Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Winter Wonderland

Today we woke up to the most beautiful frost of the year. We had to leave before I could take any photos to cut down our local Christmas tree (photos to follow), but when we came back it was still frosty and gorgeous! These photos are from right outside our front door. I am so thankful to be living here in our beautiful country!

Hope you are having a wonderful day!


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christmas Baking

Every year, I go a bit (OK, a lot) overboard with Christmas baking. The entire month of December is pretty much a write off for healthy snacking due to the kitchen counters groaning under tins full of baked goods. I consider this a good, nay a great, thing. My mom always baked up a storm every Christmas, and I have the fondest memories of helping her in the kitchen. I have a routine when it comes to my baking, just as she did, making the same things year after year. I do not bake these goodies at any other time other than Christmas, so they are always a huge treat to have. I also have tried to incorporate both my childhood as well as D's into my chosen recipes, making it nostalgic for both of us. I have also added one entirely new recipe to my routine in the past three years that I found online and fell in love with. Here is what I make every year (in no particular order):

-Shortbread (my mom's recipe)
-Candy Cane Cookies (D's mom's recipe)
- Butter Tarts (my mom's recipe)
-Rugalech (new recipe)
-Gingerbread Cookies (D's mom's recipe)
- Sugar Cookies (my mom's recipe)

We also make a sweet walnut bread, called Gibanicia, that is a tradition in D's family for breakfast every year. D and I made it on our own (without his mom's help) for the first time this week, and it turned out great!

This last picture is from our batch last year.

Today I began the cookies by making rugalech, and also made a batch of the butter tarts. Now, I have a confession to make. I normally just buy pre-made frozen tart shells for my butter tarts. It is what my mom did, and I have tried making the shells in the past and they never turned out as nicely as I would have liked. This is strange, because I make my pie dough from scratch all of the time and it turns out beautifully. I don't like my tart shells to be very thick though, so I always roll out my dough thin and then it isn't as flaky as the pie crust. I attempted today to rectify this problem and make the shells from scratch, and I had the same issues. They look nice and rustic, but they were a bit too thin now and not flaky enough. Does anyone have any tips on making tart shells?

They look so pretty, but the texture isn't great. 

I actually only baked about half of the filling that I have and will be going out tomorrow to buy some shells to make the rest of them. Oh well! Here is the rugalech:

I am in LOVE with these cookies. They are a traditional Jewish cookie that is made with a buttery, flaky, cream cheese dough filled with apricot jam, walnuts, raisins, and cinnamon sugar. They are soft and sweet and have an amazing flavour to them. I will share the recipe later, as this post is getting too long. Up next are the sugar cookies and shortbread. I will make sure to take you along with me!

What do you bake for Christmas?


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Moroccan Chickpea Stew

Oh my, this is good. Bright flavours, and when paired with jasmine rice cooked in coconut milk, pure swoon-worthy taste.

The original recipe has been found on my newest blog obsession, Smitten Kitchen. I have made several of the recipes off of this site, and each and every one of them have been absolutely amazing.  I adapted this recipe a fair amount, so visit over there for the original, and for loads more inspiration!

Moroccan Chickpea Stew

Serves 4-6

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 giant cloves (or 4 regular sized), chopped
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 cinnamon stick
salt and pepper
1/2 of an acorn squash, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3/4 pound red potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 cups vegetable stock
1 28oz can chickpeas, drained
2 cups tomato puree (or one 14oz can)
pinch of paprika
pinch of cayenne (optional, for a bit of heat)
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 cup halved green olives (drained)
cilantro, for garnish
toasted slivered almonds, for garnish

jasmine rice cooked in coconut milk

Heat butter and olive oil in large pot. Add onion, garlic, cumin, and cinnamon and cook until onion is  translucent. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add squash and potato and saute for 5 minutes or so. Add tomato puree, chickpeas, and stock, taking care to scrape any bits off the bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil and simmer until squash and potato are soft, about 20 minutes. Add lemon juice and olives and stir well. Serve over rice*, garnished with cilantro and sliced almonds. Season accordingly. 

*to cook rice in coconut milk, simply replace water with coconut milk. Makes a very creamy, nutty rice.

This is an amazingly delicious stew. I wasn't too sure about the olives and lemon, but they add a nice balance to the flavours. If you really dislike olives, simply leave them out-the recipe will taste just as good, but may need a bit more salt. 

Enjoy! What have you been eating lately?


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Final Exams

It is that time of year again! No, I'm not talking about Christmas (but I will be soon!), I am talking about final exams. I have been studying like crazy these past couple weeks and will officially be done as of Tuesday. Bear with me until then, because this space will be filled with holiday cheer coming up very soon! Amongst the books, I have found time to do some things around the kitchen. Today, I am making another big batch of vegetable stock. I borrowed D's parents giant pot to make the whole process go a little smoother, and it is simmering away on the stove right now, making enough stock to last us a good few months at least.

Today's batch is a collection from throughout the summer. There are about a dozen whole tomatoes that went a bit wrinkly before we could use them, beets (tops and bottoms), onions, cabbage, a whole bag of pepper insides and various others from our preserving days. These "carcasses" will make a rich and flavourful organic broth for literally zero dollars. We pay an average of $4 for a 1 litre container of organic broth at the store. This pot will probably make 10 litres. That is a HUGE saving! If you are interested in making your own broth it really couldn't get easier than this. I have a tutorial on how to make it here. 

Hope you are all having a lovely weekend! I will be back after Tuesday.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Green Beauty Mask

Every time there is a season change, my skin goes through a period of imbalance and imperfections. I normally have very sensitive skin and have always found that it reacts to any of the regular drugstore masks. Two years ago, I discovered this mask made from ingredients that are found in the average kitchen. And, there were only two of them!

Right now my skin is dry and breaking out, probably because my face is attempting to hold onto any form of oil it can to rehydrate, thus resulting in pimples. This mask always does the trick to get my equilibrium back and jump start my skin for the coming season. It works year round as well, seemingly taking care of whatever issue my skin might be having. Here is what you will need:

Plain yogurt and oatmeal, plus a spice grinder or anything else that you can grind the oats down in. If your skin is particularly oily or you have a large amount of blemishes, add a tablespoon of honey to the mixture, which is naturally antibacterial.

All you do to make the mask is take a small handful of oats and grind them up into a powder. Then mix the powder and a couple tablespoons of yogurt (and honey, if using) until a thick paste forms.

Now spread a thick layer all over your face (nose, up to eyes, etc.), being careful not to get any actually into your eyeballs. Now let it sit and dry onto your face for 15 minutes. Next, take a nice warm facecloth (I don't normally use these, but they make the process that much more luxurious and exfoliating) and slowly wipe off the mask, rinsing the cloth as needed. Now, moisturize your face with your favourite moisturizer and relish in how soft your face now is. Keep the rest of the mask in the refrigerator and use it up to once per week. Remember that it doesn't have any preservatives in it, so it won't last more than a couple weeks in the fridge. 



Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Cold Winter's Night

It has officially become winter here. The snow has come twice and there is a constant chill in the air. Daylight Savings Time ended last weekend, so darkness takes over around 4:30 every night. I have been spending my evenings cozied up enjoying a book and some knitting along with a hot cup of tea. Life could not get better.

Others have been enjoying the extra hour of sleep as well:

How have your evenings been?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Hearty Winter Vegetable Stew

This is the perfect meal for a cold winter's night. Pair it with a thick slice of bread slathered in butter and you have a stick-to-your-ribs meal without a whole lot of calories and plenty of vitamins, minerals, fibre, and vegetables!

Prior to thickening with flour

serves 2 for at least 2 meals

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 medium potato, cut into 2 cm pieces
3 cloves garlic, diced
several mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup red wine
1 cup frozen peas (or any green that needs to be used up)
3 cups vegetable stock
3 cups water 
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup pot barley or any other grain
salt and pepper, to taste
2-3 tbsp. flour (to thicken to desired consistency)

You can also add broccoli, cubed tofu, or any other vegetable you have on hand, and you can use all stock or all water.

Saute all veggies, except peas, until golden in a large soup pot. Deglaze pot with wine, making sure to scrape all the little brown bits off the bottom of it. Add stock, water, bay leaf, and peas and bring to a boil. Add barley and simmer until it is tender, about 30-40 mins. Season to taste. Mix flour with a bit of softened butter or water, whatever you prefer, and stir into soup. Add more flour if it doesn't thicken enough for your liking. Simmer for another 10 minutes or so. 

This is a lovely quick meal that is frugal and reheats beautifully. I hope you try it, as it is a huge hit in our household! It can never hurt to have a glass of wine with it as well...



Wednesday, November 2, 2011

This Past Week

This past week has been filled with Halloween fun! Here are some pictures from our festivities:

D's brother's pumpkin

D's mom's pumpkin

D's dad's pumpkin

D's pumpkin
My pumpkin

How have you been enjoying your past week?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A New Rhythm

Sorry for the unexpected delay in posts, life has been hectic lately! I am officially done working (for now), and today is the first official day that I am unemployed. It is a strange feeling. I went to the grocery store this morning and did the shopping for the next few days meals, did some cleaning up at home, and plan on doing more of that in a little while. Saturday was my birthday, which was filled with family and love, just the way I like it! I got to go down to the market and to the library and in general had a lovely relaxing day at home.

My biggest challenge over this next period of being home is going to be learning to slow down. When I went out today, I found myself trying to rush, looking at the clock, and not enjoying my errands. I then consciously went and got into one of the longer lineups at the cashiers in order to remind myself that I was not in a hurry and I could just let time go by without thinking about it. It was nice. Today, I am cooking slowly- maple baked beans that will take a good 4 hours in the oven. I am going to relish in the slowness of the meal, and while it is cooking I am going to do some reading, take some time for knitting, and do as much cleaning as I want. There is always tomorrow.

Maple baked beans, from the last time I made them.

The weather here is really starting to feel like winter. I needed gloves, a scarf, and a hat yesterday on campus, as the wind was very chilly. The trees on our road are vibrant oranges, yellows, and reds and when I drive down I can see them dancing behind me as they are stirred up off the ground. Today is grey and cloudy, and they actually were calling for snow overnight! I don't think it happened, but it is coming soon. I could smell the wood fires that were heating houses on the street this morning; oh how I miss a wood fire! I am going to make sure our first purchased home has a wood stove, I just love them. 

How have your days been lately?


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

This weekend is Thanksgiving here in Canada, and I could not be more excited! This holiday is one of my favourite and is the kick off for a great couple of months of family, good food, and lots and lots of time in the kitchen! I absolutely love Thanksgiving and everything it stands for. Thinking about everything in your life that is good, having a nice big family meal, and the beginning of fall! The past 2 years we have hosted the big dinner at our house, but unfortunately our new place is much too small to have 10 people over for dinner. Sigh. So this year D's parents are hosting, and we are bringing a few items to add to the menu. We have been put in charge of stuffing (my all time favourite part of the Thanksgiving and Christmas meals) and the cranberry sauce.

Happy Thanksgiving, eh?

Two years ago I made and canned my first ever cranberry sauce. Before that, I had only tasted the store-bought canned variety and thought it was just fine. Boy, I was soooo wrong! Once you have tasted homemade cranberry sauce, I guarantee you will never buy it again. My batch two years ago made about 6 or 7 jars and that lasted us until this year. Considering how easy it is to make and can, that is a great time investment! So, today I am making more. Here is the recipe:

8 cups whole cranberries, washed and picked through
4 cups sugar
1 cup orange juice*
3 cups water*
2 cinnamon sticks, broken ( or 1 tsp. ground cinnamon)
6 x 500 mL jars and lids

* you can also just juice one orange and then top it up with enough water to make 4 cups

Place juice, water, sugar, and cinnamon in a large pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add cranberries and cook until skins have popped and sauce is thick and bright red. Pour into sterilized jars and seal. Process in water bath canner for 15 minutes. Cool for 24 hours and store on shelf.

If you are wondering how to sterilize and seal jars, please refer to my canning tutorial. You can sterilize any sized jar in the oven and follow the same method for heating the lids.

These make excellent gifts and really are one of the easiest recipes to make! Enjoy!

What is your Thanksgiving like? What are your traditional meal staples, if any?


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Picking Grapes

Last weekend we went to visit my family and got to pick grapes! My grandfather has been telling us about this orchard for the past 3 years, and we have tried to make it up there every summer for the past 2 years with no luck. The first year the road to their house was closed due to forest fires and last year D had some health issues that prevented us from traveling.  But this year we made it! It was a gorgeous day, and the grapes were everywhere! Here are some pictures from the day:

Hope you are all having a lovely weekend. I will be back with some Thanksgiving posts!


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Change of Pace

Hello! We have just gotten back from a weekend away visiting my family. We went grape picking with my grandparents (more on that later!) and got in a great visit with my parents as well. However, when I was away I received notice that I will be laid off in 3 weeks due to my workplace having a financial crisis. I had a feeling this was coming from recent talks these past couple weeks, so I was not surprised, but definitely disappointed and a bit concerned. I have been working at this same job for the past 3 years and really have no experience outside of my field, which is veterinary reception. But, I have decided to take this as an opportunity to slow down a bit more and really think about what I want to do with my life's work. I am still going to school working towards my B.A., so that will continue, but until I can find another job I will have to change my lifestyle a bit to make up for the fact that my pay cheques will no longer be coming in.

Here are my plans:

1. Use public transit whenever possible to save gas (I pay for a pass in my tuition every semester, so I might as well use it!)

2. Frugal meals! This is already a staple in our household, but I will be extra conscious of using whatever we have on hand and trying to make as many freezer  based meals as possible. This also means no more eating out, no more buying bread, and making everything from scratch. I will also be relying on my canned goods and pantry to get us through rough patches.

3. Cut my cell phone down to the bare minimum. We do not have a land line and I have a contract so I cannot cut it out entirely, but there are some cheaper plans that I will be researching.

4. No more paying for tea/coffee. We have tons at home, I do not need to buy it.

5. Stay in! We hardly ever go out, but from now on it is cheap home entertainment.

6. Focus on my studies as much as possible, as this is the path to my success.

7. Write, every day. I am constantly making excuses as to why I don't write, but now I will have more spare time, so I need to dedicate myself to it. My last professor told me I have the talent to be a professional writer, and I need to hone my skills and get my creative juices flowing!

8. Enjoy this time! I need to realize that this has happened for a good reason and I need to embrace this stage in my life. I want to enjoy being at home and make myself relax and slow down more.

I will also be scouring Rhonda's blog for more tips on frugal living, as she really is the master of it.

I would appreciate anyone's input on this, and would love to hear your tips and tricks to frugal living! Have you ever been in a situation similar to mine? How did you manage?


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tutorial: How to Can Fruit

Recently I had a comment asking me to provide a step by step tutorial on canning fruit. Thank you for the request, Sam! I am happy to be providing this tutorial to you today. Every year for the past 3 years I have canned peaches and pears, and last year I also did apricots. This year I have done just the peaches and pears, as they are our favourites. Please keep in mind that I am by no means an expert or professional canner, I just do what I was taught by D's mom, and I have never had a jar not seal on me. Please follow every necessary precaution when canning food at home, as there is a small but dangerous risk of botulism if you do not sterilize and process correctly.

Ok, are you still with me? Canning is very simple once you understand the necessary steps. Yes, it is time consuming, so make sure you set aside at least a few hours per batch of 7 jars. Trust me, all of the work is completely worth it! Home canned fruit is delicious!

Today's tutorial will be pears, but peaches are very similar. Here we go!

Supplies Needed
1 canner with metal rack
Enough 1 litre jars with new lids to do the amount of fruit you have (Roughly about 10 jars for every 20 pounds of fruit)
Large pot to make syrup
A ladle
Small pot with lid to boil jar lids in
A large cookie sheet
A butter knife
A clean cloth
A magnetic stick to lift lids out of hot water (usually comes with other canning supplies)- or a fork/spoon
A vegetable peeler/knife
A cutting board
A sharp knife to slice fruit
Large bowl to put sliced fruit in

Pears- at least 7-8 pounds to make one batch (7 jars)
Water (tap is fine)
White Sugar (2 1/2 cups)
Lemons (optional)- 1 should do 7 jars

All of these supplies should be in your kitchen except for the canning supplies. I bought my canner for about $20 and the other stuff (magnetic stick, jar lifter) for less than $10. These are a worthwhile investment, as they will last many years and help make the process go by much faster.

To begin, fill your canner about halfway full of water and set it on a large element on medium high heat with the lid on. It always takes quite a while for that much water to come to a boil, so I do this first. Next, preheat your oven to 200 degrees F. Place all of the jars (cleaned in hot soapy water) and their rings on the cookie sheet and put in the oven. The heat will sterilize them, but they must be in there for a minimum of 20 minutes, so do this before starting to prepare the fruit.

Next make the sugar syrup that the pears will sit in. I make an "extra light" syrup, meaning it is not too sweet. I prefer this as it allows the flavour of the fruit to stand out but still provides enough sweetness. Put 11 cups of water into a large pot. Mix in 2 1/2 cups of sugar and place over medium heat to slowly come to a boil, stirring occasionally.

Now, begin to prepare the fruit. With peaches you can dunk them into boiling water to loosen the skins, but with pears they must be peeled by hand. Select fruit that is not overripe and has few blemishes. It does not matter how big they are. Peel and stem the pears and cut them into the size you desire. I quarter mine. Cut out the core and place slices into a cold water bath that has a bit of acid added to it (lemon juice, citric acid, or vinegar all work, only a couple teaspoons). This will prevent the slices from browning as you prepare the rest.

coring the pears

all sliced and ready to jar!

Now you must heat up the lids for the jars so that they are hot and ready to seal. All you have to to is put them in a pot and cover them with water. Bring them to a boil and let them boil for 2 minutes, then cover the pot and set it aside.

Once you have cut up all of your fruit, you are ready to start putting them in jars! Now I follow D's grandmother's recipe and add a slice of lemon into every jar. This is not necessary, it is purely optional. All it does is add a lovely lemon flavour to the pears. If you do not want to add the lemons, leave them out.

Remove one jar at a time from the oven (careful, they will be VERY hot!). Place one slice of lemon on the bottom (if using) and then begin layering the pear slices in the jar. If you place them all core side down they will stack much better and you will be able to fit many more slices in each jar. Fill the jar to the base of the lid, where the band will screw on to. 

Now it is time to add the hot syrup that has come to a boil. Carefully ladle in the syrup until it there is about a half inch of head space left in the jar.

Now you have to remove the air bubbles that may have formed between the slices of fruit when you were ladling in the syrup. Now every book that I have ever read has always warned against using a metal utensil to do this, as you risk cracking the jar. Well, I do it anyways, but if you want to be extra pre-cautious, use a plastic utensil. Simply run the knife down the four sides of the jar and wiggle it a little bit and you will see little air bubbles float to the surface. DO NOT force the knife down or wiggle it like crazy, or you probably will crack the jar!

Ok, now wipe the rim of the jar where the lid will sit to get any sticky syrup off it, which will cause sealing problems.

And now place the lid on it! Fish one out of the pot (careful, the water is hot!) and place it over the opening.

Now take one of the seals out of the oven (also very hot!!) and screw it on loosely to "fingertip tight". It is very important not to screw it on too tightly. Basically as soon as you feel it resist a little it is good. Make sure it is on, just not too tight.

Place the rack onto the canner edges (so it is not completely submerged in the water) and put the jars on one by one as you fill them up. Repeat this until you have 7 full jars.

Now, carefully lift the handles of the rack off the edge and submerge the jars into the hot water. Make sure that each jar is covered by about one inch or more of water. If they are not, simply add some more hot water to the canner until they are all submerged. Put the lit back on and bring the water to a rolling boil. Once it is boiling, set the timer for 25 minutes ( you may need to adjust the time if you live at a very high elevation, which you would have to research). When the timer goes off, remove the jars very carefully from the canner (don't tip them!) and place them on a tea towel. You can suck up any water that is sitting on the tops of them by placing a corner of a towel on the lid and allowing it to absorb the water, but don't rub them or press on the lids in any way. 

Cover them all with another tea towel and leave them to sit for 24 hours. They should all be sealed by then, which you will be able to tell that the lids have sealed downward and do not pop when you run your fingers along them. If a jar has not sealed, place it in the fridge and eat it within a couple weeks. To get them ready for long term storage, remove the rings from the jars and wipe down the entire jar and ring to get rid of any sticky residue which could mould over time and destroy the seal. You can either store the jars with or without the rings, whichever you prefer. Make sure to label each jar with the contents and year you did them, and enjoy!

My canning shelf last year

I hope this was helpful and informative. If any of you have questions please leave a comment and I will do my best to answer them. Please let me know and I will do my best to answer them. And let me know if you tried it or how you can your fruit, I would love to get some feedback on this!

Happy Preserving,