggs. Stir until all three are well incorporated. Mixing the sugar in well will help with the final product. Add the vanilla (and peppermint extract if making mint brownies). As usual I prefer less dishes and one bowl baking. If you prefer traditional methods, mix your dry ingredients in a separate bowl. If one bowl baking, add the cocoa to the mixing bowl. Once incorporated, add the salt followed by the baking powder. Last, add the flour slowly so it can mix in without clumps. If mixing dry ingredients in a separate bowl, gently whisk them together then add slowly until fully incorporated. Scrape the sides of the bowl once to ensure all ingredients are blended together.

Take your pan and if using a metal or glass pan, line with parchment paper or grease and flour. I used a silicone pan for the batch pictured and it turned out fantastic. Spread the batter evenly in the pan. Place in the oven for 25-30 min.

Test the brownies with a toothpick in the center to check for doneness. Once fully cooked, remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Gently remove from pan and let continue cooling on a cooling rack if you have one.

These brownies can be sliced and eaten, or frozen for a treat at a later date. I love to add the mint for a different flavour, especially at Christmas! They make wonderful one bite treats when baked in a mini muffin tin. I add a squeeze of icing and a Hershey kiss on top for a simple baking exchange item. This is such a quick and simple recipe it’s enjoyed all year round!

Vinaigrette Potato Salad

My husband tried this style of salad at a friend’s house and loved it, so requested I try my hand at it. He had a general idea of the ingredients, so I guessed portions and found a balance we like. It is super easy to make, tastes best after it has sat at least overnight to absorb the flavours and because it’s not dairy based, you can easily serve it in warm weather without worrying about it spoiling as fast. It’s full of fresh flavour and light, so you don’t feel as heavy after eating it.

This is based on a smaller portion as we didn’t want many leftovers, so if you are preparing it for a bigger crowd, double, or triple the size.

Ingredients

680g Bag of Mini Potatoes

1/16C Olive Oil

1/16C White Vinegar or White Wine Vinegar

1/4C Fresh Dill

1/3 Yellow onion diced

Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions

Start by boiling the potatoes. Once fully cooked, strain the pot and fill with cold water to cool the potatoes faster. I usually leave the tap running a bit for the first few minutes as the heat from the potatoes will warm the water. Leaving it running help keep the water cool.

Once cooled enough to touch, cut the potatoes in half and place in a container you can seal. This is where I love the anchor dishes as they have a tight seal but also with the clean glass are great for serving.

Pour the rest of the ingredients over the potatoes and mix until each potato is well covered. You cna use less or more for the dill, depending on your tastes. Store in the fridge overnight and enjoy! It’s THAT simple.

English Muffin Pizzas

I usually start my posts off with a picture of the finished meal. This time, I featured a picture of the Chef! This week we started having our daughters each pick, prep and cook dinner once per week. They are 11 and almost 13 now and becoming quite adept in the kitchen. We wanted to increase their cooking knowledge and give them a better appreciation for all the work that goes into getting dinner on the table each night. So starts the “Kids Cook” blog posts.

This week my eldest chose English Muffin pizzas with Caesar Salad. She used; English Muffins, Tomato Sauce, Pepperoni, Marble Cheese, Roma Tomatoes and Red Peppers. Preheat your oven to 400F. She started by cutting the tomatoes and peppers for toppings. Then she grated the cheese. Next, she cut english muffins in half and laid them on a baking sheet. I suggest using parchment paper on the baking sheet as it is much easier to clean if any cheese or sauce gets spilled.

Take a soup spoon and scoop one spoonful of tomato or pasta sauce onto the english muffin. Using the back of the spoon, spread the sauce to the outer edge by moving it in small, gentle circles. Next, sprinkle the cheese over the sauce. Now, time to add your toppings! You can add whatever you like, whether it’s as simple as plain cheese or fully loaded, the best part is each person can choose what they like!

Once the pizzas are ready, place the sheet in the oven for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is melted and just about to bubble. Remove from the oven and let cool before eating. These are the perfect size crust for kids and they love that they can create their own pizzas by choosing their own toppings. Easy for lunch or dinner, these are a hit every time!

Healthy Tuscan Chicken

Many of our meals are decided on by ingredients that I need to use up. This one came along because I had peppers and tomatoes that needed to be eaten. We had chicken breasts in the freezer and I had been watching a cooking show, Wall of Chefs, with my eldest the night before which inspired my taste buds. Italy and Tuscany were on my mind and I really wanted roasted veggies! An idea started forming and this was the result. I wasn’t sure how my kids would respond, but both cleared their plates and the youngest kept asking for more, which is ALWAYS a good sign! The chicken was so tender and juicy and kept the tenderness even as leftovers. This dish can have ingredients substituted based on what you have on hand, or to suit your vegetable preferences. The ingredients listed is for a four people, you can lessen or increase depending on how many people you are serving!

Ingredients

4 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 Bell Pepper

4 Roma Tomatoes

1 small yellow onion

6 cloves of garlic

1/2C Basil sliced into ribbons

1/2 a lemon

1tbsp olive oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

1/2C Chicken broth

Directions

Start by prepping your vegetables you want to as a base. I used cauliflower and grape tomatoes. Next, cut the peppers, tomatoes, garlic and onion for the chicken and set aside. Preheat your oven to 400F and place a heavy bottom pan that is oven safe on the stove top at slightly higher than medium heat.

Diced and ready to add to the chicken!

I cut half a head of cauliflower and sprinkled the tomatoes throughout, then drizzled olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and roast at 400F for about 10-15 min, turning once in between. If you have more dense vegetables, like carrots or sweet potatoes, your cooking time will be a little longer. Other great options are artichokes, asparagus, even brussel sprouts.

While your vegetables are roasting, start cooking the chicken. Your pan should be warmed by now. Pour 1tbsp of olive oil into the pan. Olive oil does not have a high temp point, so be careful that you haven’t set your stove top too high or the oil will smoke. Place the chicken breasts, one at a time into the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Let them cook for a few minutes until a nice sear develops. The chicken should be starting to brown on the side touching the pan, and you will see it change from pink to white on the outer edges. Using tongs, turn your chicken to sear the other side. Once the chicken has been seared on both sides, turn the temperature down a bit to slightly under medium and add your peppers, tomatoes, garlic and onion. Let the vegetables sautee around the chicken and begin to soften for about 5 minutes. Add your warm chicken broth to the pan. Bring the broth up to a simmer. By this time the roasted vegetables should be done and can be removed from the oven. Turn the temperature down to 375F. Squeeze the half a lemon over the chicken and add half of your basil. Cover and place the whole pan carefully in the oven to finish cooking. Leave in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked all the way through, reaching an internal temperature of 165F.

I chose to serve this on pasta, but later had it on rice. This chicken goes well with either starch as a base. Once your chicken is fully cooked, remove the pan from the oven and let it sit for 3-5 minutes. I popped my vegetables back in the oven and sauteed some sliced zucchini in olive oil while the chicken sat. The pan will have a delicious chicken broth that can be spooned over the dish. I think the broth was my kids’ favourite part! You can serve this with bread and soak up any remaining broth, or sauce your dish as heavy or as light as you wish.

This dish took a bit of prep work cutting the vegetables, but overall was a very simple dish to prepare with light, fresh flavours that the whole family enjoyed. You could easily prep the vegetables the night before or morning of to save time when you’re ready to cook. If you want to keep it to a one pan meal, you can omit the extra roasted veggies. I hope you enjoy as much as my family did!

Simple Beef Stroganoff

Such a family favourite, this is lunch the next day!

I used to dread this as a kid. I thought it looked awful, didn’t want to eat it and wondered why mom made it for dinner. Fast forward a few years (okay, decades) and I decided to try making Beef Stroganoff for my kids. I looked up different recipes, I wanted something simple, easy, using up ingredients I had on hand. After reading a few recipes and getting the general idea, I came up with my own easy and kid requested, version. I still haven’t figured out why my kids ask for this on the regular, but I do know when I make it, I better make extras! This recipe is so easy, I can make it before I go to work and all my husband has to do is cook the egg noodles. These pictures are from exactly that situation, and lunch the next day.

Ingredients

1 lb beef steak (I usually use fast fry or marinating cuts, thin that you can easily slice)

4 cloves of garlic, diced

1 can Campbell’s Mushroom Soup

1/4C milk or cream

1 large spoonful of sour cream

Salt and pepper to taste

1 package Egg Noodles

Directions

This dish is so simple, and only requires a pot, a pan and a cutting board. I start by slicing my beef into small strips. Thin, but also short enough that my kids don’t have to complain about cutting them. I vary what beef I use, based on what the store has available and at what price. A thinner, fast fry steak is my go to. It is easier to cut and cook. Whichever cut you choose you want to be able to slice it thin and into small pieces to make eating easier. Start heating your water to boil and set your pan on the stove to get it warming. If using a non stick pan, no oil is needed. If using cast iron or steel, add a tbsp of oil.

Once the beef is sliced, add it to your warmed pan. Season with salt and pepper. Salt helps bring out the flavour of the beef and season your dish well. Add the diced garlic and sautee your beef until browned.

Once your beef is browned, add the can of mushroom soup to the pan. Then add the 1/4C of milk or cream and stir together. Once stirred, add the dollop of sour cream. You can add a little more or little less, depending on your tastes, but I find a big spoonful is the right amount.

Not the prettiest looking, but this is how you
know you’re doing it right.

The egg noodles should be done by now, don’t forget about them! Stir the ingredients with the beef until combined and steaming. The sauce will thicken a bit, but will still leave enough to cover your noodles. Plate the noodles first, then spoon the stroganoff mixture on until you have the desired amount of sauce. If your sauce gets too thick, add a little bit of milk or cream at a time and stir until incorporated and you get the desired consistency.

This recipe is super simple, it has mushrooms which my kids don’t like, but for some reason, they LOVE this! If you need a quick, easy meal on a busy night this is our go to. You can substitute plain yogurt for sour cream, depending on what you have on hand.

This dish makes leftovers easy, as you can store together for a quick reheat and enjoy!

Whipped Peanut Butter Cookies

Whipped cookies are usually reserved for shortbreads, or meringues, so to think of a, rich, hearty cookie like a peanut butter one seems absurd! I stumbled upon this becoming a light, airy, whipped dough by accident. I never seem to focus on one singular task at once, I always have three or more going at the same time, especially when it comes to baking! I had started this recipe and let it mix longer than I intended. With softened butter and peanut butter blending together longer, it created a lighter, whipped base that the rest of the ingredients incorporated into beautifully. I watched the baking time closely as I was a little concerned with such a different dough, but the end result was a slightly crunchy cookie, with a soft, melt in your mouth middle that was just simply, perfect!

Ingredients

1/2C Butter, softened

1/2C Peanut Butter

1/2C Sugar

1/2C Brown Sugar, firmly packed

1 Egg

1 1/4C Flour

1/2tsp baking powder

1/2tsp baking soda

Dash of salt

Directions

Start by preheating the oven to 375F. The start mixing your butter. Mix until there are no big lumps. Add the Peanut Butter and mix until it looks smooth and well blended like this:

Then mix in both sugars. Blend them well until the sugar is incorporated and there are no lumps or big grains. Add the egg. As always, I prefer one bowl baking, so I add the baking powder and baking soda next. Toss in your dash of salt, then slowly start adding the flour. Shake a little flour in and give it time to mix into the dough before adding more. Once all the flour has been added and is mixed it, it’s time to bake. You want to blend your flour in well, but not over mix.

Use a non stick cookie sheet or line with parchment paper. Spoon the dough onto the sheet in tablespoon size balls. Take a fork and lightly flatten criss cross wise. These will flatten and spread a bit, so leave about 2″ in between cookies. Bake for 8-10 minutes, watching closely for the edges to begin to brown. With such a light dough, you want to be careful not to overbake as it can happen easily. Taking the cookies out, just as the edges turn golden will leave you with that soft, melt in your mouth middle. Once baked, let cool for a couple minutes, then finish cooling on a cooling rack. Seal tightly to keep freshness, or freeze in a sealed container to defrost at room temperature when needed,

Simple Fluffy Pancakes….or Waffles

Sundays meant waking up early, getting ready and going to Church. It also meant a big family breakfast, complete with Mom’s homemade pancakes or waffles! This was one of the first recipes I learned when I moved out many years ago. It is so simple to make and loved by my daughters and coworkers!

Ingredients

1.5C flour

2Tbsp Sugar

2Tsp Baking Powder

1 Egg

1/4C Oil (Vegetable or Canola)

1 1/4C Milk

1tsp Ground Cinnamon (optional)

Directions

I like my one bowl messes, so I start this recipe by combining the dry ingredients and then the wet. Add your flour, sugar and baking powder to the mix. Take a whisk and stir the dry ingredients together. Add the egg, then the oil and milk. Add cinnamon here if you would like. Mix together until well incorporated, there will still be lumps. I usually make a double batch so I have extra to freeze. Once the wet and dry ingredients are stirred together, set the bowl aside. Get your griddle or pan out and preheat. I use our griddle about 325F and set the stovetop to 5/10.

Setting the mix aside will help the dry ingredients to absorb the wet, making your mix thicker. If the mix is too thick, add a bit of milk, then oil until you reach the desired consistency. If you want to add cinnamon, now is the time to do it. I suggest a 1/4C of milk to a 1tbsp of oil for ratio. Stir the pancake mix until all the clumps have dissolved. Letting the mix sit is key to fluffy pancakes. I usually mix well, then let the griddle come to temperature before stirring the mix again. I whisk it, ensuring there are no clumps and thin as needed. The mix should be thick to stir, but still in a runny batter form. If you are making waffles, thin the mix a bit further so it is runnier. Add more milk than oil, but in small amounts.

Spoon a small ladle, about 4-6″ in diameter. Cook the pancakes until bubbles form, then flip. Once you see steam coming off the pancake, you know it is cooked. For waffles, thin this recipe a bit using 4:1 milk to oil ratio until the batter is thinner and easily runny. Pour the batter into your waffle maker as per the directions

We often make a double batch of french toast, pancakes or waffles and freeze what is left over. Putting the leftovers into a ziploc bag then right into the freezer is easy. My kids can take the bags out, and put the frozen french toast, pancake or waffle into the freezer for a quick and easy breakfast. Who needs eggos when you can make them yourself?

Fabulous French Toast

French Toast topped with fresh raspberries

Breakfast is one of my family’s favourite meals. I prefer a slow wake up, whereas the rest of my house wakes up with hungry stomachs ready to go! Weekends we tend to all move a bit slower, so time to cook bigger meals is available. Pancakes, Waffles, bacon, eggs, sausages, fruit salad, french toast, whatever we have on hand and are in the mood for is on the menu. My favourite is french toast. I love the sweetness of vanilla, spices of cinnamon and nutmeg all wrapped up in a fluffy, slightly crispy bread. A new twist I tried a few years ago was cooking the bread in coconut oil. Oh! I wish I had have tried this sooner. It adds an extra level of sweet and cooks the bread so well. It quickly became my favourite way to make french toast!

What You Need

Eggs (we use about 4 for half a loaf of bread)

Milk or Cream, not higher than 10%

Vanilla Extract (real is best)

Ground Cinnamon and Nutmeg

Bread (You can use so many different types. For ease, we prefer a texas toast cut)

Coconut oil for frying (optional, but so much better)

Shallow dish to sip the bread in

Frying pan or griddle to cook on

Directions

Start by cracking eggs into your shallow dish. A glass pie plate works perfectly for this! break the yolks and whisk them well with a fork. Add in a bit of milk or cream, about 3 tbsp is good, depending on how many eggs you’re using. You want to thin the eggs a bit, but not make the dish watery. Add in 1 tsp vanilla and mix. Shake your cinnamon and nutmeg on top. I add more spice as I dip bread, so start with 3 to 4 shakes of cinnamon and 1 to 2 shakes of nutmeg. Just enough to sprinkle the top. Take your fork and gently swirl the spices, careful to leave them on the top of the egg mixture.

Warm your pan. If using coconut oil, put the heat just below medium. Keep an eye on it as you cook as coconut oil has a lower heat point. Once the pan feels warm (test by holding your hand above it to see if you can feel heat, please do not touch the pan itself), add 1 tbsp of coconut oil. It will melt fairly fast. Take a piece of bread and holding it by one corner, lay one side of the bread in the egg mixture, then flip and cover the other side. Quickly set into the pan to fry. Cook on one side until the egg is dry and the bread is looking golden, flip and cook the other side.

Continue to do this until all your egg mixture or bread is used up, or you’ve cooked as many as you can eat! You’ll notice the spices don’t stay in the egg mixture long when you leave them swirled on top. I add more every 3 slices or so, so each piece has that fantastic flavour! Serve with syrup, butter, fresh fruit or any other toppings you like.

Quick and Easy Shepherd’s Pie

This recipe is not a traditional Shepherd’s pie. It’s a variation for a quick and easy dinner that kids gobble up! I usually plan this meal to follow a night we have had mashed potatoes. I make a bigger batch with dinner the night before so prep for the Shepherd’s pie is so fast and easy. The key to this one? The cheese topping. Once I added that, it was like the kids couldn’t get enough! This recipe was tested with my own kids and my daycare gang with great success. This recipe can be frozen very easily and cooked from frozen or after defrosting in the fridge overnight.

Ingredients

1 lb ground beef

Mashed potatos (about 4-5 medium sized potatoes worth)

500G bag of frozen mixed vegetables

2 cans condensed tomato soup

2C shredded cheddar cheese

Garlic powder, paprika, salt and pepper to taste

1/2C diced onion (optional)

Casserole dish (I used 2.5 qt)

Directions

As I said in the introduction, the easiest time to make this is when you’ve had mashed potatoes and have leftovers. It makes preparation so fast and simple.

Start by browning the ground beef in a pan. Add the seasonings and diced onion. If you’re unsure how much to add, 1/4 tsp of salt, 1/2 tsp of pepper, 1 tbsp of garlic powder and 2 tsp of paprika is a good measurement. Cook until brown all the way through and drain any excess grease. If you don’t have any mashed potatoes ready to go, start by peeling and cutting the potatoes to make mashed as they will take longer than your beef.

While the beef is cooking, warm the mashed potatoes. Preheat the oven to 400F. Add the cooked beef to the casserole dish. Add enough frozen vegetables to suit your preference. I add about 2/3 vegetables to beef. Stir in 2 cans of condensed tomato soup. Stir all 3 ingredients together until mixed well. Top with the mashed potatoes. I add a hearty spoonful in various places over the top of the beef mixture, then spread evenly with the back of a spoon until about 2 inches thick. Sprinkle the grated cheese over top. My kids prefer marble cheese on almost anything, but you can use any cheddar you like.

Cover the casserole dish and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the cover and continue to bake for 10-15 minutes longer. The sauce will be bubbling up the sides and the cheese melted and golden on top. If you are cooking from frozen, it will take an hour to an hour 20 to cook all the way through. Cover for the main portion of cooking, then remove the cover for the last 20 minutes if cooking from frozen. Again, the side will be bubbling and the top melted and golden.

Remove from the oven and serve.