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Archive for June, 2010

Jalapeno Cheese Sauce

I have a salsa problem.  Ever since making my own salsa with my garden tomatoes last year I have been ruined for store-bought salsa.  I have tried several varieties now and found nothing that even comes close.  The Pioneer Woman’s recipe is nice, but one of the ingredients I can’t find here and so it needs a little tweaking and I just haven’t found the right tweaks yet.

So it was that an unknown event occurred in my house a few weeks ago – we were out of salsa. 

And I had a half a bag of my favourite nacho chips, black beans, green pepper, fresh onions from the garden and white cheddar ready to go.   But no salsa.  I know from experience that nachos just aren’t the same without the salsa, it’s just too dry.

And then inspiration hit.  What if I made a spicy cheddar sauce to pour over the chips and beans and veggies?

And so….. Jalapeno Cheese Sauce was born.

You need:

  • 2 Tbsp. Butter
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1.5 – 2 cups milk
  • about 1 cup cheese, grated (I used an old white cheddar)
  • 1/2 – 1 jalapeno, chopped finely
  • about half a green pepper, chopped finely

In a medium-sized pot melt the butter over medium heat.  Add peppers and stir until slightly soft.  Whisk in the flour.    Slowly pour in 1.5 cups of  milk, whisking the entire time.  Continue to cook, stirring often, until the sauce bubbles and thickens.  Remove from the heat and stir in the cheddar.  If the sauce is too thick, pour in more milk until the desired consistency is reached. 

That’s it!  Then the sauce is ready to pour over whatever you like.  On this day I poured it over a plate full of nachos sprinkled with black beans and green onions.  Yum!

If you know of a great salsa recipe using canned tomatoes I would be happy to hear about it.  (I need something to tide me over until our tomatoes start to grow!)

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It’s amazing how much has changed in the garden since I last took pictures!  Absolutely everything is planted outside now (no more grow-lights in the basement!) and all the seeds we planted have sprouted.    We have had a wonderful balance of heat and rain that has got the plants off to a great start and I hope it keeps up for the rest of the summer (wishful thinking, I know)  Let’s take a walk together, shall we?

The strawberry plants are beginning to bear fruit.  Hubby ate this one shortly after I took the photo and said it was the best strawberry he has ever eaten.  I hope there are more to follow!

We have lettuce and spinach and arugula galore – salad season has begun!

This little guy will one day be a big cucumber plant.

The cilantro is already getting too big for the box – must be time to make salsa! 

I thought I would plant a few fennel seeds just for fun but Hubby planted this box and put in the whole package of fennel seeds.  I have never even eaten fennel before and now I have more plants than I know what to do with!  Anyone know of some good recipes?

The beets are looking lush – especially the yellow beets which I planted at the end of May.

Green onions have already graced many of our meals over the last week or so – yum!

And the mighty zucchini plant – you only need a few of these plants to supply a whole neighbourhood with zucchini! 🙂

And then there is the big garden.  On your left you have peas and two kinds of beans.  Then there are red and green peppers, squash, onions, garlic, kale, swiss chard  and celery along the back.  On the right there are potatoes, corn, leeks, broccoli and about 30 tomato plants (5 different varieties.)  And as if this wasn’t enough, our back deck has become a bit of a container garden….

Hubby couldn’t part with the leftover tomato plants so each one got their own pot on the deck.  Please don’t ask me what we are going to do with all the tomatoes that are going to grow on more than 30 tomato plants…perhaps I should start taking orders….would anyone like some nice fresh tomatoes in a few months time?

The herbs continue to grow happily (and you can see some of my laundry waving happily in the breeze!)

The only disappointment is my tiny basil plants.  I LOVE basil so I planted it in 3 different spots in the garden, several weeks apart, and yet they are all at the same stage; two little leaves poking out of the ground.  I broke down and bought some mature basil plants from the store.  I really didn’t want to miss out on basil again this year.

So there it is, the garden in June.  If all goes well I think we should be able to keep ourselves and a few friends in vegetables throughout the summer and fall.  I just love eating fresh produce from the garden, don’t you?

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Recipe: Juliet’s Pineapple Cheesecake                                                                    Source: Nana’s Handwritten Recipes     Date: unknown

Some of you might remember me mentioning my failed attempt at my great-grandmother’s cheesecake recipe.  We will call this “Exhibit A.”

As you can see, Exhibit A does not really resemble a cheesecake.   Although it tasted pretty good, cheesecake soup might have been a better name.   As soon as I cut into it (and got over the disappointment – I had planned to bring it to a party that night!) I had a good inkling of where I went wrong so I decided to try this recipe again.   With much better results. 

Here is the original recipe:

As far as Nana’s handwritten recipes go, this one had some pretty clear instructions.    I did wonder at the lack of crust and what kind of pan to bake this in, but a quick search informed me that there are such things as “crustless” cheese cakes and that they can be baked in a pie pan, so that is what I decided to do. 

Putting this cake together is actually very simple.  First you mix together one package of plain cream cheese (the kind that comes in the box, not the modern easy-spread variety) and 1/2 cup sugar.  I used turbinado sugar. 

When it’s well mixed beat in 3 egg yolks (save the whites!).  And then stir in one cup of well-drained crushed pineapple.  (Unless you like cheese cake soup and then by all means throw in some of that juice too!)  🙂   The first time I made this I quasi-drained the pineapple and thought it was “good enough.”  After all, the recipe didn’t actually say whether it was supposed to be drained or with the juice.  Trust me on this one – well-drained is the way to go.  Refer to Exhibit A.

In another bowl whip the 3 egg whites until they are stiff.  I love to do this by hand.  I think it is magical to turn this:

Into this:

Fold the whites into the cheese and egg mixture along with a teaspoon of vanilla. 

You want to be gentle at this step, but you also want to be sure that the whites are well incorporated (again I will direct your attention to Exhibit A).  Your final mixture should look like this:

Pour into a 9″ pie plate.  I greased the pan hoping that would help it to release easier and I also put a circle of parchment paper in the bottom.  It did release very easily from the pan, but it also made the edges and top a golden brown….not the usual colour for a cheese cake.  If I make this again I might try the parchment paper alone, no grease, and see what happens.   I am quite proud of the finished product anyway, especially of the way it stands up on the plate all by itself!  (No soup for hubby this time…although he didn’t seem to mind devouring the last one.)

We haven’t cut into this one yet but if the soupy version was good, this one can only be better!

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The Scenic Route

Yesterday we travelled with a group of friends to a beautiful camp a little less than an hour from here.  Almost every drive around here is “scenic” but as hubby never wants to travel the same route twice, and has an innate desire to explore every road that he comes across, we took an even more scenic route home again.  And it was worth it.  Reminding me again of what a beautiful province I have come to live in.

First we travelled this rustic road….

Looking back…and then looking ahead….

The sky was absolutely beautiful.

And then I put my camera away thinking we wouldn’t find anything else more beautiful than what we had just seen.  And then we came over a hill and found this.

And the sky was gorgeous here too.

And the hills in the distance…

Our eyes and hearts full of beauty we then travelled to our own corner of paradise.  Although not as breathtaking with wonderful vistas it is beautiful to us in that we own it and in that one parcel of land is wrapped many of our hopes and dreams for the future.

Nothing to hear out here but birds, and nothing to see but plants and trees, and the “view” that made us fall in love with this place…

The sky seems so much bigger when there is nothing blocking out its view, and it’s absolute magic at night when it is full of stars.

The perfect spot for bonfires.  And gardens.  And a pond.  And maybe a few chickens.  And our “forever home.”

It is one of those days when I am glad that change comes slowly in this corner of the country, and that these roads will hold their natural beauty for many more years, so that others may decide to take the scenic road home, and enjoy them too.

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Yoga Bag

After making the apron for my Mom I decided I also wanted to give her something as a surprise.  Since she has been taking yoga classes recently I thought it would be fun to make her a bag for her yoga mat. 

When I first started to see patterns for a yoga mat bag I wanted to make a bag for MY yoga mat.  But it seems kind of silly when my yoga mat never leaves the house.  (poor thing…)  So in this instance I will have to live vicariously through my mother who is cool enough to attend a yoga class with her best friend. 

The pattern is from One Yard Wonders with a few modifications.  (A note if you own the book and want to try the pattern yourself, there is an error in the directions, the bottom should be cut at 6.5 inches, not 16.5…that would be one BIG mat!)   I made mine from a nice sturdy twill and it is fully lined, with elastic at the top to keep the mat from sliding out.  It seems my mother’s mat not only gets out more than mine but it is also much cushier than my own because I cut the elastic to fit my mat and she can barely get hers in.  Next time I might thread some ties through the top instead of elastic and then it will fit any size mat. 

So much nicer than just carrying it under your arm, don’t you think?

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Tea Apron for Mom

It was my mom’s birthday yesterday.  She asked for a new apron.  I looked at many, many apron patterns but in the end decided to make her a copy of my favourite kitchen apron.  To make it special I added an applique on the front from Sew Liberated

Mom loves tea of all kinds so this particular applique seemed perfect.  Here is a close-up:

I think she was happy with it – I hope she likes it as much as I like mine.  It’s not as fancy or as cute as some of the apron patterns out there, but it covers well, top and bottom, and that was lacking in many of the other patterns I looked at.  What’s the point of wearing a beautiful apron if your clothes get spattered anyway?

Time to cook!

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Deer are beautiful and majestic animals. In the days before our wedding, when we were thinking of buying this house, Hubby and I came out to see the place at dusk.  As we drove by we saw a deer under the trees.  We were mesmerized and took it as a sign that this would be a beautiful place to start our life together.

It has been a beautiful place to begin our life together.  That first year we saw many deer, grazing in the tall “field” we had in our back yard in the mornings or resting behind the tall grasses in the evenings.  It was truly magical.

And then we planted gardens.

The deer aren’t so beautiful when they eat an entire bed of plants, that you slaved over for hours, in one evening.

And it is no magic that eats all of your tomato plants down to nothing by morning.

The beautiful beasts aren’t tricked by plants and bushes that are reportedly “deer-proof” either,  my elderberry bush didn’t last a month before it was munched completely to the ground. 

Hubby declared war and kept a slingshot handy – which scared them away for a minute and then they would return to munch on the bushes when we had left for work. 

We tried a slew of deer deterrents, some high-tech, some not, but it seems the deer were here to stay and that they would not easily be swayed from eating at our backyard “buffet.”

Many gung-ho gardeners around here fence their properties to keep the deer out.  This is an expensive option, and for us, just not possible.  It took some experimenting, and some ingenuity on Hubby’s part (I am so thankful for my man!) but out veggie garden is now deer-free, without breaking the bank. 

Here is how we do it:

First of all, all of our gardens are raised beds, in boxes.  However, I think this concept would work in any type of garden, so don’t worry if your gardens don’t look like ours.

For large gardens you will need metal or wooden stakes and a roll or two of “deer fencing” from the hardware store.  (In our store it is sold next to the bird netting and is a similar plastic-type  material.)  It is economically priced and can be stored and used year after year.  You will also need some kind of tie – we use plastic twist ties.

Simply place the stakes around the perimeter of the garden and stretch the deer fencing across it, tying it into place.    The two stakes close together on the left make the “door.”  There is a piece of dowel on the bottom of this section of fencing for weight, and it stays closed by placing one of the holes of the netting over the twist-tie on the top of the pole.  It’s nothing fancy, but it works. 

All of our tall plants are put into these beds.

The shorter plants (vines, lettuces, carrots, onions, etc.) are placed in the smaller boxes.  For these, we use bird netting (even cheaper than deer fencing) and wood dowels.  Use the dowels to create bars on either side of the box and then drape the bird netting over top,  tying in place (we use zip-ties on the tops, and twist ties on the corners so we can get in for weeding.)

It’s an easy and somewhat aesthetically pleasing solution, and as long as the plants stay within the netting, the deer won’t touch them.  If your plants are tall and start to poke their heads above or out of your netted box you might need to raise your dowels (or say goodbye to your exposed plants!)

This system has kept our veggie garden deer free for three years.  It is probably not perfect.  We see many deer here, but I know there are other areas around here that see a lot more.  But it works for us and I hope it might help out others who are afraid to garden because of the animals they share their backyards with.   

There is one more thing that we have added to our gardens that have allowed us to grow flowers and shrubs in the backyard.   They do not fall in the “frugal” category, but they do protect our investment in plants and shrubs and as a bonus they also keep cats, groundhogs, and other creatures away from the gardens.   We have two of these and since installing them my bushes and flowers have reappeared and this year I am going to attempt to plant some herbs in these otherwise unprotected garden beds. 

And there is peace between the humans and the deer. 

Happy gardening!

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Wow!  I was surprised by all the kind comments after the muffins didn’t work out.  I’m really not that upset – I knew going into this project that I couldn’t possibly like all of the recipes (remember the Ox head?) In the long run of all the mistakes I have made in the kitchen (such as somehow taking the burgers out of the freezer to thaw last night and not actually putting them into the fridge so I discovered them on the counter just before dinner time all warm and unsafe to eat……sigh……) I was just happy the muffins were still edible! 

On the other side of the muffin card was a recipe for ginger cookies:

I love directions like “remove from fire.”  It reminds me of just how old some of these recipes are….

I once again substituted butter for the shortening and melted 1/4 cup of it along with 1/3 cup blackstrap molasses in a pot on the stove.  Unless you love the taste of blackstrap molasses I wouldn’t use it, because it is really overpowering.   In fact my finished cookies should be called molasses cookies, because that really was the dominant flavour.

While that was cooling I mixed 1 1/4 cups of whole wheat pastry flour, 3/4 teaspoon of baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon of ginger and a tablespoon of orange rind into a big bowl.   Then I poured in the molasses and butter and mixed it up.

It looked like a gooey sticky mess and I couldn’t imagine how this would ever turn into something I could roll out and cut cookies from.

Oh me of little faith… 

After an hour in the fridge and a dusting of flour it was ready for the cookie cutter.

I chose to cut out cats, because, if I’m going to go to all the trouble to roll out the dough and use cookie cutters I am going to use something fun. 

Then I placed them on a greased cookie sheet and baked burnt them for 10 minutes at 375.  Yep.  Burnt beyond edibility.

So I turned down the temperature to 350 and put them in for 8 minutes.

And burnt them again.  Just around the edges.  And the molasses makes them dark anyway so I pretended not to notice. 

Notes to self – use fancy molasses and bake for less than 8 minutes and WATCH CAREFULLY!

This is beginning to sound like a little too much work to make again.  Do you have recipes like that?  It’s not that I’m lazy, just that I’m not very good at watching things that aren’t really doing anything.  I start out ok but then my mind will start to wander and I’ll think “Oh!  This would be a good time to whip up some muffin batter while the oven is already on” or “hey, I should go see if the laundry is ready to come in” and off I will go and the thing that is supposed to be watched carefully will do whatever it is going to do in its own way on its own time. 

I am ok with this.  I think it’s good that I understand my own limitations. 

The finished cookies tasted like crunchy and slightly burnt blackstrap molasses.  Despite this all 14 of the ginger burnt molasses cats did eventually get eaten, which either demonstrates how great this recipe is or my commitment to wasting as little food as possible, I’m not sure which.   

I will leave you with this – try this recipe yourself at your own risk.  But if you manage to bake unburnt cookies that taste like ginger I’d love to know about it!  It might give me the motivation to try this one again….

And no need for sympathy notes, I haven’t spent my whole week eating burnt cookies and dry muffins, I also made some amazing treats using this recipe and they were so good!  I took a plate to a friend’s house and our husbands ate the whole plate between them in one evening.  Maybe I should have brought the ginger cats…. 🙂

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Recipe: Orange Honey Muffins  Date: WW II Source: Economy Bulletin#7

After the success of the date bread I decided to try another sugar-saving recipe from the “Lakeside Home Services Bureau” victory  economy bulletins. 

I was excited about this one because I love muffins, I love muffins more that are sweetened with honey, and orange muffins sounded delicious.  Do not doubt my muffin love.  It is often the thought of the delicious muffins waiting for me on the counter that pull me out of my warm bed at 6:00 in the morning in a way that my beeping alarm clock can never quite accomplish on its own. 

To make these muffins I first combined 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour, 3 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt and the grated rind of two oranges into a large bowl.

I did actually stir the zest in but I couldn’t resist taking this picture with all that beautiful and fragrant orange peel on top.   In another bowl I combined all of the wet ingredients, substituting melted butter for the shortening.

I then poured the wet into the dry and combined them until just mixed.  I spooned the batter into a greased twelve-cup muffin tin and baked the muffins at 375 for 15 minutes, then I realized they were cooking too quickly and turned the oven down to 350 for the remaining 15. 

They smelled amazing and I couldn’t resist eating one hot from the pan!

Unfortunately, this is one of those things that does not taste as good as it smells.  Despite the honey and egg and juice and milk and butter I found these muffins really dry.  They have good orangey flavour, but that’s about all they have going for them.  They are definitely not the kind of muffin that pulls you out of bed in the morning.   I admittedly have enjoyed eating them for breakfast, sliced in half and topped with peanut butter, but despite that I probably would not make them again. 

I think this is the first of my Nana’s recipes that I have tried that won’t make it into my recipe book! 

And I am sure it won’t be the last….

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Every year the students in my class have one month where the get to choose, as a class, what they would like to learn about.  I am always amazed by the wide range of topics they come up with (my Grade 1/2’s had World War 2, Crystals and Gems, God, and Circus Performing among some of the final contenders….) and I always enjoy the process of learning something new together.

After much debate my current students finally decided that they wanted to learn about the ice age so we have spent most of May and the beginning of June learning about saber-tooth tigers, wooly mammoths, glaciers, cave paintings and primitive hunting techniques.  My students have begged to watch the movie “Ice Age” as a way to celebrate all that we have learned but as our school has a no movie policy I had to come up with something that seemed equally as celebratory.

So I decided we should make our own ice cream

I have never made my own ice cream before.

Google came to my rescue again and I found directions for making ice cream using two baggies and some ice.  It seemed simple but I have learned from hard experience that I need to try everything myself before attempting it with my students.   So it was that I was making ice cream in my kitchen early Sunday morning.  And then I got to eat ice cream on an early Sunday morning (teaching does have its job perks!) 

This is super easy to do, and really fun! 

To begin, put 1/2 cup milk (I used full fat milk), 1/4 tsp. vanilla and 1 Tbsp sugar into a ziplock sandwich bag and seal tightly.

Then fill a large ziplock bag about half-full of ice and add 6 Tbsp of salt (I used coarse pickling salt – a lot of internet sites said to use rock salt but I couldn’t find any and the coarse salt worked great!)  Nest your little bag of milk into the ice and salt mixture and seal the big bag.

Now set your timer for 5 minutes and massage your bag, moving the ice over and around your bag of milk.  I found it easiest to wrap the bag in a tea towel so that my hands didn’t get so cold and then I just massaged away!  After five minutes are up, open your bag.  The little bag of milk should be cold and solid.  (If it’s not – a bit more massaging in the ice should do the trick).

Use your towel to wipe off the outside of the little bag (you don’t want to get salt into your ice cream) and then spoon the contents into a little dish and enjoy!

It’s not quite what you would get from an ice cream parlour but it’s cold and delicious and you made it yourself – what could be better than that?

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