Slow Cooker Texas Beef Chili

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Do you hate beans but like chili? Do you like beans but also like chili that’s a little different? Do you like chili? If you answered yes to any of the previous questions then this chili is for you. It’s beanless and beefy and incredibly satisfying, which is good because though it may be spring SOMEWHERE, in Ottawa we’ve had some major flooding and on Monday it stopped raining enough to SNOW. ALL. DAY. So we kind of need something cockle-warming. This chili is adapted from one my parents found on the internet and printed out and that I stole off their fridge in Florida and smuggled across the border.

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Start with 2lbs cubed beef chuck or stewing beef, and huck that in a non-stick skillet on high to sear all the sides. Chuck the browned beef into a large slow-cooker pot.

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Next, add in 2 tablespoons Worcestershire (“wooster”) sauce, 1 cup beef broth, a 28oz can of diced tomatoes, and 2 tablespoons tomato paste. Now, the recipe did not say to drain the tomatoes so I didn’t and I found my chili ended up a bit on the watery side (I also added twice as many tomatoes as the recipe asked for). I thickened the sauce with some cornstarch later on and it turned out super awesome, but I’ll leave it to your discretion to either drain the tomatoes or use a smaller can.

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Dice up the following: 1 white onion, 2 red bell peppers, 2 large carrots, 2 celery stalks, and a couple large green chilis. I used Anaheim chilis because they are huge and not too hot and I wanted to be able to feed this to LongJohn. Gather as well 1 tablespoon chili powder, 2 teaspoons cumin, 2 teaspoons paprika (ours is smoked), 1 teaspoon onion powder, 2 teaspoons garlic powder, and 1 teaspoon salt. Chuck all that in the slow cooker.

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Don’t forget to give it a bit of a stir.

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Cook that sucker on low for 8-12 hours, or on high for about 6.

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Before serving, juice 1 lime and add the juice to the mix.

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Serve garnished with either grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, or chopped cilantro (or all of the above, who are we kidding?).

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Momofuku’s Banana Cream Pie, only slightly butchered.

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I’ve been watching a lot of Netflix since LongJohn was born – it helps to pass the time while being forced to stay perfectly stationary for long periods of time. I figured going into this that I’d try to stick with documentaries – that way I could educate myself and if I was interrupted (which I often am) then I wouldn’t miss too much plot if they played in the background while I did something else. And so I’ve been watching a ton of cooking documentaries, and I just finished plowing through The Mind of a Chef. In the first season, the focus is largely on David Chang, owner of Momofuku in New York. One of the segments features his pastry chef, who whips up a banana cream pie like it was nothing.

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It looked so easy I figured I could do it even with LongJohn around. And then I had to think about that for a minute. This recipe involves making a custard, and uses four different kitchen appliances, some of them more than once. It really isn’t THAT easy, but it’s easy for me NOW to do. Talk to me five years ago and I would never have attempted this, or I would have addressed it as a challenge. It’s weird how much this blog has made me grow as someone who cooks things. But on to the pie, which is semi-easy if you’ve made things in the kitchen before. I set up a mis en place because I knew LongJohn could interrupt me at any time.

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I also took my butter and, because my microwave is all the way in the basement, I set it outside on my back porch in the sun to melt. I’m that lazy.

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Plus it was like 33°C, which is more than warm enough to melt butter.

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You like my squinty face?

And so it did.

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The recipe I used printed everything in weights (ounces and grams) so I’m going to use ounces here – my apologies. Get your kitchen scale ready. Start with 8 oz very ripe bananas (this is like two). These are the black ones that you chuck in your freezer. Pitch those into a blender together with 2 3/4 oz whipping cream, and 2 1/4 oz milk and blend the crap out of them until they’re lovely and smooth.

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Next, tip in 3 1/2 oz sugar, 1 oz cornflour (I’ve come to realize that this is a Britishism for cornstarch, not masa harina, which I used – butchery #1), a pinch of salt, and 3 large egg yolks. Blend that again, scraping down the sides of the blender, until the colour is uniform.

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Pour that stuff into a medium saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, whisking often, until the mixture thickens. Clean your blender while this is going on.

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The recipe says to bring it to a boil but mine never did. Eventually it will be a very heavy paste that holds its shape. Pour the thick stuff back into the blender.

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Grab 2 leaves gelatin or 1 pouch gelatin (I thought a leaf equaled a pouch and used two pouches – butchery #2) and follow the instructions to make it “bloom”. When it’s ready, chuck it in the blender along with 1 1/2 oz butter and blend until smooth (again).

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Next, drop in 1/2 teaspoon yellow food colouring (otherwise your pie will be brown not  yellow) and blend again until the pie is artificially crazy yellow (it will get lighter later, I promise).

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Pour the yellow goo into a container and chill it for 30-60 minutes.

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While that’s happening, make the chocolate crumb for your crust (I actually did this first, because it made more sense to me). Preheat your oven to 300°F and stir together 3 1/2 oz plain flour, 1 teaspoon cornflour (again, cornstarch), 3 1/2 oz sugar, 2 oz cocoa powder, and 1 teaspoon salt.

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Tip in 3 oz melted butter (yay, the sun!) and beat until small clusters form.

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Spread the clusters on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. The clusters should be still moist but will dry out as they cool. In order for this to happen they have to be a bit bigger than what you see in the picture, because these will burn (so either cook them for less time or make them bigger – butchery #3). Apparently this makes more than you need for a 10″ pie so you will only use 3/4 of it but I didn’t want to waste it or store it so I used it all in my 9″ pie plate and it was totally fine.

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Once the clusters have cooled, chuck them into a food processor and pulse until they turn sandy and there are no chunks left.

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Tip these granules into a bowl and toss with 2 teaspoons sugar and 1 tablespoon melted butter.

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Work that with your hands until the stuff is moist enough to knead into a ball (I did not do this because my poor carpal tunnel hands are killing me). Press that into the pan. I did it with just the crumbs and it was fine (butchery #4).

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Don’t forget to press it firmly into all the corners of the pan – you don’t want it to be too thick there.

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Now for the rest of the banana cream. Whisk 6 1/2 oz whipping cream and 5 3/4 oz icing sugar together until stiff peaks form (remember that it helps to chill your beater and the bowl beforehand).

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Tip in your cooled yellow goo and mix, mix, mix.

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See? I told you it would get paler.

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Tip half the goo into your pie shell. Cut up another, less ripe banana (I used two because they were kind of weenie) and spread that around on the surface. You can get fancy with the layout but nobody’s going to see it.

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Add the rest of the goo and smooth it out. Make sure none of the banana pieces are sticking out because they will oxidize and turn brown.

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Chill the pie for a little while then serve and eat within a day or two. Enjoy!

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(More) Meals en Masse: Beef Stroganoff

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I know, it seems like this is all I’m doing these days. Well it’s kind of all I have time for in the evenings now, and I kind of want to get as much of it done as I can before I start to get REALLY tired. This Martha Stewart Stroganoff (adapted for lazy busy people) is almost as good as it would be if you made it by searing the meat and cooking it in a Dutch oven, and it takes way less time to put together. The amounts below will make a meal that serves six; I doubled the recipe and then divided it into three, cooking one and freezing two, and it perfectly sated the Pie and myself for dinner and provided a hefty lunch for us both the next day.

Start by chopping up 1 large onion. Chop it as coarsely or finely as you prefer. This is your jam, man.

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Grab as well 1 lb white mushrooms. You can cut them in half if you like but I was extra lazy and bought the pre-sliced mushrooms. Because I’m an adult and this is my house and I totally can do whatever I want (the novelty has not worn off yet – I don’t think it ever will).

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Grab yourself 2lbs good quality stewing beef. Mmm beef. The original recipe calls for you to take 2lbs chuck and slice it 1/2″ thick and 3″ long but who got time for that?

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Pitch all that into a 5-6 quart slow-cooker pot and dust liberally with coarse salt and black pepper.

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The other batches I chucked in freezer bags and I’m hoping the mushrooms will come out of it okay. Fingers crossed. If it doesn’t work out I’m sure that the Pie and I will be too sleep-deprived to notice.

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Cook your beef for 8 hours on low (or 6 hours on high), until everything is nice and brown and you have all this awesome juice. Scoop out about 1 cup of that awesome juice and pour it into a wee pot on your stove.

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Grab 2 tablespoons cornstarch and blend it with 2 tablespoons water.

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Pour that cornstarch mixture into the cooking juice and bring that to a boil.

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Let it cook for a few minutes until it gets nice and thick.

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While that’s going on, cook up a batch of egg noodles. I feel like this particular dish is what egg noodles were made for. If you wanna go gluten-free on this one, you may have to find alternative noodles.

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Turn the slow-cooker off (or leave it on warm) and return the thickened juice to the pot. Tip in as well 1/2 cup sour cream and 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (this version I use has tarragon in it and it’s AMAZING). Give that a solid stirring.

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Serve over your cooked egg noodles with fresh dill, if you have it (I didn’t).

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A hunk of nice bread to sop up the extra sauce won’t go amiss, either.

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Freezer Pies

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What do you do when you have a big party coming up that requires lots of yummy baked goods, but you know that on the weekend in question you’re going to be way too busy to do anything as involved as make a pie? You take advantage of your freezer, of course.

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First you make up your favourite pastry dough. I always love the original Joy of Cooking version that you can find in a previous post here. The Joy also has some great information on how to make pies ahead of time by freezing them before baking.

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Then you make up your fillings. Here we opted for a vanilla peach and a strawberry-blueberry version. As long as you have about five cups of fruit, and then a couple tablespoons each of sugar, butter, and thickener (flour or corn starch), plus a few drops of lemon juice, then you can make any pie you want.

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We had a tool that Cait called a “strawberry effer-upper” (though she used a stronger word than “effer,” if you catch my drift) which handily slices your strawberries into several neat pieces. Cait’s sister Jules was very happy to take on the effer-upper role. She’s a little sadistic like that.

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Cait also made the error of purchasing clingstone peaches for our pies instead of freestone peaches, so getting the flesh of the fruit off the stone was a bit of a challenge. Eventually I discovered that if you cut wedges into the peach then it’s easier to pry off the sections.

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Once your fillings are made and mixed, leave them at least fifteen minutes to macerate.

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Ideally your dough has been chilling happily all this time and you’ve had a chance to roll it out and let it chill some more. The difference between a regular pie and a freezer pie is that when you plop the bottom shell into the pie dish, you leave a piece of plastic wrap on the bottom between the dish and the pastry. Honest.

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Then you fill your pie that is sitting on top of a layer of plastic wrap. This pie is quite tall.

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Seal it in with more pastry. Do not glaze your pastry at this point, if you’re into that kind of thing. You gotta wait on that.

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Now wrap the rest of it up in plastic wrap so it’s tightly sealed. Wrap again in foil and shove that into the freezer.

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When you’re ready to bake, haul the frozen pies out of the freezer. Preheat your oven to 425°F.

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I stored the strawberry/blueberry one on an angle so I did have a bit of leakage.

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Pry the pie out of the dish and peel off the bottom wrap.

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Plop the pie back into the dish (you can glaze it now if you wish) and pop it in the oven for 10 minutes.

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After ten minutes, haul it out and cut steam vents in the pastry.

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Then shove it back in the oven (this time at 350°F) for a further hour, until the pastry is light brown and crusty and the insides are bubbling out.

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Let those cool completely (or nearly completely) before eating. Yum!

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A Better Hot Chocolate

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The Pie found this recipe from Jamie Oliver and he thought it was worth a try. I think it will also make a great wintry gift.

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The interesting thing about the original recipe is it involves Horlick’s, a malted beverage very popular at the beginning of the 20th century and through the 1950s. Horlick’s is hard to find in Canada, but a close equivalent is Ovaltine.

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Ovaltine on its own is definitely an acquired taste (I personally find it revolting), but it will add a richness to the hot chocolate that improves everything. You will need 2 tablespoons Ovaltine or Horlick’s.

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You will also need 100g chocolate (pretty much a large-sized chocolate bar), your choice.

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I made some with dark chocolate, but the Pie and I both prefer it with milk chocolate, seeing as there’s also a decent amount of unsweetened cocoa powder in this, 4 tablespoons cocoa powder, in fact. Make sure you choose a cocoa that you like – don’t go cheap on this!

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You will also need 2 tablespoons cornstarch (corn flour in the UK) to make this a nice thick beverage.

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Here is 3 tablespoons icing (confectioner’s) sugar. You can adjust this according to your taste.

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This is also a pinch or two of sea salt and a pinch of ground cinnamon, which, again, you can adjust to what suits you.

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To put it all together, take your chocolate and pop it in your food processor. The original recipe calls for you to finely grate the chocolate but who wants to sit there and grate that much chocolate? Not me, and I made six batches of this.

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So I just pulsed it in the food processor until it formed little crumbs.

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Then you simply add in the rest of the ingredients.

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Pulse it until the colour is uniform, kind of a grayish brown. The crumbs of chocolate will mix in and get smaller while you do this, too.

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To prepare the hot chocolate for two people, dump about 3 heaping tablespoons of the mix into a small saucepan.

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Dribble in about 1/4 cup milk.

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Whisk that until you get a nice paste. This will prevent the finished hot chocolate from being lumpy.

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Then pour in another 1 1/4 cup milk.

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Stir that until smooth and start heating the milk until it’s a temperature you like.

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Serve hot!

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To give the chocolate as gifts, you can pack the mix into these cute jars.

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Or you can put it in a wee bag.

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And then pop it in a customized mug.

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Or whatever floats your boat!

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Home Made Watercolour Paints

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This is a great gift for the artist in your family, young or old, or a neat thing to have on hand for any young visitors over the holiday season. They can be made with materials you probably have in your cupboards, which makes for a cost-conscious addition to your holiday crafting.

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And because it’s all easy-peasy and non-toxic, I’m sure that kids will enjoy making their own colours – provided you don’t mind a little mess! This is a rather time consuming project, with all the stirring of tiny pots of colour, so if you do it with smaller children be prepared to finish the job once they get bored.

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In terms of hardware, you’re going to need two plastic ice cube trays. I picked these up in the clearance section of Target. You can also use silicone trays, and then pop the solidified paint out to use somewhere else. You will also need some disposable stir sticks (one, or one side, for each colour).

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And lots of food colouring. You can use both liquid and gel paste for this. I also added some metallic powder pigment to the mix.

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Now grab a couple measuring cups. Scoop up 1 cup baking soda, and plop it in large (~4-cup) measuring cup or bowl with a pouring spout.

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Pour in 3/4 cup white vinegar.

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Keep stirring until all the fizzies are gone.

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Next dribble in 2 tablespoons lily white corn syrup (the darker stuff will discolour the paint).

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Then dump in 1 cup corn starch.

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Mixy-mixy. You want this as smooth as possible, as it will settle quickly.

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With everything mixed up, distribute the white liquid evenly amongst your trays. I found the given recipe to fill each section a little more than 3/4 full, but it depends on the size of your trays.

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Now start colouring! Dip the end of a stir stick into your colour and drop a little bit into the tray.

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Stir, stir stir!

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I added a bit more because this was my black one, after all, and I wanted it to be dark. Again, make sure to scrape up the bottom as you stir, because all the powders are starting to settle.

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With the gel paste colour, as you can see here with my red and brown, you will get little solid pieces that float while you stir. Don’t worry about them. Stir in as much as you can, then leave them alone for a few minutes and let the liquid get into the colour. They’ll dissolve if you go and stir them again a little bit later. I promise.

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The liquid food colouring was much easier to mix in. Don’t forget you can easily create your own colours!

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I did find that some of the colours kind of settled and separated, so I ended up re-stirring them a few times. I needn’t have worried, however: as the water in the liquid evaporates they will all come back together again.

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I cleaned up the edges of the trays with a damp cloth after the mixes were starting to settle and dry. It was super quick. I ended up leaving these alone for a whole week just to ensure they were dry all the way through, but you may find you have dry paint within a couple of days.

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To test the paints I created a colour guide. I had fun with the names.

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I’m actually really pleased with how the metallic ones turned out. All I did was add the plain metallic powder to the liquid, without any other pigment.

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And added some brushes to complete the gift.

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Overnight Blueberry French Toast

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Another French toast casserole?  ANOTHER one?

Frankly?  Yes.  They’re good.  And they’re easy.  Did I mention they were good?  And easy?

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I thought this one from Chef in Training would appeal to the bread loving members of the Pie’s family for their special housewarming brunch last weekend.  I adapted it a little, of course, as I am wont to do.  The easiness of the recipe was especially important, given that our bedroom at the time looked like this:

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So while our housewarming party didn’t show our house at its best, at least the food was good.

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So start with some bread.  The recipe maker likes to use 12 slices of Texas Toast, but I used a small loaf of crusty French bread that I had left out to get a bit stale.

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Cut the bread into cubes.

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Take a 8oz / 250g package of plain cream cheese and cut that into cubes as well.  I found it was easiest to slice it into chunks and then pull the chunks apart with my fingers.

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Grab yourself as well 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (the original recipe called for 1 cup but you know me).

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Now, crack 12 eggs into a bowl.  Give them a good whisking.

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Add 1/3 cup maple syrup, 1 tablespoon vanilla, and 2 cups cream to the eggs.

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Ready for assembly?  Generously butter a 9″ x 13″ baking dish and line the bottom with half your bread cubes.

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Evenly distribute the blueberries and cream cheese chunks on top of that.

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Then finish off with the rest of the bread.

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Carefully pour the egg mixture over the entire top of the casserole.  Or don’t do it carefully and spill it everywhere — it’s your choice, really.

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Gently squish the bread bits down so they absorb the eggy stuff.

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Cover the baking dish with foil and shove it in the fridge overnight.

Why not start on the blueberry syrup? You can make this syrup ahead of time and reheat it, or right before serving.

In a medium-sized pot, dump 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, and 2 tablespoons cornstarch.  Heat on medium, stirring frequently, until smooth and thick.

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Add in 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries and continue to cook, stirring, for another 10 minutes, until the blueberries have all burst and the sauce is thick and purple.

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Tip in 1 tablespoon butter and stir that until it’s all melted.  You are now ready to serve the syrup.  If you’re going to make this the day before, let it cool completely before just putting the whole pot in the fridge.  That way it’s easier to reheat it the next day.

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To bake the French toast, preheat your oven to 350°F.  Leave the foil on the dish and bake for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake for a further 30 minutes.  Serve with syrup and enjoy!

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The Ultimate DIY Glass Cleaner

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Don’t get me wrong.  I love my Method glass cleaner.  The mild minty scent, the streak-free shine … It’s all good.  But I was almost out, and I’m kind of on a make-your-own-cleaner kick at the moment, because I have no money (what else is new?).  So I decided to make my own.

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Fortunately the internet already did all the research for me, and Crunchy Betty in particular did all the heavy lifting in determining what the best homemade glass cleaner should be made of.

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Her “Alvin Corn” cleaner combines the best of everything: alcohol, vinegar, and cornstarch.  Cornstarch.  Though if you read the ingredients for the Method stuff you’ll also see that it has corn based ingredients.  Seems legit.

Basically, all you gotta do is chuck it all together in a spray bottle and away you go.  Grab a funnel if you find that easier and dump 1 tablespoon cornstarch into it.  Wash it down into the bottle with 2 cups warm water, 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol, and 1/4 cup white vinegar.

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Make sure you shake it extremely well before using, as the cornstarch may settle, and you don’t want that clumping up your spray nozzle.  I decorated the old Method bottle a bit to pretty it up.

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I think the best test of a new glass cleaner is on my ultimate cleaning nightmare: DOG NOSE GOO.

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dun-dun-DUUUHHHHHN!

If you have a dog, you know what I mean.  It’s that crap they leave behind when they’re looking out the window, because for some reason they can’t do that without actually applying their noses directly to the window itself.

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One of the few things that cleans dog nose goo really well, I find, is straight rubbing alcohol, but using it straight tends to take the paint off the window, as well.

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So having rubbing alcohol IN the cleaner itself is a plus for me.

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And once I pried the dog away from the window, it easy peasy.  All that dirt you see that is left is on the OUTSIDE.  And it’s too cold for me to attempt that today.  The spray does smell strongly of alcohol (I contemplated adding a few drops of lavender essential oil but wasn’t sure if it would leave streaks), but that quickly dissipates as the alcohol evaporates, and overall I’m really pleased with this stuff.

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Jamie Oliver’s Get-Ahead Gravy

I’m here to present to you a miraculous concept: you can make your gravy for Christmas a few days or even a few weeks ahead of time.  Then all you need to do is heat it up on the big day.  Gravy needs a lot of time to be truly excellent, and time is something you have much less of when you’re setting out a feast for the family.  So why not make it ahead of time?  Jamie Oliver does, and, last year, the Pie and I tried it for the first time, to fantastic results.

First, preheat your oven to about 400°F and get out your big turkey roasting pan.

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Roughly chop up 2 carrots, 2 celery stalks, and quarter 2 onions. Don’t even worry too much about the onion paper. That stuff will just make the gravy darker. Huck all those in the pan.

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Add in as well about 5 bay leaves, 5 sage leaves, 2 sprigs of rosemary, and 2 star anise.

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Then you need some chicken wings, about 8 whole ones. Bash them with a rolling pin or break the bones with the back of a sharp knife to release the marrow. Add those to the pan.

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Slice up a few rashers of a nice bacon and add that to the mix. Sprinkle everything with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and stick it in the oven.

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Roast for about 1 hour, until the vegetables are tender and the meat is falling off the bone.

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Put the pan on the stove element on low heat and take a potato masher to the contents. Start squishing and shifting around everything in the pan. It will smell glorious, and the longer you do this the darker your gravy will be.

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When you get bored with that, sprinkle about 4 tablespoons flour across the mix and stir it in.

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Then pour about 2 litres of hot water into the mix. Raise the heat to high and bring it to a boil.

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Turn it down to a simmer and let that go for about 25 minutes. Continue to mash that around with your masher.

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When it’s ready, scoop everything out into a sieve and push it through to get all the gravy goodness.

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Let your gravy cool to room temperature, then chuck it into the freezer.

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When you want to use it, simply defrost it and add it to the other juices from your roasted turkey, like an instant boost!

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Gluten-Free Angel Food Cake

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I love this cake.  The Pie and I have made it a few times now and it’s always a big hit.  If you like angel food cake, this will be your new favourite incarnation of it.  The gluten-free factor raises this cake to all new levels of melt-in-your-mouth goodness.  I highly recommend it, although you do go through an entire carton of eggs every time you make it.  While you’re trying it, you should also check out the Gluten-Free Homemaker, where I got the recipe.

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Preheat your oven to 350°F and grab yourself a nice old tube pan.  The plain aluminum ones are always the best for this kind of stuff.  DO NOT GREASE IT. I’m pretty sure that greasing an angel food cake pan will start the apocalypse, but I’m too afraid to test out that theory.

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Separate 12 eggs.  Save the yolks for something awesome (like custard), and plop the whites into the bowl of an electric mixer.

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Add to that 1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar and 2 teaspoons vanilla and leave that to warm up a little.  Room temperature whites will foam up more than cold ones.

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In a small bowl, sift together your flour ingredients.  I adapted mine recipe here a bit just for availability’s sake.  So, put together 1 1/3 cup icing sugar, 1/4 cup cornstarch, 1/2 cup tapioca starch, and 1/4 cup rice flour.  Add to that 1 teaspoon xanthan gum and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Set that aside for the nonce.

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Start your mixer and begin to froth up your egg whites.  When you get to this level of foaminess, you can start adding in, a little bit at a time, 1 cup granulated sugar.

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Keep going until the egg foam forms stiff peaks and the stuff can support the weight of the mixer attachment.

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Gently fold in the flour mixture a bit at a time. It will not want to mix in. Be patient, and very gentle.

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Smooth your batter into your tube pan.

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Make sure to level the top as best  you can.

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Bake for 35 minutes, until the top is golden brown and dry-looking.  You’ll see some cracks, too — that’s good.  Invert the pan on its legs or on the neck of a sturdy bottle and let that cool completely.

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When you’re ready, carefully wiggle the cake out of the pan with the aid of a knife.

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The best way (in my opinion) to top an angel food cake is with some vanilla-flavoured whipped cream and fresh berries, which is what you see here.

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A few berries became a lot of berries, but the more the merrier!

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