If you are looking for a new never fail, always delicious soup recipe…..this is it. I originally found this soup recipe on the Kraft Canada website and then adapted it slightly. It is probably our very favourite soup and even a double batch is gobbled up within a couple of days. Super easy and quick to make and a guaranteed crowd pleaser.
Taco Soup Recipe
1 lb. of lean ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 – 540 ml (19 oz) can of black beans, rinsed (original recipe calls for two, but I find one is enough)
1 – 540 ml (19 oz) can of Alymer’s Spicy Red Pepper canned tomatoes*
1 – 398 ml (14 oz) can of tomato sauce
1 cup of frozen corn
1 package of taco seasoning mix (I use low sodium) *If you don’t have the spicy red pepper tomatoes and are substituting for regular, I’d use hot taco seasoning)
2 cups of water
1 cup of shredded cheddar or Tex Mex cheese
Brown the ground beef with the onions in a large pot. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Bring the soup to a boil and simmer on medium-low heat for 5 minutes. (If I have the time, I will often turn the temperature down to the lowest possible temperature and let the soup simmer for much longer.) Any leftover soup will taste great the next day as well. To serve, add a dollop of sour cream, sliced avocado, shredded cheese, crushed nachos and a squirt of fresh lime juice. (You can serve this however, you like, but the sour cream is the magic ingredient that really takes this soup to the next level. I like to stir it in to give the soup a bit of a creamy taste. Mmmm!) This soup is so yummy and turns out every single time.
*Alymer’s Spicy Red Pepper canned tomatoes is a staple in our pantry. We use it in chili and spaghetti sauce as well as this recipe. It seems to really enhance the flavour of almost any tomato based recipe you are making.
Is homework taking over your life? Is it causing arguments and meltdowns that are driving a wedge between you and your kids?
If the answer is “yes”, you’re not alone. Homework is an important part of growing-up and I believe that it not only helps children develop a good work ethic, but also teaches them to how to take responsibility for their own success. Despite the positives, I know I’m not alone when I say that it sometimes feels like homework is destroying our family time. It seems like there is always homework to be done and when it’s not spread out across the table, we are giving reminders and removing privileges to pay penance for the incomplete work. The homework load, coupled with a few chores as well as sports and other activities seems to be enough to put the whole family on edge.
My daughter started grade seven this fall and the change in expectations has hit our family like a wild storm. Between teen hormones and the workload, there have been more than a few meltdowns at our house. Our daughter had extremely limited experience with homework, quizzes or tests, so let’s just say it’s put quite a strain on the entire family. She is a great student, but that didn’t help the fact that she had no experience with time management, juggling due dates and the pressures of homework. For the first six weeks of the school year, we tried to work on helping her establish good work habits by teaching her strategies to make the work load manageable. Here are some of the things we tried to teacher Eden to assist her in coping with the changes and increased demands of grade seven.
1. Write down the due dates/test dates on a calendar. I actually found printable calendar templates and then printed 4 pages on one sheet, so my daughter could see the entire term at a glance. This allowed her to look ahead to projects that weren’t due for a while and still plug-in closer due dates as new projects came up. She didn’t use this for homework that was due the following day, more so for assigned projects, homework and tests.
2. Do not focus on everything that needs to get done. Pick one assignment at a time. Generally speaking, I’ve taught my daughter to work on those things that are the most pressing. So in other words, work chronologically with those items that are due first.
3. When there is more than one item due the same day, it can easily become overwhelming. In such cases, there are basically two plans of attack. One option is to work on the biggest/hardest project first to get it out-of-the-way. The second is to do all the small easy jobs first, so you don’t feel like there are so many things to do. Sometimes the sheer number of assignments/tests can be overwhelming, so completing the easy jobs means you can completely remove them from your mind and thus feel less pressure.
4. With large projects, it is really important to read through the entire assignment first, even if you aren’t ready to begin. Sometimes it is more daunting, when you haven’t taken the time to read over the assignment. Once you read it over, it sometimes helps to see the “big picture” and gives a better understanding of the expectations. In some cases, this can relieve some stress. The “unknown” coupled with deliberate avoidance (procrastination) can often cause more anxiety than the assignment itself. I’ve noticed that once Eden takes the time to read a larger assignment through, she’s sometimes able to see how she can break the project down into smaller manageable sections that don’t seem as overwhelming.
5. It is also important to read through an entire assignment right before beginning, so that specific expectations are very clear. Most teachers include a rubric with assignments/projects. A rubric is a step by step guide on how to achieve the best marks possible. When you begin without reading through the rubric first, it is easy to make very simple avoidable mistakes. My daughter learned this the hard way when she spent hours doing an assignment and then when she referred to the rubric near the end, she realized that her visual map was to be organized in chronological order. Although this was only worth a mark, it was an easy mark to guarantee just by following the rubric set out by the teacher. Don’t begin an assignment before reading over the entire rubric first!
6. Turn off the devices! Believe me when I say that 20 minutes of homework can easily take over an hour if your iPod or phone are turned on. Those little interruptions to find a good song or answer a text are killing the homework. They are a huge distraction and absolutely need to be removed. Spend good quality, uninterrupted time on assignments and they will be completed much faster.
We are now almost at the end of October and I think Eden has gotten a better handle on how to approach her homework successfully on her own. As a parent, I want so much for her to be successful, but it is difficult to know when to help and when to step back. I will never do homework for my daughter because that serves no one. She needs to develop the skills to be successful and can learn this best by experiencing both the highs and the lows. She needs to know what happens when she leaves an assignment until the last-minute and does poorly. She needs to know how it feels when her name is called out because she didn’t hand something in on time. As parents we always want to run to the rescue, but it is often at the expense of our children. In life, they will have ups and downs, and sometimes the best way to learn how to make it through the difficult times is to learn from your own person experience. We need to give children the opportunity to do just that….fail. They need to know what it feels like, how to process it and how to move beyond their mistakes and failures, so they can learn from them. In life, we won’t always be there to rescue them or pull their weight at a future job ~ therefore, they must learn to manage more independently.
Do not complete assignments for your kids. It is simply ridiculous. Do you honestly think the teacher doesn’t know you did the science project for your kid? Believe me….teachers know. In fact, they may even have your name in their books of marks! Don’t do your kids homework for them, but rather take the time to teach them strategies that will help them be successful and feel good about their accomplishments. Like my husband says, what’s the worst that can happen? She’ll bomb an assignment or a test. Hopefully, if there is a failure, your child will learn from it and do a much better job next time. If you bail them out by doing their work for them, believe me, they’ll never complete an assignment at school again…why would they? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out: “If I do my work at school, I have to do it, but if I take it home, my mom will do it for me!” Don’t fall into this trap!
If Eden has started an assignment and isn’t understanding something or needs me to proofread a finished report, by all means, but I will not do the work for her. Assist and teach as needed, but do not do the work. Hopefully, the worst is behind us and we have instilled some essentials techniques and skills that will help her to become more independent and achieve great success in grade seven without the entire family falling victim to the homework beast.
I don’t have a great photo as these didn’t get cut until I took them to work.
Here’s another one of the new fall recipes I recently discovered. “Baked Bree” is one of my favourite recipe blogs. Her photos are top notch, the recipes sound fantastic and the reviews are always great. When I found this recipe on her blog, I knew it would be a hit, but I have to admit it was no easy feat pulling this off between the kids activities and my crazy week at work. I was on “staff room duty” this week and that meant bringing in treats for the staff, in addition to the cleaning duties throughout the week. Wednesday is usually treat day, but my first attempt at this recipe was a total flop and so I had to re-do it and bring my treat in on Thursday instead. Sometimes, I’m not sure why I can’t choose the simpler route and stick to a recipe I’m already comfortable with. Why do I insist on testing something new when I plan to serve to others?
These Pumpkin Salted Caramel Blondies are really quite incredible and I will totally be making them again. After my first failed attempt, I actually made a few changes, but mostly just to “play it safe” and avoid another possible flop. The result was good, but I think the original recipe is over-the-top delicious. I will definitely stick to the original next time, as I’m sure the “under baking” was a result of me trying to do 100 things at once!! Several of Bree’s readers also commented on the fact that their blondies required extra cooking time, so I’ll just allow for that next time.
Bree’s Pumpkin Salted Caramel Blondies
This is Bree’s photo. Don’t they look scrumptious!!
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (I used ground)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup room temperature butter
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup Bree’s Sea Salt and Vanilla Bean Caramel Sauce (or store bought caramel sauce with 1 teaspoon sea salt) DO NOT DO THIS!! See below!
Combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl. In a second bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar until very light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla. Mix. Stir in the pumpkin puree. Finally, add the reserved flour mixture slowly, and stop when the batter is just combined.
Spray a 9×9 baking dish with cooking spray. Add half of the batter and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. (This was not long enough.) Remove the baked base from the oven and pour the caramel sauce over it. Cover the caramel with the remaining batter. Return the blondies to the oven and bake for another 30 minutes (or longer). A toothpick should come out clean. Let the blondies cool before cutting.
When I say my first attempt failed, it was really a series of unfortunate events that led to the demise of my first attempt. Firstly, all of the reviews of this recipe absolutely raved over Bree’s homemade Salted Caramel Sauce and rightly so…..it is to die for. There was no way I was going to do the “store bought” version, when clearly this is was took the recipe to the next level. I hadn’t made this type of a caramel sauce before and although I read the instructions carefully before making it, I followed my own instincts and gave the sugar/water mixture a “little stir” despite the fact that it clearly said not too. This resulted in crystals forming and the end product was not a sauce at all, but rather a variation of the sugar crystals I originally started with. I then made a second batch of the sauce and stuck to the directions and complete restricted myself from even removing a spoon from the drawer. The result was a “to die for sauce” that would be fabulous served on almost anything sweet! Sooooooo good!! I think I even botched the second batch “just a tad” by removing the boiling sugar and water before it reached a deep amber colour. I guess I was just so worried about burning it. Mine was super delicious, but not as deep of a colour as Bree’s. This is an absolute must. If you are not going to make this sauce, don’t even make the blondies. It is very easy, if you just trust Bree’s directions and are patient with the process.
One recipe of the sauce will make enough for the blondies with enough left over to enjoy in other ways throughout the week!
Sea Salt and Vanilla Bean Caramel Sauce
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup water
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 vanilla bean, sliced and seeded (Picked up vanilla beans at Bulk Barn)
1 teaspoon sea salt
Slice a vanilla bean in half. Using the back of the knife, scrape the seeds from the pod. Add the vanilla bean scrapings to the cream and add then add the sea salt. Set aside.
Put the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring the sugar to a boil. Let the sugar cook until it reaches a deep amber colour (DO NOT STIR) . Whisk in the cream mixture. It will bubble and go nuts, but keep whisking. It will come together.
Pour the sauce into a jar and keep it in the fridge. The sauce will thicken, but it is more of a loose sauce.This will keep for about a week in the fridge.
On my first attempt at making the blondies, I found they were not baking in the time recommended. I did bake them longer than suggested and thought they were done when I whipped them out of the oven on my way out the door for my son’s hockey game. I was so disappointed when I got home and realized the centre sank (obviously not baked long enough). Despite the fact that they couldn’t be served, they tasted absolutely delicious. The following evening, I attempted the recipe again, but much like the evening before, I really didn’t have much time to play with the cooking times as it was another crazy busy evening for the Roys. I decided to cook the entire blondie recipe at once and omit the caramel sauce layer (just saying I did that makes me feel like I’ve committed a federal offence). I just felt more comfortable baking them this way, as I wasn’t sure if the “runny” caramel sauce had contribulted to the under baking problem or not and didn’t have the time or stamina to play around with it. In lieu of the caramel sauce layer, I opted to change the blondies into more of a “poke” cake. When the blondies had cooled, I poked holes over the surface of the cake and poured the sauce over the top so that it seeped into the holes I had created and still infused the cake in a similar way. Of course, the blondies were now covered with holes, so I made a glaze to give them more of a finished look. The end result was very good, but I still think Bree’s original is the way to go. I can’t wait to get this one right!
Salted Caramel Glaze:
I found a recipe for this Salted Caramel Glaze on It’s Yummi and I have to admit, it was a delicious finishing touch to Bree’s Pumpkin Salted Caramel Blondies.
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt, divided
In a small saucepan over low heat, warm the heavy cream – but DO NOT boil! Keep it warm. (I microwaved it for about 15 seconds and then did 5 seconds here and there to keep it warm.)
In a separate medium saucepan, combine the sugar & water but DO NOT STIR. Place over medium-high heat & bring to a boil. Cook until mixture turns an amber colour (about 5 minutes). (Of course, by now I had attempted this process three times and finally got it right!)
Remove the pot from the heat and add warm cream, butter, and 1/2 of the salt. Stir gently until smooth & well combined. Pour over the cooked brownies and use a spatula to spread it evenly over the surface. Sprinkle with remaining salt.
Allow the glaze to set before cutting and serving. (The glaze did crack a bit as I was cutting the squares, so I heated my knife in an attempt to “score the surface” before slicing through the entire blondie.)
This ended up being a HUGE production that really wasn’t necessary. I was just trying to do too much without giving my self enough time. This recipe is not really complex or difficult and is absolutely worth the effort.
I love pumpkin and was looking for a few new recipes to try this fall. I came across Shannah Coe’s recipe from Just Us Four Blog and the combination of oatmeal and pumpkin sounded divine. The layer of pumpkin cream cheese frosting that is sandwiched between two soft and chewy oatmeal cookies is quite delicious. I think the recipe caught my attention because it reminded me of one of our family’s favourites: Aunty Myrna’s Oatmeal Shortbread Cookies. They are similar to today’s recipe, but with a layer of date filling in between. They are indeed a must try as well.
Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies
1 stick butter, room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 2/3 cup rolled oats
1 cup flour
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars together until smooth. Add the egg and vanilla. Mix well. Slowly add in the baking soda and the balance of the cookie ingredients. Stir until just mixed. Play the dough in a sealed container or plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Once chilled, create small balls of dough (about 2 teaspoons per ball). Place the balls on parchment lined cookie sheets. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until done. (I like mine on the “under baked” side, so I tend to stick to 8 or 9 minutes at the most.) Let the baked cookies cool for 1 minute on the pan before transferring them to a wire cooking rack to cool completely before adding the filling.
12 oz cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
2/3 cup pumpkin
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
While the cookie dough is chilling, prepare the filling by beating together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add in the pumpkin and mix until fully incorporated. Mix in the cinnamon and nutmeg. Add the powdered sugar, about 1/4 cup at a time, mixing well between each addition.
Match the cookies up by size/shape and then spread the frosting on one of the cookies. Top with a second cookie of equal size.
*I found that this recipe made about 4 dozen oatmeal cookies. However, once sandwiches, you only end up with 2 dozen (depending on the size of your original dough balls). Next time, I would double the dough recipe.
*The filling made a huge amount of frosting. I filled all of the cookies and had well over half of it left over. If you double the cookie recipe, there is no need to double the frosting. In fact, half a frosting recipe might even be enough for a double batch of cookies??
*I also found it to be very creamy (and delicious), but the icing would squeeze out as you bit the cookie. I found that keeping the cookies in the fridge really helped with that, but I also wondered if I might play with the recipe a bit next time. I will try using only one package of cream cheese (8 oz) instead of using the suggested 12 oz. I think this would stiffen the icing up just a bit and perhaps bring out the pumpkin flavour a little more, as well. (If it doesn’t work, I can always add the extra cream cheese to icing and make it according to the suggested recipe.)
I’m always on the hunt for new recipes to add to our weekly menu board. Our life seems to have gotten 10 times busier with Eden in grade 7. It seems like she has homework most evenings and weekends and although she is a good student, she didn’t really have any experience with homework, studying or project work from elementary school and the adjustment to managing the work load has been pretty huge for her. We are trying to support her and coach her through the changes, but it has been a very loooooong September. As the “homework cop”, I feel like I’m in grade 7 as well!
With our crazy busy schedule and the homework, new menu items needs to meet the following criteria:
stamp of approval from all 4 members of the family
We all love shrimp, but I really didn’t have a “recipe” that I followed when cooking it. I generally put it out for fondu nights, but rarely made a regular meal with it. I decided to look for a shrimp/pasta dish that would be both delicious and easy to prepare. I lucked out on the first one I found and I’ve already made it twice in the last two weeks. All I have to do is take the shrimp out of the freezer for the kids to be buzzing with excitement over the pending dinner. They love this and so do I ~ you can’t beat the 10 minute prep. time and I always have the ingredients on hand. All you have to do is keep of bag of shrimp in the freezer and you’re set to go! This recipe meets all of the criteria and is a new staple on our menu.
Garlic Shrimp Pasta
This recipe was found on Food.com and was submitted by Jessica K. Thanks for sharing such a great recipe!
1 lb. medium shrimp, deveined and tails removed
1 lb. spaghetti (depending on # of people you’re serving)
6-8 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup of butter (I use 1/2 cup)
olive oil (3 drizzles)
fresh ground pepper
red pepper flakes
Boil the spaghetti in water till tender, save 1 cup of pasta water for use later. (Jessica suggests adding oil, salt, and fresh herbs to the pasta water as it boils. I had parsley on hand and added some to the water. I’m guessing basil, oregano or parsley would be good. I had never heard of adding herbs to the water, but thought it was a great idea.)
Cook to “al dente”. Drain (reserving 1 cup of water) and set aside when done.
While pasta is boiling, wash the shrimp.
Melt 1/4 cup of butter over medium heat. Add shrimp.
Let cook till a little pink and starting to curl. (My shrimp is generally kept frozen. Although I thaw it out prior, I still find that it really waters down the butter during the initial cooking. I actually drained the liquid off the shrimp at this point and added another 1/4 cup of butter to ensure it wasn’t watered down.)
Then add garlic.
Cook 5-7 minutes and add oil. Continue to stir till shrimp is pink and curled.
Add pasta and seasonings to the skillet. Add just enough saved pasta water to keep the pasta moist, but not swimming in liquid either. Depending on the amount of pasta this may only require 1/2 the cup or all of it. Start with adding 1/4 of it then work up from there.
Keep tossing all ingredients around in skillet till all is incorporated and hot.
Serve with red pepper flakes and freshly grated parmesan cheese. Enjoy!
This pasta dish is very tasty and when served with a salad, makes a great meal!
I can’t honestly say that I am making this post based on personal experience or even word of mouth advertising. This recommendation is being made solely on my first impression of “Sweet Impressions“. This quaint bakery, studio and giftware shop is hidden just off Pembina Highway at 669 Stafford Street. I happened upon it by accident when I was searching for a Clarinet music book for my daughter at a nearby music store. The store front immediately captured my attention and I just had to check it out!
The front of the bakery has a wide selection of good quality giftware, most of which I have not seen anywhere else. I especially love the product line of aprons and baking tools for kids. I was totally captivated by the attention to detail and visual appeal of the gift shop. I had a chance to chat with Krista, one of the owners, and she explained how she managed to pull the look together on a shoe string budget, by scouring Kijiji and then putting in the work to give old pieces of furniture a fresh new look (no wonder I loved the place so much!)
Aside from the great look and feel of the bakery, they offer something unique in that they are 100% nut free. As well, they do not use any additives or preservatives in their baking. To hear the story about how they got started and how their successful business evolved, check out their video.
Of course, I couldn’t leave with out sampling some of their products! I bought a cupcake and some cookies and was very impressed with the quality of the baking ~ delicious!
Despite the delicious treats and nut free environment, my primary reason for this post is because I was so head-over heals impressed with the studio in the back. I absolutely love any space that is beautifully decorated and the studio was just too cool! I loved planning detailed theme parties for my kids when they were small, but those parties seem to be something of the past as my kids continue to get older and aren’t interested in party games or themed loot bags. I’m not sure that Eden, at 12 1/2, would be interested in a cookie decorating birthday party, but for those of you have that have children interested in baking…this is seriously “da bomb”! The studio is decorated in a wonderful retro look with everything perfectly matched and so quaint! They offer birthday party packages that are completely all encompassing with everything included from cupcakes to invitations and goody bags. You simply show up and pay the bill. I honestly don’t think there could be a more perfect location for a birthday party. If you are looking for something different, that is simple, safe for all participants (nut free) and the perfect backdrop for the best party pictures ever…this is it!
I didn’t have my camera with me because I was out shopping for a music book. These pictures are courtesy of the Sweet Impressions web site.
I think it’s safe to say I won’t be booking a birthday party, but they do off adult decorating classes as well. Maybe I’ll sign-up for a class and learn some tricks of the trade!
Whether you are looking for a special gift, picking up some allergy safe treats or booking a party, I would highly recommend checking out Sweet Impressions. It is recommended that you book birthday parties several weeks in advance to avoid disappointment. If you are one of those people who have had a party there, I would love to hear from you. Please share your experience by commenting below.
I enjoy hearing the success stories of others, especially those who rise-up and take a risk, put it all on the line for their vision and beat the odds and build a successful business. I wish the gals at Sweet Impressions continue success in their venture!
Last week, I tried 3 new Greek recipes and all of them were a hit. Like the gyro recipe, the recipe for this homemade Tzatziki Sauce was found on Cooking Classy. I have tried a few Tzatziki recipes in the past, but always felt that they were either too much work or lacking in flavour. I loved that this recipe was quick and easy to prepare. The cuccumbers to have to “rest” for 30 minutes, but the actual preparation time is minimal. I loved the flavour and will definitely being making this recipe again. It was great served with the gyros and tasted delicious as a dip with fresh pita bread from Baraka Pita Bakery on Main Street in Winnipeg (Mmmm….delicious!)
Jaclyn’s Tzatziki Sauce Recipe:
What You’ll Need:
1 medium cucumber
1 tsp salt
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 T. fresh lemon juice
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 T. chopped fresh parsley
1 T. chopped fresh dill (or 1 tsp dried)
Freshly ground black pepper
Peel the cucumber and slice it in half lengthwise. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Dice.
Place the diced cucumber in a mesh strainer and sprinkle with salt. Toss to evenly coat the cucumber chunks. Allow to rest 30 minutes at room temperature.
Rinse the cucumbers and place over several layers of paper towels. Squeeze some of the liquid from cucumbers (almost as if wringing moisture from a cloth).
Place the cucumbers in a food processor and pulse to chop to desired size. Add in Greek yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, red wine vinegar, parlsey and dill. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Press pulse to blend or if you want it chunky you can simply stir the other ingredients.
Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container up to 3 days.