Tag Archives: chocolate

Holiday Traditions – And a Ganong Giveaway!

Some people are into the themed, colour-coordinated, or matchy-matchy trees, but not me. Growing up, our Christmas tree was always a mismatched hodge-podge of ornaments that were bought, received as gifts, or hand-made. In fact, the making of ornaments is probably the single strongest memory I have of my childhood holiday traditions. My grandmother was the artsy type, and for many years through the 70s and 80s she ran a ceramics class out of her kitchen. She had kilns in the basement for firing her greenware, and shelf after shelf of figurines, dishes, ornaments and other tchotchkes to choose from. As a very young girl, I remember sitting at the big oval kitchen table, newspaper down in front of me to protect the fruit-themed tablecloth, pots of paint and a little cup of water to wash my brush to the side. I felt so grown up to be sitting there with Grandma, painting just like her. And every year, we painted ornaments. I still have most of the ones I painted, and a few that she did for me as well – bells and angels and Christmas trees, and even a few non-traditional ones like a dragon and a unicorn.

Making ornaments for our tree is a tradition I wanted to carry on with my children. We have done craft kits in the past, but this year I wanted them to take a stab at painting their own. Rather than seek out ceramic ornaments to paint, I found this Salt Dough Ornament recipe from Sarah at Doing All The Things, and decided that would be the ornament of choice for Christmas 2013.

This craft couldn’t have been simpler. The dough took about five minutes to make, and I even made it ahead and stored it in the refrigerator for a couple of days in an airtight container {but let it come to room temperature before rolling}. Jamie and Eliza had a blast helping out, using the big rolling pin to help me get it started, and then cutting out their Christmas-themed shapes with the big cookie cutters I found in my massive cookie-cutter collection. {As an aside, I rarely make cut-out cookies – why the heck do I have 562 cookie cutters in a box?}

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Once they were done rolling and cutting, we popped them into the oven to bake/dry for an hour. This was just enough time for the kids to sit down with some popcorn and watch the original animated How The Grinch Stole Christmas while I cleaned up the counter and went on the hunt for paint in my massive craft stash. And a hunt it was – why do I not have green tempera paint? Clearly that was an oversight when I was stocking the kids’ craft supplies. Thankfully it was remedied by finding paint set that had the necessary colours. And when the Grinch had returned the stolen Christmas goodies to Whoville and the ornaments had cooled, it was time to paint!

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And paint they did. Eliza didn’t need much guidance, but let me tell you, it was an interesting experience to help Jamie paint! At three years old, he didn’t really grasp the concept of washing his brush between colours, so his ornaments are more tie-died than clean. But that’s part of the charm, right? I think they look wonderful regardless, and he was so happy to paint them, and so proud to see them displayed. This is a craft that I think we will repeat, and not just during the holiday season – I have some dinosaur cookie cutters in my box of baking goodies that have yet to be opened. Perhaps we’ll make some Just Because ornaments in a month or so!

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I was recently invited to a media event hosted Ganong Bros., in celebration of 140 years of family-run business in St. Stephen, New Brunswick. When I told my friend Monica where I was headed after work that day, she gushed about her love of this true Canadian brand, and how Ganong was a core part of her family’s holiday traditions, and had been since she was a child. For Monica, a New Brunswick native, Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without a box of Ganong chocolates open for nibbling while decorating the Christmas tree – the double-dipped cherries were her father’s favourite, and she always has a box of the milk chocolate assortment for her daughters when they come home from university. But the key to her family’s Christmas celebration is a bowlful of Chicken Bones, the very first treat of Christmas morning while they open their gifts. Until recently, Ganong products were difficult to find out here in Alberta, and Monica had to resort to getting her family in the Maritimes to send her care packages, or to order online. One year, she wasn’t able to get them at all and instead bought a different brand of the same type of candy, and her daughters declared that Christmas just wasn’t Christmas without Ganong Chicken Bones!

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I left the Ganong event with armfuls of chocolates – a bag for me, a bag for Monica whose stories I shared with the Ganong family and staff at the event, and a bag to share with one of my lucky readers. This lovely assortment of candy and chocolate can be won by one of you! To enter, leave a comment with one of your favourite holiday memories or traditions, and I will draw a winner by random number. Contest closes for entries at midnight (Mountain time) on Friday, December 27th.

Happy holidays, readers! May your days be filled with love, light, and happiness always.

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Texas Sheet Cake (with Bourbon!)

Tuesday marked the end of a two-week medical drama for me. I was so jubilant when I was told by my nurse that I was good to go that I almost jumped for joy, and immediately exclaimed “This calls for cake!” She and I had a good laugh over my excitement, and I decided that a chocolate cake would be the perfect celebration.

When I got home, there was no way that I was in the mood to bake, level, and frost a layer cake. And decorating cupcakes was right out. Enter: Texas sheet cake. Somewhere between a chocolate cake and a fudgy brownie, this cake fit the bill: simple, yet rich. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately?), I only have a 12×18 pan in my arsenal, so I had to make a full recipe. This cake is huge, but I can already tell it will be gone soon. After my first piece, I went back to the pan with knife in hand, slicing out bite-sized slivers in the hopes that my husband wouldn’t notice. No such luck on that, by the way. My goal now is to find a half-sized pan, so I don’t have to make such a ridiculous amount. Some people say this isn’t a true texas sheet cake, and they may be right. It is, however, a beautiful cake nonetheless. Texas sheet cake also breaks the cardinal rule of letting a cake fully cool before icing it. The results of pouring hot icing over a hot cake are amazing, though – it results in the cake and icing becoming one, the lovely crumb of the cake slowly giving way to the oozy richness of the icing, a gradient of chocolate awesome.

As for the bourbon, well, that’s a boozy obsession of mine. I love bourbon. I love drinking bourbon, and I love cooking with bourbon. One of my favourite substitutions is bourbon for vanilla extract, so that’s what I’ve done in this recipe. I don’t think the minimal amount in the cake makes a huge difference, but there’s a nice subtle bourbon undertone in the icing.

I hope you enjoy this cake, I certainly did!

Texas Sheet Cake (With Bourbon!)
(Adapted from The Hungry Mouse)

Cake:
– 2 cups flour
– 2 cups sugar
– 1/2 tsp baking soda
– 1/2 tsp salt
– 2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
– 1 Tbsp bourbon
– 1/4 cup sour cream
– 8 oz semisweet chocolate chips
– 1/2 cup butter
– 1/2 cup olive oil
– 3/4 cup water
– 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Icing:
– 1 cup pecans, toasted & chopped
– 1/2 cup butter
– 1/2 cup heavy cream
– 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
– 1 Tbsp light corn syrup
– 1 Tbsp bourbon
– 3 cups icing sugar

Preheat your oven to 350F. Prepare a 12×18 pan by greasing lightly and lining with parchment paper.

In a bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk eggs lightly. Whisk in bourbon and sour cream. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine chocolate chips, butter, oil, water and cocoa powder. Heat over medium heat, stirring until mixture is smooth, about five minutes. Remove from heat and whisk into the flour mixture. When fully combined, whisk in the egg mixture.

Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth into corners with a spatula. Bake at 350F for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

While your cake is baking, prepare your icing. Toast pecans in a dry skillet over medium heat until dark and fragrant. Remove from heat and coarsely chop.

Combine butter, cream, cocoa powder, corn syrup and bourbon in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring until mixture is smooth, about five minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in icing sugar. Whisk until sugar is completely incorporated and all lumps are gone. If necessary, keep warm over low heat until cake is done. Pour over cake as soon as it comes out of the oven, and spread with a spatula.

Sprinkle immediately with toasted pecans, and let sit for 45 minutes before digging in.

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