Tuesday, August 26, 2008

In a Pickle

There is something very comforting and satisfying about canning. I'm not sure what it is exactly.....Maybe it's a feeling of accomplishment or a feeling of self sufficiency or perhaps and maybe more likely, it's just an excuse to purchase more kitchen gadgets. Also, I just don't like the flavour of store bought pickles, which I find to be way too vinegary for me. So every year, I scour the supermarkets looking for enough small cucumbers to can up 20 liters or so of pickles. This is usually enough jars to make it through the year until the next canning season. Growing up, I remember many moms canning pickles and I don't remember one of them using a water bath to process the jars. Almost without fail, all of these moms would sterilize their jars, cold pack them with cucumbers and dill etc. and then fill them up with boiling hot brine and put on the lids. The jars would sit on the counter until each and every one sealed and popped. I have had notoriously poor luck with this method, and almost always end up processing with a water bath to make sure the jars seal. This year, I made pickles twice, and the second time they all sealed. WooooHooooo. The recipe I make each year comes from one of the sweetest little old ladies I've ever met. And any recipe you got from her was guaranteed to be good as she was a very excellent cook. I find this recipe to be well flavoured, not too vinegary, and just enough garlic and dill. I will preface that assessment with a comment that my family is of a Ukrainian background, and there is always a head of garlic in my fridge. If you are not partial to garlic you could leave it out........but that would be just ridiculous.....I'm mean they're pickles.....they're supposed to have garlic in them....aren't they? Anyway just in case you're interested, here is the recipe. Oh, and they have horseradish in them too. Her recipe uses just the leaves though, so they are very easy to work with. You could use a piece of the root instead, but that's more work, and she had found the same flavour in the leaf and it's just easier. For instructions on processing with a water bath and recipes go look here.

Mrs. C's Dill Pickles


14 cups water

2 cups white vinegar

1/2 cup pickling salt

1 cup white sugar

Wash cucumbers prick each one with a fork and soak in ice cold water while you prepare the ingredients for the jars. The brine recipe makes enough for 7 one quart or liter jars. Sterilize jars and fill each one while still warm. The hotter everything is, the better your chances of them sealing on their own. If you are going to water bath them, you don't need to worry about keeping everything so hot.

For each quart jar:

4 black peppercorns

2 dill heads (one at top, one at bottom)

4-5 cloves garlic (each split in 1/2)

2 pieces of horseradish (3"X4" leaf or 1/2"X3" root)

1/4 tsp pickling spice

2 whole allspice

cucumbers to fill jar

Fill with hot brine leaving 1/2" head space at top of jar. Wipe jar edge with clean cloth and top with canning lid which has been prepared as per package directions. Put screw band on and wait for them to seal, or process using water bath method.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Chicken Tikka Masala For Dinner

Tonight I was intrigued by an old episode of America's Test Kitchen where they made a version of Tikka Masala. I am a big fan of East Indian inspired cooking, but do not often cook East Indian meals. So....... with some prompting, I decided to give it a go. You can go to America's Test Kitchen to see the recipe if you'd like to try. My thoughts on the recipe were, that it lacked a little of the flavour complexity that I had anticipated and the tomato flavour was a little too pervasive. That being said, the dish was pretty good, it just fell a little short on flavour. I think it might benefit from extra onion, and some green cardamom. I will have to investigate some other recipes for ideas on what spices to try before I try it again. It was a nicely laid out method and I will try it again. This little experiment did also give an opportunity to try out my Polder Temperature Probe, which is a handy little tool which takes the guess work out of cooking meat in the oven. I am sad to say I've had this little baby tucked away in a drawer for some time.......and I just love it! If you choose to try this recipe be forewarned that you should use caution when deciding what cookware to use in a broiler. I just ruined one of my favourite nonstick cookie sheets from Costco. Oh well! Lesson learned:)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Hello Toronto!

On my way back home I made a little stop over in Toronto to do some shopping. I always stay at the Sheraton Center downtown because it's central and close to a lot of shopping I like. A little searching on the Internet has resulted in great rates (as low as $125 per night but usually more like$145) for my stay. Once there, you are close to union station and are right on the subway route as well. The photo above was the view from my room looking across to City Hall. Every time a visit Toronto, I make a habit of using the subway, since I'd really never otherwise get the chance to. It's kind of fun......and when it's hot out, it's a lot faster than walking. In order to get to Efston Science (the most way cool science store ever) it was most necessary. It turned out to be much easier to access from the subway than I had even anticipated plus it brought me to Yorkdale Mall which I had not been to in YEARS! It really makes Eaton Center Mall look pretty shabby. Yorkdale is sparkling new and clean looking, and has all the major chain stores you're apt to be looking for and no junky stores. Well.....Yorkdale terminal is walkway connected to the mall and within minutes you are in. I walked clear across the mall to get to Dufferin Street so I could look for Efston Science, and it was directly across the street. I didn't have to waste any time looking for it, and that's a good thing since I spent 2 hours looking through the store before I purchased a trebuchet kit, some joke packets for my kid, 4 smencils and an annoying mosquito noise maker that comes on only in the dark.

Here's a photo in the Queen Subway Terminal. The Subway system here is so fast, and easy to use I was happy to have a real need to use it this time around.

China Town on Spadina is also just a 10 minute walk from the Sheraton Center and is another reason I like to stay there. While there is a Cora's (Totally the best breakfast restaurant I know of) within walking distance of the hotel, this morning I chose to grab a breakfast bun at the Furama Bakery on Spadina. There is an astounding assortment of fresh baked goodies for breakfast both savoury and sweet. Thank goodness because I don't like to eat sweet pastry for breakfast. They make an egg bun and also a bacon and onion bun that were good choices for the not too adventurous, and their curry buns and BBQ pork buns are awesome if you are feeling like something a little different. I'll also point out that this is a very cheap breakfast or snack if you find yourself shopping in the area. And if you find yourself in need of fresh produce, China Town is a really inexpensive place to find what you're looking for......I would really like to spend some serious time in this shop some day.

But, there are many many interesting options for food in China Town to say the least........and some of the options were unknown, yet unfortunately identifiable to me. I was intrigued by the BBQ orange creatures below.....but not enough to buy one.

The dumping house.........mmmmm.....maybe next time:(

Just around the corner and you're in Kensington Market. It's a quaint little neighbourhood filled with interesting and unusual finds from all over. It is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Toronto, and should be traveled on foot. It's filled with interesting shops, cafes and plenty of "interesting people". If you're into the hippy dippy, there's lots of it here. And apparently you shouldn't leave your car parked here too long.

This is another shot down one of the shopping streets in Kensington market.

But I ran out of time......

There is also St Lawrence Market which I did not have a chance to get to on this trip. It's well worth the trip also and is walking distance (but a good walk) from the hotel. It's got the best food market around and is pretty much a must see place if you are into food at all.

Another neighbourhood worthy of a look is Little India. It's a little more effort in transit, but is doable with one short subway ride plus a short streetcar ride. I think it only took 20-25 minutes to get there from the hotel. Little India is much smaller than China Town but is interesting none the less. There are some great restaurant choices, and if you are looking for a saree or a salwaar kameez....this is the place to get one.

These are by no means the only places to visit while in Toronto....but they are some of my favourites.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Candy Cane Ornament

I just got word this swap has arrived, so I can now post this picture. I had forgotten all about this one actually. I've signed up for the monthly felt ornament swap at swap-bot and this months theme was candy. Since it's a Christmas ornament, I thought a candy cane would be appropriate. This is yet another project made from the red wool felt fabric scrap I picked up from the thrift store some time ago. I cut out two candy cane shapes in red, and top-stitched the white stripes onto one of them and then blanket stitched the two red canes together with a small piece of red ribbon sewed into the top. If you enlarge the picture I think you can see exactly what I did. Since I don't yet have any white wool felt, it is accented with acrylic felt and some small pink beads. It is now enjoying the weather in Portugal......at least it won't melt!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Best Brownie Ever!

I just love this Brownie Recipe. It always turns out well for me and it is moist, chewy and fudgy. All good things in my book anyway. I also love that this recipe is pretty quick to make. Often I make them in my mini muffin pans so they come out like those one bite brownies you can get in the grocery store, but they can be a finicky to get out of the tins, so for speed, I opted to just use the regular old 9" square pan. They probably keep a little fresher longer in the pan anyway. Not like they'll be kicking around for very long....maybe I should take some over to the neighbours since I seem to eating more than my fair share. If you're looking for a brownie recipe to give a try, this one is worth the time.

Quick Fudgy Brownies

3/4 cup butter
8 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
4 eggs, large
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt

Chop butter and chocolate and put in a double boiler set over simmering hot water to melt. In a large bowl, beat eggs and sugars with a whisk. Stir in vanilla and salt. Once chocolate and butter mixture is fully melted, add this mixture to the egg mixture and stir well. Add flour in three additions stirring well after each addition. Pour into greased 9" pan. Bake in preheated 350F oven for 30-35 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Center may be risen, and surface may be cracked, but this should settle flat when cooled. Adjust baking time to 20-25 minutes if using mini muffin pans. Even regular muffin pans make a nice lunch box size brownie and you can use paper liners so you don't have to worry about sticking to the pan.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Look Grandma! I got another ribbon:)

My son took part in one of the local Fall Fairs again this year. He had such a good time last year, and was so excited to come home with a ribbon that he wanted to take part again. Again we chose to make cookies which is easy for him to do with the Kitchenaid stand mixer. All he has to do is read, measure and dump in the ingredients. The most challenging part for him is to scoop out the 6 required balls of dough to bake (and not to eat the dough). But, he managed to scoop out 6 dough balls plus two extra 'just in case' so he was able to choose the best looking ones for his entry. I scooped up and baked the remainder of the dough for home use. We made the cranberry, chocolate chip oatmeal cookies that I talked about here, and he came home with some ribbons again this year! He won his category plus he won the Robinhood Flour Best Cookie or Bar Contest which saw him receive the fancy red ribbon, the apron shown here, plus a cool OXO measuring cup sponsored by Tenderflake Lard, a huge icing spatula, a bottle of candy sprinkles, and a $10 prize. He was so very excited about the whole process, he is already planning entries for next year because he's just cluing in to the possibility of winning an aggregate points trophy. Lookout Fall Fair 2009! I couldn't be happier for him for wanting to participate and try his best. We've volunteered to help out with next years fair if needed, so I'm sure we'll make a point of being there next year

Monday, August 18, 2008

Bye-Bye Birdie & Felt Ornament Too!

Two more swap-bot swaps are in the mail and on their way to their new homes. One was for a blue Christmas ornament swap, and the other was for an amigurumi swap of summer animals. For the ami swap I chose this pattern at Bitter Sweet and sent one identical to the one pictured. It is a quick little project (so you know I liked it) and just perfect for the beginner.........also a good selling feature in my book.
The felt ornament is a pretty blatant copy of one I saw in a card store last year. To finish it off, I sewed in a very small loop of deep blue ribbon into the top, and sent it with a ornament hook for hanging. Of course the colour combination I chose for the ornament is different that the one I had seen, and I believe they used buttons instead of the glass beads that I used to act as berries on the ornament. I was really happy with the way they turned out, and just as happy to have them out of my house........I have too much clutter already. I used felted wool fabric to make the body of the ornament, and acrylic felt, embroidery floss, and glass beads to embellish it. There are unlimited options for how you might choose to embellish it. It also was a fun, quick project just perfect for a little Christmas gift. When I straighten out my Corel Draw Issues, I'll add a pattern for this although it is dead simple.

Monday, August 11, 2008

What a Cool New Toy

What a cool new toy I was lucky enough to receive for my birthday this year. It's a Garmin 405. It's sleek, compared to older models, and functional. It really geeks up your run just a little bit. It is fairly easy to figure out, and gives a lot of useful information while running. Frequent updates keep you in the know on your pace or speed, time elapsed, distance traveled, and it communicates wirelessly with your computer once it's close enough to do so. The Google map of your run that it generates on the computer is pretty darned cool too. At $350 for the model including the heart rate monitor (which I have not yet tried out) it is not an inexpensive toy. But you may find it very worth while if it's information you'd like to have. While I acknowledge that the amount that I run does not warrant this expense, I'm not going to look this gift horse in the mouth.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bumbleberry Pie

Another pie........Since there is nothing left of the Peach & Blueberry Crumble......and my fridge was still overflowing with berries, I decided to make one more pie. This time I was using up odds and ends so it's a Bumble Berry mix, but I think it's going to be good! It's Saskatoon, Blueberry, Black Currant, and Raspberry. To use up all those berries, I needed to use the deep dish pie plate, so I used roughly the same recipe as for the Saskatoon Pie with a closer to 6 cups of berries, and a little extra water and a smidge more of cornstarch and sugar. I'll let you know how it tastes when I cut into it.
Now I know when you add black currents to the mix....you need to add a lot more sugar. It was OK, but quite tart and really needed a scoop of vanilla ice cream to balance out the tartness. But with hot weather we've been having.....that's OK too!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Fine Cooking Challenge

I have been buying Fine Cooking Magazine for a long time.......I've had lapses where I've missed issues for sure, but have most issues dating back to about their third issue. I buy them because in general Taunton has some really nice publications, and these are nice to look through and that's mostly what I do with them. Several times now I've said to myself that I need to make a conscious effort to actually make some of the recipes from these magazines.......or really, what's the point of holding on to them?? Well with all the berry picking that's been going on, I'd better get making something before they go bad! ......And....wouldn't you know it but the cover on the July issue claims to contain the best-ever blueberry desserts. So here we go.
I gave the Peach & Blueberry Crisp with Spiced Pecan Topping a try, and I liked it a lot. I like Pecans so I found the topping just right. If you don't find them appealing, you could always leave them out.

Peach & Blueberry Crisp with Spiced Pecan Topping
1/4 cup softened butter
2/3 cup flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp salt

2/3 cup pecans, chopped

3 cups room temperature Blueberries

3 medium Peaches, sliced 1/4 cup sugar
3 Tbsp cornstarch

1/4 tsp nutmeg
Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly butter 9 inch square pan. Combine four, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt together. Add butter and work in with your fingers until well mixed and mixture will clump together when squeezed. Mix in the pecans. In another bowl, mix the blueberries and peaches. Combine the sugar, cornstarch and nutmeg and toss this in with the fruit to combine. Spread fruit in buttered pan. Take small handfuls of topping and squeeze into clumps while sprinkling them onto to the top of the fruit. Bake until the fruit is bubbling in the center and the topping is well browned, about 45 minutes. Cool slightly and serve warm.

There...... now I've tried at two recipe from that issue.....but seeing as I have a crazy amount of berries still in my fridge I'm toying with two more. Gotta use up those blueberries! The Blueberry Lime Pound Cake, and the Blueberry Streusel Bars with Lemon-Cream Filling both have me equally taken. I have been very lucky this year to be introduced to a new berry. I'd never seen a Huckleberry until last Wednesday. It took a bit of searching and perhaps a near poisoning to identify them....but I did it! To my pleasant surprise I discovered that Huckleberries are closely related to wild blueberries only with a more pronounced blueberry flavour, a tiny bit more tart, and are huge in comparison. Top that off with the added bonus that they are 6-12inches off the ground, and they make for much easier and faster picking that their wild blueberry cousins. They are a little bit better to eat out of hand than wild blueberries, and quite a lot better tasting than commercially grown blueberries. Hello Huckleberries:)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Saskatoon Pie Recipe

Just in case you are interested........I got this recipe from my neighbour, Tana, and it is similar to others found on the Internet. I think that this method of making the pie filling separately rather than just mixing the berries with the flour/ sugar mixture creates a more uniform filling. I would never do it the other way again!

Pie Filling
4 cups Saskatoons (Service Berries)
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
3 T cornstarch
2 tsp lemon juice
1 T butter

Cook two cups of the Saskatoon berries in the water just until boiling. Reduce the amount of water if using frozen berries. Mix cornstarch and sugar together in a separate bowl, and pour into heated berries while stirring constantly. Let bubble until clear. Remove from heat and add remaining 2 cups of berries, lemon juice, and butter. Stir to mix in and set aside to cool while you make your pie crust. Makes enough to fill one 8 or 9 inch regular pie shell, but not a deep dish one.

I use a modified Martha Steward pastry recipe and like her method of using the food processor to combine the ingredients.

Pastry for One Double Crust Pie Shell

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 t sugar
1/2 cup lard
1/2 cup hard margarine or butter
1/2 cup ice water

Cut lard, margarine and butter (which ever you are using) into 1 inch cubes and let sit in the freezer to chill. Measure all dry ingredients into the bowl of your food processor and cool in refrigerator. Once you are ready to start, add the cubes of lard and butter to the flour mixture in the food processor and process by pulsing the processor just long enough to cut in the butter and lard. This should take only 5 seconds. Then you are ready to add in the ice water. You may not require all of the water. I keep my ice cold water in a freezer mug, to keep it extra cold. With the machine running add in the water in a slow stream. You will know when you have added enough when you can pick up a tablespoon of dough form the processor and it stays together when you squeeze it. Usually I do not need the last tablespoon of water. But I usually add it because I always think it looks too dry. My mistake, since adding too much water will likely develop the gluten in the flour making my pie crust a little tougher than it needs to be. One of these days I'll learn. Now your dough is done. Take two pieces of plastic wrap and divide the dough into two amounts. Press one half into a ball with your hands and flatten it into a disc on the plastic wrap and cover it by wrapping it up nice and tight with the plastic wrap. Do the same with the other and place these discs in the fridge to keep cold until you are ready to roll your dough.
Once you're ready. Roll out the dough for the bottom crust, lay it in your pie plate, prick the bottom crust several times with a fork and set aside. Roll your top crust out and assemble your pie. Pour your filling into the bottom crust, top with the top crust, seal the edges and brush top with an egg wash and a sprinkle of sugar and you're done.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Two Little Red Hens

A few weeks ago the deal on Propane Grills at Costco became too much. Apparently the state of the existing Grill became too embarrassing to use at the neighbourhood pot luck so an new one was in order. This is the new brute. Weighing in as 250lbs, it was no easy maneuver to get this thing home, but finally it sits assembled and with all parts accounted for. I was pretty darned excited to try out the rotisserie, since I had never, yes never used one before in my life. Based on the enormous size of the rotisserie skewer, I opted to roast 2 chickens at one go. It could have quite easily handled 4, but I really had no need for all that cooked chicken. Hmmm maybe next years neighbourhood pot luck! Anyway, last night I loaded up two birds and gave them a little rub down with a bit of butter and sprinkled the heck out of them with Lowery's seasoned salt and let it go for a little over an hour on medium heat. The temperature on the grill was reading about 300F. And this is what we got.
Dinner was a salad on Romaine lettuce with crumbled Blue Cheese, dried cranberries, sliced almonds, orange peppers, roasted chicken, and a sweet onion vinaigrette. It was a nice way to use up the chicken. Earlier this afternoon some of the chicken became a chicken salad sandwich and tonight some more is being used up in chicken fajitas with grilled peppers and onions.......And still almost one whole chicken left to use up. Here's hoping we don't get all chickened out.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Back to Baking

After a bit of a break from cooking, I've started to feel the need to bake something. I've started on a bit of a cooking/baking spree. I've been thinking about asking to join the Daring Bakers as a way to prompt myself to try something new each month..... Anyway, here is my latest baking result which I brought into the local Paper Mill. I do tend to give a lot of my baking away since a whole batch is often more than I'd like sitting around my house........as it will inevitably end up on my ass. Besides, if I fatten up everyone around me, I won't feel so bad if I gain a few pounds.......right??? I have never been a fan of oatmeal raisin cookies, which is the request I got for baking from the above mentioned Pulp Mill, so I made a bit of a compromise. They are Chocolate Chip and Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies, and I think they are pretty good too.

Chocolate Chip & Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

  • 2 cups flour

  • 1 tsp baking powder

  • 1 tsp baking soda

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • 1 cup softened butter or margarine

  • 1 cup white sugar

  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed

  • 2 eggs

  • 1 tsp vanilla

  • 2 cups rolled oats

  • 1 cup chocolate chips

  • 1 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 F . Cream butter and sugars. Add eggs and beat in one at a time and stir in vanilla. Add baking powder, baking soda, salt and stir in. Add in flour and work in with wooden spoon until all flour is worked in. Add oats, chocolate chips and cranberries. Stir to mix all in. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto nonstick or prepared cookie sheets. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until the edges of the cookies start to turn golden . Let cookies sit on cookie sheets for a few minutes before removing to cool completely on wire racks. These cookies are also good with pecans or walnuts added, and they keep very well in a covered tin for about 4-5 days.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

We Have a Winner:)

This morning using a Random Integer Generator, comment 81 from Lesly was selected as the winner for the Vintage Style Apron and matching Headband. Congratulations to Lesly at What's Cooking? Go check out her Blog for some recipes to try out, she and her friends have done a really great job with it!
And if you're interested in a new contest go look here for a great handmade purse designed just for you! This lady is very talented.....I think I must go and enter as well.