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Canada: Free Certified Tax Software For 2015 NETFILE Program

The Canadian Revenue Agency (aka. The IRS of Canada), published a list of free tax software programs Canadians can use to file your taxes. This is a great resource which I wish I knew about before we filed our taxes a couple of weeks ago. Like most Canadians, I purchased tax software for $30 for the honor of paying more taxes.

For anyone who has manually filed their taxes (I have had one horrible experience doing this), using a tax software is a lifesaver as it saves you time, improves accuracy and may even prompt you for tax deductions and credits you might have missed otherwise.

To all those who still have not filed your taxes yet, please check out CRA's website for a list of free tax software you can use. The deadline to file for Canadians is April 30, 2015.

Please note that there are some restrictions on who can use the free software. Please visit CRA's website for more information.


Honey Thyme Glazed Ham

I have been seriously addicted to ham lately. One, ham is cost effective as it is one of the cheaper proteins you can purchase. Two, a leg of ham can be used for a variety of different meals, thus saving you time in the kitchen and gives your family a little variety. Three, it's ham! What's not to like about it?

I love trying out new baked ham recipes. This recipe yields in a juicy ham that looks the prettiest as it is speckled with thyme all over. The recipe is similar to the Honey Mustard Glazed Ham where you cover the ham in parchment paper and aluminium foil before baking. Then a glaze is brushed all over for a nice crispy crust.

If you like a sweeter ham, you might like this recipe for Baked Ham With Brown Sugar and Mustard Glaze. Leave me a comment and let me know if you are a ham addict too!

3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp dried thyme (2 tbsp fresh)
1 (12 to 14 pounds) bone-in ham
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1. Place butter and thyme in a bowl. Cover with a plate or paper towel. Defrost on low in the microwave.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

3. Line a roasting pan or glass baking pan with aluminium foil.

4. Discard wrapping and plastic end cap from ham. Using a knife, cut away any rind, fat or skin from the ham. Score the ham in a diamond pattern and place ham on the glass baking pan.

5. Cover the ham with parchment paper then cover with aluminium foil. Bake for 2-1/2 hours.

6. While the ham is cooking, boil vinegar in a small saucepan until it has reduced to 1 tablespoon. (Turn on your exhaust fan so your whole house does not smell like vinegar).

7. Remove the saucepan and stir in the honey, Worcestershire sauce and thyme butter. Set aside.

8. Discard foil and parchment from ham. If there is no liquid in the pan, add 1 cup of water.

9. Brush ham with half of the glaze, bake uncovered for 30 minutes.

10. Remove ham from the oven and brush with the remaining glaze. Bake until the glaze is golden-brown and the ham is heated through (about 30 to 45 minutes).

Source: Slightly adapted from Epicurious


No Bake Nut-Free Granola Bars

The food industry has come a long way for food allergy families. Years ago, I have never seen the peanut-free label anywhere; let alone on granola and chocolate bars. Nowadays, peanut-free snacks are on most store shelves.

When my little man was first diagnosed with peanut and almond allergies, I mistook peanut-free for nut-free until I came across an article which pointed out the flaw in my rationale. Nowadays, even when I see the peanut-free symbol, I make sure to read the ingredients carefully as tree nuts are sometimes in peanut-free snacks. This makes sense since peanuts and tree nuts are two very different things.

Without wanting to shell out a small fortune for allergy friendly granola bars, I decided to make my own and adapt a recipe I had found online. The granola bars I made are just as delicious as the store bought ones and comes together quickly with very little hands on work. Just a fair warning, these granola bars are very sweet especially when you add in the chocolate chips.  Next time I will substitute in some sunflower seeds in lieu of the chocolate chips. Because sunflower seeds are yummy.

2-1/2 cups Rice Krispies (or rice puffs)
2 cups quick oats (or 1-3/4 cup quick oats with 1/4 ground flax, hemp seeds or wheat germ)
1/2 cup dried fruit or seeds (I used Craisins which are nut-free and gluten-free)
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup seed butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup chocolate chips (can substitute Craisins or seeds if you prefer a less sweet granola bar)


1. Add Rice Krispies, quick oats and dried fruit/seeds in a large container. Mix until combined.

2. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stir the honey, brown sugar and salt until it comes to a boil for 30 to 60 seconds.

3. Remove the saucepan from heat and stir in the seed butter and vanilla until smooth.

4. Pour the liquid mixture over the dry ingredients and mix well.

5. Allow the mixture to cool for 10 minutes before mixing in the chocolate chips. (If you mix it in too early, the chocolate chips will melt.)

6. Pour the mixture into a greased 9 x 13 pan, and press firmly with your hands to compact the granola bars. Cover the granola bars with plastic wrap and use a book to weigh it down. Allow the granola bars to set until it is fully cooled. Cut into 16 bars and wrap each granola bar individually. Store the granola bars on the counter top for up to 3 days and freeze the rest.

Source: Slightly adapted from Money Saving Mom


Free Starbucks Coffee: April 22, 2015 (Canada Only)

On Earth Day (April 22, 2015), Starbucks Canada is offering a free cup of coffee if you bring in a reusable cup. I have participated in this freebie since 2011 and have noticed a change in my habits as I always try to bring my own reusable cups when I buy coffee.

Not only is bringing your own reusable cup good for the environment, it is also good for your wallet. Every time you use a reusable cup, Starbucks (and most coffee shops) will offer you a slight discount of 10 cents. If you are in the habit of purchasing coffee on a daily basis, this can equate to a few free drinks over a year.

Before you head out the door on April 22, take a moment to do your part on Earth Day. Walk, bike, run or take public transit to your local Starbucks to cash in on this freebie.


Oven Baked Parsnip Fries

A couple of weeks ago, I came across parsnips while shopping at Sunrise Market. At $0.19 a pound, I was curious enough to buy a few parsnips to make parsnip fries.

I have had parsnip at various restaurants before, but I have never made them at home. As I was peeling the parsnips, I realized how similar parsnips and carrots are, in terms of smell, texture and looks.

I served my parsnip fries as a side to homemade salmon burgers. To quote Tony the Tiger, they are "grrrr-reat!"

2-1/2 pounds parsnips, peeled and cut into 3 x 1/2" sticks
1/2 tbsp dried rosemary (or 1 tbsp fresh)
1 large garlic clove, finely minced
3 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp cumin powder
Sea salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

2. Toss parsnips, rosemary, garlic and oil in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Spread out the parsnip in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

4. Bake for 10 minutes and flip the parsnip to cook the other side. Bake for another 10 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp of ground cumin and toss to coat.

Source: Slightly adapted from Epicurious


Salmon Burger From a Can

To be frankly honest, I am not a fan of canned salmon because the bones and skin in canned salmon grosses me out. Canned salmon reminds me of the soggy and fishy smelling salmon sandwiches I ate as a child.

While shopping at Costco in January, I spotted canned salmon on sale for $1.17 per can. It has been so long since I've had canned salmon that I thought it would be a great idea to buy a Costco sized pack.

Fast forward 3 months later, while looking through my pantry for dinner inspirations, I spotted the cans of salmon sitting on my pantry shelf. Wasn't I planning to make something with them?

Racking through my brain, I had a great idea to use the canned salmon to make salmon burgers. As I was making them, I crossed my fingers that the salmon burgers would taste good; and not taste like it came from a can.

As the salmon burgers were pan-frying in my cast iron skillet, my husband commented that dinner smelled good. I was still a little wary how it would taste and whether my family would like my latest creation.

I watched as my husband took a bite of his salmon burger. After he proclaimed it was delicious, I took a bite and was delighted that salmon burgers tasted nothing like the canned salmon I ate as a child.

This salmon burger pairs especially well with the Dill Mayonnaise. Along with a side of parsnip fries, this meal was the perfect dinner. You'll almost forget these salmon burgers came from the can!

1/2 medium onion, finely diced
2 eggs
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs (or coarsely ground seasoned croutons)
5 tbsp Dill Mayonnaise (recipe here)
1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 tsp freshly ground sea salt
2 (6-1/2 ounce) cans of salmon
2 tbsp vegetable oil

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Drain the canned salmon and pick out all the bones and skin.

3. Combine the canned salmon, onions, eggs, bread crumbs, black pepper, salt, and dill mayonnaise together. Mix well.

4. Divide the mixture into 4 even portions and form into patties. Set aside.

5. In a large cast iron skillet (or oven safe pan), heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat.

6. Once the skillet is hot, place the salmon burgers into the skillet and cook until it is golden brown. Press the burger down with a spatula. Flip the burger and cook the other side until golden brown.

7. Place the cast iron skillet into the oven and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Serve over the carb of your choice along with the dill mayonnaise.

Source: Slightly adapted from Food Network


Dill Mayonnaise

I made this delicious dill mayonnaise. It was a huge hit with the whole family as it paired perfectly with the salmon burgers I made for dinner.

This is a great recipe to whip up last minute for those summer barbeques!

3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 medium lemon, juiced
1 tbsp dried dill (or 2 tbsp fresh)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

1. Mix all the ingredients together. Use immediately or refrigerate until needed.

Sources: Slightly adapted from Food Network


Braised Tofu Stir Fry (Vegetarian)

My late grandmother was a huge fan of braising: tofu, pork, fish, chicken, you name it. In Mandarin, the words "hong shao" translates literally into "red braised", which generally refers to food cooked slowly and simmered for a long time.

When I saw this recipe, it reminded me of another dish my grandmother would make frequently. I made a few changes to the recipe to reflect how my grandmother made it. I pan-fried the tofu until it was golden brown and used different vegetables than requested for in the recipe. I would highly recommend pan frying the tofu until it is golden brown; otherwise, the tofu will fall apart when you stir fry it. If you are using a non-stick pan, it will also take longer to pan-fry the tofu than in a wok. As for the vegetables, you can use any vegetables you have on hand such as thinly sliced carrots, snow peas, sugar peas, celery or sui choy.

This recipe was definitely a winner in my books. The little man preferred the Chinese Braised Stuffed Tofu as it is more flavorful, easier to spear with chopsticks (he's learning quickly!) and tastes the least like tofu (which I suspect is the reason why he was not a fan of this dish). Next time, I will try using deep fried tofu instead of medium firm tofu and switch up the vegetables to see if it will help change my little man's mind (bell peppers are not his favorite).

1 package medium firm tofu (2 blocks)
5 shitake mushrooms, fresh or dry
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 green bell pepper, julienned
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1-1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp shaoxing wine (Chinese cooking wine)
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Cornstarch Slurry
2 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp water

1. If using dried shitake mushrooms, soak it in a bowl of hot water. Cover the bowl with a plate and soak for at least 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, wash the shitake mushrooms thoroughly under running water. Slice the shitake mushrooms into thin slices.

2. Cut the tofu into 1/2 inch thick slices.

3. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat or a wok over high heat. Pour in the vegetable oil.

4. Add the tofu in a single layer. Sear each side until it is golden brown.

5. In a bowl, mix the vegetable stock, oyster sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce, shaoxing wine, sugar and salt.

6. Pour in the stock mixture, add in the garlic and sliced shitake mushrooms.

7. When the mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium, cover with a lid and simmer for 5 minutes.

8. In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch and the water. Set aside.

9. Remove the lid and add in the vegetables and cornstarch slurry. Gently stir the tofu, making sure not to break the tofu.

10. Simmer until the sauce has thickened. Serve hot over steamed rice.

Source: Slightly adapted from Woks of Life


Chinese Braised Stuffed Tofu

Braised stuffed tofu is one of my late grandmother's signature dishes. It is a homey and comforting dish that my grandmother would simmer on her stove while she cooks other dishes for dinner.

My late grandmother would patiently stuff each deep fried tofu puff with a seasoned ground pork mixture. She would then braise the stuffed tofu in a soy sauce mixture along with Chinese sui choy (cabbage).

Served piping hot, I would carefully bite into the stuffed tofu and savor the flavorful pork and tofu puffs. Once I had my fill of the stuffed tofu, I would ladle the sauce and sui choy into my bowl of rice and I would happily scarf it down, proclaiming to my grandmother how much I love this dish.

When I remade this dish recently (without my late grandmother's recipe), I looked up a sauce that shared similar taste profile as the one my late grandmother lovingly made for me again and again. I think I stumbled across a winning combination that has won over my little man's heart. He happily ate 3 stuffed tofu, no small feat for a toddler his size! I am excited to make this dish again as it reminds me of my late grandmother and the happiness it brings my little man.

Meat Mixture
1/2 pound lean ground pork
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 bunch cilantro leaves, finely chopped (optional)
1-1/2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp white sugar
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp freshly minced ginger
1 egg

1 tbsp oyster sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp shaoxing wine (Chinese cooking wine)
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt

1 package of deep fried tofu puffs (regular size)
5 leaves of Chinese cabbage (sui choy or napa), sliced into bite sized pieces
2 tbsp vegetable oil
6 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tbsp ginger, finely minced

1. Mix pork, cornstarch, cilantro, soy sauce, sugar, garlic, ginger and egg in a bowl. Using your hands, mix the meat mixture until it is thoroughly combined.

This recipe has been doubled. I used the other half for Winter Melon Soup.

2. With a sharp pairing knife, cut an 'X' in each deep fried tofu puff. Using a small teaspoon, stuff each tofu puff with the meat mixture. Set aside.

3. Over medium heat, pour in vegetable oil in a large saute pan on. Add garlic and ginger and stir fry until fragrant.

4. Stir in Chinese cabbage and saute for a minute or two.

5. Mix the oyster sauce, sesame oil, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, shaoxing wine, sugar and salt in a bowl. Pour this mixture into the saute pan. Bring this to a boil.

6. After the sauce boils, push the chinese cabbage to the side and add in the tofu puffs (stuffed side up). Ladle some of the sauce over the tofu puffs, cover with a lid and simmer for 10 minutes.

7. Lift the lid and flip the tofu puffs so the stuffed side is simmering in the sauce. Cover lid and simmer for another 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Source: Frugal Allergy Mom, The Woks of Life and Allrecipes


Free Monthly Kids Workshop at Home Depot (Canada & US)

At an early age, most toddlers recognize the corporate logos of McDonalds, Disney, Apple, Lego, Walmart and Starbucks. For my niece and nephew, they recognize the iconic orange logo of Home Depot long before they recognized McDonald's. (No joke!)

They recognize Home Depot's logo mostly because they have attended the free monthly Kids Workshop offered by the home improvement giant since they were toddlers. That and the fact their dad (my brother-in-law) is a regular customer.

When my brother-in-law heard that we were expecting, he reminded us to take our little one to the monthly Home Depot Kids Workshop. That made my husband (who is also a Home Depot regular) very happy.

This morning, we attended our very first Home Depot's Kids Workshop. Today, the workshop offered kids a chance to build a chalkboard planter stand.

This workshop was particularly popular!

The workshop was a great experience. Every child is provided with an authentic Home Depot apron, a commemorative pin and a building kit, which includes the instructions and all materials needed. Home Depot also provides all the tools to assemble and decorate the planter at designated tables, including hammers, paints, glue, paper towels and guidance (if the parents needed some help). Most of the items created from these workshops are practical items that can be used around the home and it is a great way to teach kids some useful life skills.

Ready to learn!

The workshop is geared towards 4 to 12 year olds, but we saw quite a few toddlers working away with their parents. Our little man is quite mature for his age, listens well and knows (for the most part) not to put small things (like nails) in his mouth. My husband enlisted the little man to "help" build and paint his planter.

Hammering away; just like his Little Tikes work bench at home.

After the planter has been built and painted, Home Depot gave each child a certificate of achievement. It was the perfect way to spend a bit of our morning at our little man's new favorite store. I have a strong feeling he will recognize the iconic orange signs before long!

The finished product!

  • Go early to avoid crowds and avoid disappointment (as they can run out of kits). According to the friendly sales associate I spoke with, certain workshops are extremely popular: May (Mother's Day), December (Christmas).
  • Be courteous to staff and other participants. Please do not hog more resources than what you need.
  • Stay safe. Watch younger children as there are lots of small parts.
  • Say thanks to the friendly staff who run these workshops!

Home Depot Canada Home Depot United States
Second Saturday of each month
10am - 12pm*

First Saturday of each month
9am - 12pm*
RSVP Register online Register online
Cost Free Free
Ages 4 to 12 years old 5 to 12 years old

* Please call your local Home Depot before attending the workshop. While supplies last.


Chinese Winter Melon Meatball Soup

As a child, I loved my mom's winter melon soup as it had flavorful meatballs, light broth and tender winter melons. My mom would always serve homemade Chinese steamed buns with her winter melon soup. It was one of my favorite meals growing up and I would frequently request it during the cold winter months.

When I saw winter melon on sale for $0.29/lb at Sunrise Market, the only thought that came to my mind on that wet rainy Sunday was my mom's winter melon meatball soup.

Like all Chinese moms, my mom does not use a recipe. Instead of calling her to ask her for her recipe rough measurements, I elected to use a recipe I found online. The soup I made tasted good and received great reviews from my husband (the non-soup person). This winter melon soup has a light mild flavored broth with flavorful and soft pork meatballs. The winter melon has been cooked tender and it was a nice soul warming soup for a cold and rainy day.

Even though the soup checked off all the same things that is in my mom's winter melon soup, it seemed to be missing something. Perhaps what was missing was my mom's labour of love. Food always tastes better when someone else makes it specially for you.

1/2 pound lean ground pork
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 bunch cilantro leaves, finely chopped (optional)
1-1/2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp white sugar
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp freshly minced ginger
1 egg

6 cups pork or chicken broth
2 pounds Chinese winter melon (Dong Gua), skin peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
3 slices fresh ginger, cut into coins
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp white sugar

1. Mix pork, cornstarch, cilantro, soy sauce, sugar, garlic, ginger and egg in a bowl. Using your hands, mix the meat mixture until it is thoroughly combined.

I made a double batch and used half for Chinese Braised Stuffed Tofu. :)

2. Meanwhile, in a large pot, combine pork or chicken broth, winter melon, ginger, salt and sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once the soup reaches a boil, reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes.

3. With a spoon or a cookie scoop, gently drop meatballs by the tablespoon into the soup. Stir the soup occasionally. Continue to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until the meatballs have fully cooked. Serve immediately.

Source: Slightly adapted from Allrecipes