Baked sweet potato fries are so incredibly good and addictive, it only takes me about 30 seconds to inhale an entire tray of them. I can't help but eat them so fast, and I'm always left wondering, 'why didn't I make two potatoes??' When the sweet potato is raw, one seems like a completely reasonable amount to eat, but when I finish the last fry, somehow there were never enough to begin with.

For these fries I used a recipe found over at Sally's Baking Addiction. I used a simple salt and pepper seasoning for mine, but stuck to her tips to get these fries super crispy. First they were coated in corn starch before they were seasoned/oiled, and then they were left to cool in the cooling oven for 20 minutes. I have to say they were enjoyably crispy. For an amazing lunch, I paired these fries with the steak and cheese sandwich I posted about yesterday.

Posted by Jen B On Friday, November 29, 2013 4 comments
We periodically get an amazing deal on beef and then for the next few months we enjoy roasts, steaks, and stews. The meat goes a long way, and I always feel like I'm winning when there is leftover steak in the fridge.

What normally would have been steak and eggs, John suggested we use our leftovers for awesome steak sandwiches. AGREE. We used home made buns from the freezer, pulled out the toaster oven, and got to work on this tasty leftover lunch.

The bun was buttered and then layered with strips of steak and mozzarella cheese.

I added chicken and rib BBQ sauce to mine (not pictured) and it tasted fantastic. Possibly even better than the steak we originally had.

We served the sandwiches with home made sweet potato fries and life was beautiful!

Posted by Jen B On Thursday, November 28, 2013 4 comments
One of my greatest strengths is the ability to obsess over music and listen to songs on repeat for hours. And no matter how long the track has been repeating, I don't get sick of the song. After a few hours of listening I will know all the words and want to hear it even more. The people I live with love that I do this and don't get annoyed with me at all (...I will keep telling myself that, anyway).

The song that's been at the top of my iTunes Plays Count this week is "I'll Wait" by Sweet Alibi.

I don't listen to a lot of radio these days, but while skipping stations in the car last week I landed on CBC Radio 2. I stopped there to hear "Fake Plastic Trees" by Radiohead and I had to keep listening when "I'll Wait" was played next. I have a place in my heart for Canadian folkie-rock, and "I'll Wait" hits every musical note I want it to.

They don't have a video for the song yet, but you can stream it online at CBC Music if you want to check it out.

Also if you add your email to Sweet Alibi's mailing list, you can download "I'll Wait" for free, which is what I did and have had it on repeat ever since.

Posted by Jen B On Wednesday, November 27, 2013 No comments
My Mom is turning 65 in a few weeks and I offered to make the cake. The only instruction I was given was: "chocolate". I thought there were a lot of places I could go with that so I started brainstorming ideas. One of my favourite ways to fancy up a cake is to add chocolate bars to it. One of Mom's favourites is Terry's Chocolate Orange, so I decided I would try making a chocolate orange cake. As I recently learned that it's good for me to try out new recipes, I spent much of Sunday fooling around in the kitchen with a chocolate orange cake.

The cake was super fun to bake and decorate, and because I was just making it for practice there was no stress while making it. I made a three layer cake that was iced mainly with whipped chocolate icing and had orange frosting between the layers and on the top.

This is what it looked like:

I was really happy with how the cake looked and it was actually pretty easy to decorate. I texted this picture to Mom and this was the response I got:

She is the sweetest, eh?

The look of the cake was what I wanted and I will definitely use some of the same decorative elements in the final version. The only thing that has to change is the taste. Turns out I went a little overboard with the orange extract that was added to the icing. So much so that my mouth actually tingled when I ate it. Whoops! It's still edible, but the chocolate orange balance just wasn't right. Dare I say, it was too much of a good thing.

But this is why I'm practicing. And I've learned a new baking rule: easy on the extract!

I still have a few weeks to figure out what cake I'll take to her birthday, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to adhere more to her initial instruction and just go with chocolate.

Posted by Jen B On Tuesday, November 26, 2013 2 comments
One of our Canadian grocery chains, Loblaws, recently introduced a loyalty card program. The main idea is you get rewarded with points when you shop at their store. 1000 points = $1.00 in store credit, so add up enough points and you get free stuff.

The closest Loblaws chain to us is The Real Canadian Superstore. It is actually the grocery store I shop at the least. My only reasons to shop there are for the hot deli and various PC products (usually bacon or chips - and sometimes a combo of the two). From time to time they do have sales worth going for, but mainly I do my grocery shopping at the Food Basics.

I was interested in the PC Plus loyalty card though, as the flyer indicated that the bacon we normally buy would earn us 1000 points ($1.00 in store credit). The points never expire, so I really just thought I would buy bacon over the next few years and get my 20,000 points ($20), which is the amount of points you need to earn before you can redeem your rewards.

Then I looked at the flyer more closely. Last week value size Palmolive dish soap (1.1 L) was on sale for $2.47, and also came with 2,500 points. So basically spend $2.47, get $2.50 back. I thought that was a pretty stellar deal. Since you need at least 20,000 points to redeem them, I bought 8 bottles of Palmolive (obviously!). Each bottle earned me 2,500 points, so 8 x 2,500 = 20,000.

So 8 bottles of Palmolive with tax was $22.33, but then 20,000 points ($20) was put on my rewards card. Getting the deal was great, but the experience was made even better because the cashier was really excited for me. He said: "I know someone who is going to get a great deal if they have a points card!" The cashier even tried to use me as an example to the guy in front of me of why he should sign up for the program (it's free to join). The guy in front didn't want a rewards card, but it made me feel good to be a celebrated deal getter.

Here is why I loved this deal so much:
(a) what you spent and what you got back was equal (plus you got a lot of product too)
(b) the product was practical and non-perishable
(c) it was a low cost investment (I only spent $20)

Now it wouldn't be a deal for me if I just wasted my free money on just anything, so I went back to the store and bought what we usually buy: bacon.

We love this bacon and buy it regularly, dividing it into portions and freezing it for weekly meals. 1kg of this stuff (2.2 lbs) is $9.99. Two packs cost $19.98, but in order to redeem my points I had to spend at least $20. So I bought a grocery bag for $0.05! I normally take re-useable bags, but this was a great reason to buy one. The total sale was $20.04, but we don't have the penny in Canada anymore, and to my surprise, The Real Canadian Superstore rounds down their prices to accommodate the lack of the penny. So my total was $20 even, all paid for by the loyalty card.

Plus, the bacon also earned points (the flyer said 1000 points, but they each rang in at 2000 points). So I currently have $4.00 on my loyalty card. How cool is that?

So to summarize (because I am so damn excited about it!):

I spent $22.33, got 8 bottles of dish soap and $20 in store credit. Then spent the free $20 on bacon and a shopping bag, and currently have $4.00 in store credit. The way I look at it, I bought bacon like I normally do, but got over 8 L of free dishsoap and $4 in store credit.

Now having said all this, last week was the first week of the rewards program, which could be why they had such a great points deal. This weeks flyer didn't have any deals that appealed to me, so who knows if something so good will come around again. I know I will be watching for it, though. If it turns out this is my one and only PC Plus deal, I'm happy to say it was a damn good one!

Posted by Jen B On Monday, November 25, 2013 8 comments
When my friend Natalia got married, she held part of her reception at Wish Restaurant in Toronto. The atmosphere was perfect for a wedding and the brunch options all sounded amazing. I ended up choosing a menu item called the Florentine: poached eggs over wilted spinach with leak and Parmesan fondue. The eggs were lovely and the meal was served with a tasty amount of breakfast potatoes. Beautiful food to celebrate a beautiful day.

Posted by Jen B On Friday, November 22, 2013 2 comments
At the start of 2013, a few friends posted about happiness jars. Happy moments are collected throughout the year in a jar and at the end of the year, it is opened up and you remember all the nice things that happened.

I thought it was a pretty good idea so I put a jar by my desk and started filling it with happy little notes.

I was pretty good about adding to the jar until May, when my friend Jen let me know about an even better idea for collecting happy moments: an App called Happier (now available on the web too). Happier is a similar concept to the happy jar, except it also involves a social network. Not only are you thinking about and collecting your own happy moments, but you get to look through other people's happy moments too. This is one of the best features of Happier, as it often makes me happier to read about the day to day things that make others smile. Things like "I got 8 hours of sleep!" or "The sun was out all day" are just really nice to read about.

The app has expanded a lot since I joined in May, and each new version is better than the last. In the current version when you post three happy moments in a day, you're rewarded with an image that says "You're Awesome". There is also confetti that rains down on the screen after you post a happy moment, which is both fun and encouraging. They even celebrate user milestones, as I recently reached my 200th moment and was rewarded with this appearing on my screen:

On the social side, you can "smile" at moments, comment on moments, share them, follow other people's moments, and search for happy moments by category. For example: "eating awesome food" and "animals" are both categories to browse. Scrolling through these categories, you'll find hundreds of posts of people just loving on their pets or being overjoyed by the food they've just eaten. It's really a lot of fun.

If you want to check out the happy moments I've posted, you can find them by clicking here.

Thinking about the little things and being part of the Happier community has been a very positive addition to my year. If I'm having a bad day, Happier is a great place to go to be reminded of all the little things that make life fun. And refreshingly, for a social network, it is a very positive space to be. Most of the comments I get on my moments are variations of "Me too!" or "I love that!" or "I should do that too!" Obviously not everyone is made happy by the same things, but if you see something that doesn't appeal to you, you can just scroll past it and find twenty other moments that will make you smile.

Hundreds of little things made me happier in 2013, and I'm looking forward to going over my Happier posts and reading through my happiness jar so I can remember all the moments that made me smile.

Posted by Jen B On Thursday, November 21, 2013 6 comments
I'm adding another item to my list of 2013 Blog Milestones. Today is the 400th post on the blog!

It's been a really active year on the blog and I'm very happy to celebrate all the times I've hit 'publish'. Over the entire year I have averaged 15 blog posts per month, but since I upped my game in June, I've been averaging 22 posts per month. So awesome and very proud of myself.

Thanks for being on this ride with me. It really is a lot of fun! :)

Posted by Jen B On Wednesday, November 20, 2013 6 comments
We had a last minute family dinner on the weekend and while John was in charge of making the 6lb roast beef, I made a tray of squares for dessert with supplies I had on hand.

I looked for these squares online to double check the ingredients and this treat has many names, including: Mile High squares, Chocolate, Peanut Butter, and Marshmallow squares, and Pudge.

2.5 cups milk chocolate chips
1/4 cup margarine
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
4 cups mini colourful marshmallows

Put chocolate chips, margarine, and peanut butter in microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds and stir to combine. Microwave another 30 seconds and stir until all is melted together.

Combine melted chocolate mixture with marshmallows and stir until marshmallows are sufficiently coated. Pour into a greased square pan and cool for a few hours in the fridge.

Makes 20 giant squares (the way I first cut them).

Or 40 more reasonably sized squares.

Posted by Jen B On Tuesday, November 19, 2013 4 comments
Cake pops are delicious, fun to eat, and a hit at parties (who doesn't love eating food on a stick?). I've made them five or six times over the past few years, and each time I've been rewarded with around 50 cake pops. They are best for sharing, as that is a lot of cake on a stick!

The idea of cake pops is simple: mix baked cake with icing and form into balls. Add a lollipop stick. Dip balls into chocolate or candy melts, set, and enjoy. The pros can make them look like any shape, but as a cake pop amateur, I tend to sick to a plain old ball on a stick.

The first few batches I made were balls on a stick + melted chocolate chips + sprinkles.

Next batch, I played with the colour of the cake/icing to make them more festive inside.

Earlier this year, I tried making heart shaped cake pops, and they (mostly) turned out, but it was a lot more challenging.

Recently I made them again for my friend Jen's birthday. It was a team effort. I made plain ones (no sprinkles) and then she decorated them.

Dipped cake pops
Cake pops with my friend Jen's spooky decorating
In my most recent adventure in cake pop making I realized a few things:

(1) I hate making 50 cake pops at a time. Rolling the balls is fun, but dipping 50 balls on a stick into chocolate is tedious. From now on I am only making half batches (I want baking to be fun - and 25 cake pops is still a lot of cake pops!).

(2) I haven't figured out candy melts and find them really difficult to work with. Every cake pop I coat with the candy melts cracks, and I find they aren't as fluid as melted chocolate chips. Now, obviously they work for other people, so there is just some part of the technique I am missing. Currently I'm not patient enough to learn how to make them work, so I'm giving up on using them for now. Chocolate chips do the job, so I am going to stick with them.

From here on out, my goal is to keep cake pops fun. They really do taste fantastic and I don't want some minor frustrations to keep them off my baking list.

Posted by Jen B On Monday, November 18, 2013 6 comments
Since the moment I met him, John has been a master of spice. I remember when we first got together, he would bring over delicious home made dishes for me to share with my room mate. Good food is definitely a quick route to my heart, and we have shared many amazing meals over the years.

One of our favourite meals is a good curry, but we have gotten out of the habit of making them. Last week we re-discovered our love for them and had a fantastic meal of coconut curry chicken and curried potatoes with peas served over basmati rice. This meal was so tasty and filling - I'm so glad we remembered how much we love them.

Posted by Jen B On Friday, November 15, 2013 4 comments
We are about halfway through November and I am still surprised every time I look at the calendar.  It is cold and we've had snow, but somehow it doesn't feel like mid-November yet. I'm lost somewhere in September, I think, as that sounds much more reasonable. Summer always seems to go fast, but this one really flew by.

One of the drawbacks of the colder months is less access to fresh vegetables at a good price. One major budget blower in the winter is lettuce. In the summer a big, beautiful romaine is $0.79. In the winter they are small, wilty, and $2.49 ($2.99 some days). The price increase and quality drop has already begun, and I came home lettuce-less on my most recent grocery run.

One thing that is cheap and plentiful this time of year is carrots. I really like carrots, but I have a hard time just eating a carrot and not being so completely bored. I find even dipping them boring - and my jaw gets mad at all the crunching. I asked Google if there was a way to make carrots more exciting - and Google didn't let me down (it rarely does).

I found a recipe for carrot salad. So simple, I never thought to do it. Just grate a carrot, season it, and eat. This recipe suggested mayo and lemon juice. I tried it and it tasted pretty good. The next day I mixed a spoonful of Greek salad dressing with the shredded carrot and it also tasted pretty good. For my third try I mixed in some chopped cucumber and topped it with cucumber dressing. It was tasty too.

I currently have 5lbs of carrots in the fridge and I'm looking forward to eating them as fun salads.

Posted by Jen B On Thursday, November 14, 2013 6 comments
Often times when I dip candy or cake pops into chocolate, I end up with some leftover melted chocolate. When this happens, the options are: (1) eat with spoon; (2) let harden and re-use next time; (3) harden with sprinkles for a tasty treat. I'm most likely to opt for option one or three.

Here are my favourite sprinkles in some leftover dark chocolate from Monday's experiment. It was a tasty snack and made for a colourful photo.

Posted by Jen B On Wednesday, November 13, 2013 4 comments
I have a Twitter account, and one of the neat things about following other bloggers on there is your Twitter feed often becomes a waterfall of amazing recipes and craft ideas. Recently Kelly over at Just a Sliver posted a recipe for Cinnamon Sugar Doughnut Muffins, and with a name like that I couldn't stop myself from making them.

I'm normally a cake mix kind of person, but I easily made these from scratch and they turned out great. I only had enough butter to make half a batch, but that was probably a good thing, as these were rather delicious. You want to know what makes them so delicious? Once baked, they are dipped drenched in butter and then coated with cinnamon sugar. So much yum!

Getting ready to dip
Soaking up the butter
Roll in ALL the sugar

So fricken' good!
For the complete recipe, click over to Just a Sliver.

Posted by Jen B On Tuesday, November 12, 2013 4 comments
I am following through on the lesson I learned last week, which was to have more fun in the kitchen and start practicing recipes. I no longer have to wait for an event to try something new; it is actually less stressful for me to practice first so I don't have to 'get it perfect the first time'. Practice makes perfect, and practicing is super fun and yummy.

Over the past few months I have been collecting flavour extracts. I've been adding flavour drops to hot chocolate (orange and peppermint work great for that) or coffee (almond is tasty addition) or use them in baked goods (lemon made these cupcakes zing). I love working with flavour extracts and want to find more reasons to use them.

I have been toying with the idea of making a big batch of chocolate creams/patties around Christmas time, and last night I found myself practicing. I didn't want to make a whole batch (30 or more) so I took a cue from the internet and altered the recipe so it was closer to a single serving. Cutting a recipe down is super easy when there are only a few ingredients (and no eggs!) and I got to use my love of basic math to work it out. My kind of fun.

So I took a peppermint patty recipe I found through yoyomax12 (love her!), and adapted it to a smaller portion.

Bite Size Chocolate Patties (Practice Edition):

4.5 tbs icing sugar
1/2 tsp corn syrup (I used golden)
1/2 tsp water
1/2 tsp veg oil
drops of flavour extract of choice 
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips

I wanted to make three flavours, so first I mixed the icing sugar, corn syrup, water, and veg oil, into a blob. Next I separated my big blob into three smaller blobs and added flavour to each (one orange, one peppermint, one almond). Then I divided each flavoured blob into 3 bite sized patties. They were really sticky so I put them in the fridge to harden for about an hour. Then I dipped them in dark chocolate and put them back in the fridge to harden.

Things I learned by practicing with a small batch:

1. The patties get really melty in the chocolate. If I make a big batch I will try to dip faster.

2. The original recipe called for light corn syrup (the clear kind) but I found I could use golden and the patties still came out white.

3. I didn't pay close enough attention after dipping and lost track of which flavour was which. If I make a big batch I will have to be more organized. I also thought about colouring each patty according to flavour (green for peppermint, orange for orange, light yellow for almond).

4. These were really quick and easy to make - so I now have a new 'single serving' treat I can turn to during moments of craving (...and yes, 9 bite size pieces could be a single serving!).

5. The patty part of this recipe could be any flavour. I am looking forward to picking up more extracts to build my collection of options.

6. Dark chocolate is fantastic.

Posted by Jen B On Monday, November 11, 2013 8 comments
There is nothing better than a big breakfast at Mom's. Growing up she always made sure we were well fed, and as adults, the dinners/lunches/breakfasts at her place are always delicious and served in enormous quanities.

A big breakfast at Mom's usually happens on Christmas day. Her breakfast options include everything, with a side of everything else. Eggs (any style), hash browns, bacon, peameal bacon, sausage rounds, English muffins, various cheeses, V8 juice, and orange juice (sometimes with champagne in it).

Pictured here is a huge pile of bacon (peameal and regular), keeping warm until everything else is ready. If you are quick enough, you can sneak a piece of snackin' bacon while waiting for breakfast to be served.

Posted by Jen B On Friday, November 08, 2013 6 comments
We got our first real snow storm of the season late last night. I know this because we were driving home in it and I was reminded that we need to put our snow tires on. Rain can quickly turn into snow this time of year - what fun!

Checking outside this morning, the snow had yet to melt away. The air was damp and cold and it made me long for hot chocolate, Christmas lights, and festive music. I think we still have some time before there is a constant blanket of snow on the ground, but like the Stark's say, Winter is coming.

Patio table with snow
Hanging basket with snow

Posted by Jen B On Friday, November 08, 2013 8 comments
A few summers ago I took this photo at my friend Taye's cottage. I had just started using the Hipstamatic App on my iPod and I was taking photos of anything and everything, as I was under the impression that a 70's filter made everything more awesome. It wasn't always the case, but this is one of the better photos I took.

Posted by Jen B On Wednesday, November 06, 2013 5 comments

This happened this morning.

Love using this mug!

Posted by Jen B On Tuesday, November 05, 2013 12 comments
It wouldn't be a birthday without some festive music, so I'm sharing some of my b-day faves and hoping you have a fabulous day too! :)

The Classic:

The New Favourite:

Memories of My Youth:

Posted by Jen B On Tuesday, November 05, 2013 No comments
It's my birthday tomorrow, so we had a big turkey dinner last night at Mom's. Like always, Mom's turkey was perfect and our bellies were full (over-full mostly). I elected to make a cake for last night's affair and I excitedly opted to make a Rainbow Cake.

Baking the cake was easy and fun. I used two white cake mixes, which I made one at a time and each became three layers of the cake. I absolutley love working with colour paste and over the next while I am going to find any excuse to use them. Colour is fun!

Prepare cake mix
Divide into three
Add colour (red, orange, yellow) and mix
Bake for about 22 minutes
And repeat!!

Add colour (green, blue, purple) and mix
And bake about 22 minutes
All the colours of the rainbow - baked!
The assembly of the cake was a little harder than baking, which I detailed in yesterday's post. I excitedly stacked the layers together (with a little parchment paper between them), and when I unstacked them, each layer ripped a giant hole in the layer beneath it. Whoops! Also, the more I handled the layers, the more fragile they became, with the green one actually breaking in three. If I try this cake again I know it will go a lot smoother, and I'm happy to say the cake turned out awesome regardless of the difficulty I faced.

While dealing with cracking and breaking cake layers, I forgot to take photos of how it was assembled. And while decorating, I was just hoping that it didn't collapse, so no photos of that either. Just imagine it being assembled with lots of wishing and hoping that it would work out.

To cover the cake and ice between the layers, I needed almost three full cans of vanilla frosting. I wouldn't claim that I have awesome icing skills, and icing a multi-layer, multi-colour cake with a tonne of icing is hard. The crumbs of each colour layer seemed to actively jump onto the icing knife so they could spread themselves happily throughout the white icing. Every attempt at correcting it seemed to make it 100 times worse. But not to worry! The solution is to distract the people with sprinkles. Sprinkles are my new cake decorating best friend.

Also, it is super fun to throw sprinkles at a cake!
Based on the complications, I wasn't really sure what it would look like inside. I'm so happy that it did not disappoint. This cake is definitely visually crowd pleasing. It tastes pretty great too.

Posted by Jen B On Monday, November 04, 2013 8 comments
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