Until today the only canning I had done was making jam. As of today I can add pickling to my repertoire. On a whim I bought a batch of mini pickling cucumbers. I knew time was working against me so while the baby was napping this morning I got to work. Sterilizing, boiling, brining, cutting, pouring, processing and voila, pickles!!!!
I found the recipe on a fabulous site called Food In Jars, which was fairly simple to follow. The only deviation was the pickling spices. Rather than make my own I bought a pickling spice mix at the grocers–much easier and less time consuming. Oh yes, and I didn’t have cider vinegar so I went with straight white vinegar.
Now comes the hard part: waiting. The recipe says they can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to a year but it doesn’t say when I can dig into them….maybe 3 months? 3 weeks? 3 days? 3 minutes? I’m not sure I can wait!!!
I was perusing Pinterest just before hitting the sack when I came across this fancy dancy kitchen cheat sheet. Although it applies moreso to people living in the UK, as it from Everest, I thought those of you who are diehard cooks and bakers would appreciate it. It’s a fabulous retro-looking download that you can print off and put up on your fridge or at the very least keep in a drawer close by for when you need to convert weights to cups, etc. Enjoy!
It’s that time of year again–the sacred few weeks when Ontario strawberries are in season. And that means it’s time to roll up my sleeves and make batches of sweet, yummy jam for everyone to enjoy–including the teachers. I always try and make the jam before the end of the school year so the boys can give jars of jam as gifts to their teachers.
If you have ever contemplated making jam but have been intimidated by the thought of it, don’t be. It’s the easiest thing ever. The only thing that might make you shy away is the steps involved–not many, but time consuming.
Before any jam making begins you must wash and sterilize your jars. It’s important to do this first otherwise your jam will start setting and you’ll be busy scrambling to get your jars ready.
First you have to wash and hull all the berries–probably the most time and labour intensive step in the process. You’ll also have a hard time resisting eating the berries as you wash them!
Crushing the berries is the next step. Up until this year I simply used a potato masher to do this. But I got a hand blender recently and used this to crush the berries–actually I turned them into a pulp which made for a very runny, smooth jam. If you prefer having chunks of berry in your jam, make sure not to crush them too much.
Next stir in the sugar. I like to use a product called Quick Set, which has some pectin in it already to help thicken the jam. If you want to know the berries-to-sugar ratio, it’s 1 kilo of sugar to 4 cups of *crushed* fruit but I just follow the directions on the bag.
Now it’s time to cook up the jam. Over medium heat in heavy pot let the mixture cook for 5 to 10 minutes. A foamy pink “scum” will form on the top of the jam and you need to skim this off with a spoon. The jam will come to a rolling boil and once that’s happened your jam is finished cooking.
Next get your jars out. Fill the jars almost to the top–leave a few centimeters for air to escape. I use snap lids on my jars. Once filled, I pop the jars in boiling water making sure the water covers the top of the jars completely and let the water boil away for about 10 minutes. This is called processing and it’s necessary so you can store the jars without refrigerating them. You’ll know this step worked when you hear the lids literally “snap” when they are suctioned down. You’re done!
Now you can enjoy your jam slathered on a piece of fresh bread or crackers. Believe me, once you taste the jam you’ll realize it was worth all the effort.
If you’ve ever been stuck with leftovers and are feeling stymmied about what to do with the dribs and drabs of last night’s dinner, fear not. Seize the opportunity to get creative in the kitchen with that sorry looking piece of chicken or that less-than-full-bowl of spaghetti. For me it was a not-quite-full serving of cooked basmati rice. It sat in the fridge fora day or so while I mulled over whether or not to add it to the next night’s dinner or save it for a special project. Since it didn’t make the cut for dinner, I decided to turn it into dessert, although I could eat this dessert morning, noon or night since it is the ultimate in comfort foods. Rice pudding, if made the right way, can be the perfect compliment to any meal or mood. For me that usually comes at night when I’m parked in front of the television in my sweats. I consider rice pudding guilt-free indulgence. Maybe it’s because it’s made with rice and eggs and milk. I just omit the sugar from that mental list and voila: a healthy snack.
So I got out my oven proof Corningware dish and put my concoction together unaided by a recipe. You must think I’m nuts but the ingredients required to make a sweet custard pudding never deviate. The basic requirements involve eggs, milk and sugar. Add to this a dash of vanilla extract, cinnamon and some golden raisins and you’ve got yourself heaven in a bowl. Oh yes, and don’t forget the heaping cup of cooked rice! I have yet to experiment with the flavour profile because really, who wants to mess with a good thing? But I might go out on a limb next time and try some orange or chocolate. Once I combined all the ingredients I popped it into the oven and baked it until creamy (sorry, I didn’t watch the clock), every now and again stirring it so the custard on top wouldn’t burn. I would say it came out a little on the sweet side, but I’ve got a sweet tooth so it didn’t bother me. Adjust the sugar depending on how tolerant your own personal sweet tooth is and sit down with a big bowl of warm rice pudding on a chilly night, under a cozy blanket with a good book (or movie) and you’ll never want to leave your house again.
Home-Made Rice Pudding
1 to 1/2 cups of cooked white rice
2 cups 2%milk (the higher the milk fat content, the creamier the custard)
3/4 of a cup of sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup of golden raisins
Mix all ingredients together and bake at 350 degrees until the custard is creamy. Stir every ten minutes to avoid burning.
My appetite has excellent timing. It’s been “on leave” for a while. Ironically, my stomach isn’t fond of the food that I like to eat. In fact, my entire digestive tract doesn’t like anything I put down my gullet. Humor me here for a minute: imagine eating a simple meal; it could be toast with peanut butter and a banana with a glass of O.J. in the morning. Or maybe a bowl of soup and tuna sandwich for lunch. Now imagine not feeling the slightest bit hungry when you’re supposed to be eating those meals and a full three hours later you feel as though you’re going to upchuck the sandwich, salad and the full breakfast. These have been the joys (or misfortunes) of my dining experiences as of late. I brought this to my doctor’s attention several months ago. This was followed by some tests, which included drinking the most awful chalky concoction after which I was expertly tipped flat on a cold metal table while having my innards X-ray’d. I’ve even been injecting with radioactive nuclear medicine, which I’ve been assured will not shorten my lifespan nor make me glow in the dark. Neither of these tests has revealed the great mystery of my incredible indigestion. However the doctor decided to put me on a prescription strength anti-acid, which I think has helped my case. I no longer wake up in the middle of the night with the feeling of someone’s fist forcing its way up my esophagus. But the most miraculous improvement has been my appetite and it couldn’t have returned at a better time. Thanksgiving weekend is a glutton’s wet dream come true. It’s the harvest. There is no shortage of good, fresh food. So I decided to embrace the spirit of the holiday and cook and bake for my family while up in prime harvest territory: at the cottage. Saturday’s dinner consisted of chicken stew with chickpeas, sweet and yellow potatoes and sweet onion. We had a fabulous salad of fresh lettuces on the side and not one but TWO pumpkin pies! We only polished off one of the pies, but that meant I could use the dish to bake the most scrumptious apple pie for the Thanksgiving dinner. I decided to pay homage to the slow food movement by making beer-braised beef short ribs, steamed savoy cabbage with roasted chestnuts and garlic mashed potatoes. Yes, I roasted the chestnuts and the garlic. And let’s not forget the pies that came at the end of the meal. It was one of those meals that makes you want to hibernate for the winter or put on a cable-knit sweater and cozy up by a fire. And guess what? Not a single bout of indigestion the entire weekend (you know I’m going to live to regret writing that down). Boy was I thankful this weekend, if for no other reason than I was able to enjoy a good meal with my family for the first time in months. To tell you the truth I would have been just as happy eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if it meant I could eat without fear of my food revisiting me in the middle of the night. But having a good meal go down certainly doesn’t hurt.
I just finished reading Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life. Not surprisingly I devoured the book and the recipes in it. I have yet to make the chocolate cake that appears at the end of the book, or any other recipe for that matter, although I’d like to, but I did manage to make one. It’s the recipe (if you can even call it that) for slow roasted tomatoes. My mother, my sister and I bought a half bushel of roma tomatoes a few weeks back thinking we’d all take our thirds away and turn them into tomato sauce or something like that. Mine sat in the fridge pining for attention, but I just didn’t have the time or the energy to put into them. Finally one Saturday rolled around and I decided it was now or never for those tomatoes and based on my interpretation of Molly’s recipe, slow roasting them would be the simplest thing to do to them. So, I set the oven to 200 degrees, bisected the tomatoes, threw them on a cookie sheet, drizzled the appropriate amount of olive oil, sprinkled kosher salt and popped them in the oven for a full 5 hours. Out they came, slightly shriveled and sweet as can be. I brought them to my parents’ house for dinner that night and my dad oohed and awed as he ate them, along with everyone else. I single out my father because I consider him a tough customer to please when it comes to culinary achievements. He likes things simple and full of flavour and this fit the bill. Take a look at the pre-operative and post-operative tomatoes!
I failed to inform you all that I was going on hiatus, but have since returned. Maybe that’s because I wasn’t planning on going on hiatus. It just sort of happened. But now I’m back. Without pictures for now, but not for long.
It was strawberry season around the time my hiatus began (it almost sounds like a disease or a terrible medical condition, doesn’t it?). I took the kids strawberry picking at Whittamore’s Berry Farm where we filled a very large bucket full of sweet, ripe red berries. Many were eaten but most were turned into yummy jam, which I love to eat on fresh bread, as do the kids. This activity always brings back memories of summers spent with my grandparents at their cottage in Wasaga beach. I even have a picture of my grandmother and me standing with a big basket full of berries glued to the inside of a cookbook my mother made for me that’s full of my grandmother’s tried and true recipes. We made the jam around the same time that my kids were finishing up their school year (well, more like daycare, but school no less) and I needed good gift ideas for the teachers so I gave each of them a jar of my homemade jam (pictures to come).
More recently we’ve been picking and eating raspberries, which I admit aren’t as exciting as strawberries, but they also hold a special place in my heart because my grandparents used to have a veritable forest of them growing in their yard, which has since moved to my parents’ yard. When my parents moved, they took cuttings from my grandparents’ garden and we attempted to grow raspberries at their previous house. When they moved to their current house, they took the raspberries with them and some five years later, the berries are bountiful. I plan on making a bumbleberry pie with them, but I’m still trying to find a good recipe….let me know if you have any suggestions. I’d prefer only using fruit that’s local and in season now.
Remember I wrote about those hamburger patties I made a couple days ago? Well I finally got to throw some on the barbeque tonight and the votes are in: they’re good. All three taste testers devoured their burgers. The dinner table was the quietest it’s been since I can’t remember. My older son put in a request for a “custom” burger, topped with his favourite: mayonnaise, tomato and lettuce. My husband commented the burgers were “Wendy’s style” because of their slightly squared-off shape. Nobody made any mention of the garlic or onions in the patties, which must mean these ingredients were incorporated well into the ground beef. I served the burgers on whole wheat buns that weren’t too “bready” or big if you know what I mean. Even the kids could get their little mouths around the sandwich and they didn’t fall apart (the sandwiches, I mean). On the side I served the kids’ favourites: steamed green string beans and a salad of mini cucumber coins, tomato chunks and avocado tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Everyone knows beer is the classic burger beverage, so Dave and I had Rickard’s White, which is supposed to be the suds of the summer. The company recommends serving it with a slice of orange. The drink itself has a translucent orange colour and apparently has “notes of coriander and citrus.” I’m not sure I was tasting those notes, but it certainly did sing on my palette next to the burger!
Stir fry is a crowd pleaser on any given weeknight in our home and tonight was no exception. It’s an especially rewarding meal when the parts of the sum are ingredients left over from other recipes; not enough to make something great on their own, but united, they make an outstanding entreé. No stir fry can exist without its vegetable component so with half a head of green cabbage I added some celery, carrots, beans and mushrooms. To this I added my protein in the form of a few pieces of chicken and a few pre-cooked shrimp that were both kicking around in the freezer. In my pantry I found a package of green bean thread, otherwise described as vermicelli glass noodles. These are fantastic because they give you that substantial carb kick without the starchiness. According to the Gourmet Traveller they are made from the mung bean and tapioca and virtually flavourless, making them ideal for taking on the flavour of the dish you are cooking. I simply soaked them in warm water and once soft enough, cut them with scissors (they are quite long, like hair). I fried up some garlic and onion, added the protein, followed by the veggies. Pour in some soya sauce for that salty flavour, then add some chicken soup stock, cook until the veggies soften up a bit and toss in the noodles. The kids devoured dinner and there was so much we have enough for lunches tomorrow.
Normally I don’t serve dessert. Rather, I don’t call dessert “dessert.” I don’t believe meals should always be followed by something sweet, so there are no expectations in my house that after dinner comes something sugary and sinful. Why? Those of you who have children already know the answer, but for the uninitiated it goes something like this: if a young child is aware that something “better” is on the menu, they will eat as little as possible, if anything at all, in anticipation of the sugary treat that awaits. So I set the expectation pretty low–no dessert. Tonight was an exception. As part of my Spring cleaning, I delved into the freezer drawer and discovered a few precious bananas. I immediately knew those pathetic looking brown fruit would soon turn into the most moist and scrumptious cake ever. So I baked a banana bundt cake. Normally I throw in a cup of chocolate chips, but in my haste I forgot. To make up for this oversight I iced the cake in a lovely mocha chocolate glaze. I wish you could taste it through the screen, but alas, the developers at Apple have yet to incorporate all five senses into the online world. For now you will simply have to enjoy the view from your side of the monitor….and if you’re lucky, I’ll post the recipe and you can try baking it yourself. I consider this cake one of my tried and true stand-bys. My mom gave me the recipe years ago and it came to her from a good friend. It never fails to please, and I’m pleased it never fails.
I feel like I’m having a bit of an identity crisis. I’m eager to get into my garden as I see the first signs of Spring have sprung in the form of crocuses and snowdrops. But I’m a cautious optimist. Unlike friends and neighbours who have already raked up the remnants of Fall’s leaves and collected dead branches and dried up plant stalks in anticipation of the Spring bloom, I’m waiting to see if Old Man Winter has really left the building. While I’d like to be out in the garden getting everything “ready,” there’s a voice playing in my head saying, “ready for what? Have you read the long range forecast lately?” And so I continue to exercise restraint, choosing instead to pay my respects to the last vestiges of winter by baking the ultimate comfort dessert, super chocolatey brownies and throwing together a pot of puréed chestnut soup.
I attempted a new brownie recipe this weekend from a book given to me by my brother and sister-in-law. It’s simply called “Bars & Squares” by Jill Snider. I’ve casually flipped through the book and thought about attempting a few of the recipes. I thought there were only a couple of brownie recipes in the book when I first started assembling my ingredients. Well, had I been paying closer attention I would have noticed the book has an entire section devoted to the brownie. In my haste I began putting the ingredients together for the “Brownie Overload” recipe, which calls for an astounding 2 1/2 cups of coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate. Then I notice the recipe calls for nuts and dried cranberries. Yuch! That’s not a brownie! So I start flipping pages only to discover I have 23 brownie recipes to choose from. But I have to stay the course, because I’ve already measured and mixed my dry ingredients and chopped up most of my chocolate. So, about an hour later I end up with a 13 x 9 pan of ultra-rich brownies. I think I over baked them a bit much, but all I need to do is throw one into the microwave for 11 seconds and it is absolutely heavenly. Perfect for an early Spring day to fight off a chilly breeze.
And finally, before the weekend concluded I promised myself I’d get around to making the chestnut soup recipe that my close colleague and friend, Susan Bishop was kind enough to share with me. She gives credit to New York Times cooking columnist and author, Mark Bittman, for the recipe. And true to Susan’s words, this was a very easy recipe to make. The hardest part of this recipe was finding the main ingredient, because fresh chestnuts are out of season. So I decided to do like Susan and buy the package of roasted and peeled whole chestnuts. A simple enough task, no? No. Upon inquiring as to the whereabouts of said chestnuts, not a single grocery store clerk had any idea what I was talking about let alone where in the store I might find said chestnuts. But I persevered and eventually after visiting grocery store #4, I found them in amongst the dried fruit and nuts. I was pleasantly surprised to see several brands available. In the end I opted for two different size packages because I wasn’t sure how many came in a package or how many I’d need. The recipe essentially involves sweating chopped onions and celery in olive oil with salt and pepper. Add 10 large chestnuts (I didn’t really measure this out) and cook in 4 cups of chicken broth for roughly 30 minutes. I let it cool and then threw it all in a blender. Susan says she likes to garnish the soup with shitake mushroom caps sliced and sautéed in butter until crisp, but I didn’t have any. And after the hunt for the elusive chestnuts I didn’t really want to venture back into the grocery store. As for the soup, it has a nice, light nutty sweet flavour and because it’s cooked in a chicken broth and there’s no cream added, it’s not a heavy soup. No doubt great as a starter or on it’s own with a good piece of fresh baguette for sopping it up.
So there you have it. A weekend spent looking forward to the impending Spring with a nod to the passing winter, which no doubt will have its final day of reckoning before we can safely put away our boots, jackets, gloves and hats. In the meantime I’ll be happy slurping my soup and nibbling brownies.