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Archive for September, 2010

This soup recipe is a favourite around here.  My friend Crystal introduced me to this recipe at our food party last year.  And I will be forever grateful.

I love it because it is a healthy, yummy, recipe that can be made on a week-night in less than 30 minutes, freezes well, and is also a great way to incorporate leftover roast chicken (see the variation)

Hubby loves it because it tastes good.  And it’s got meat in it.  A definite plus for the husband of a former vegetarian. 

 Oh…and it looks pretty too!  Nothing like whipping up a quick meal that looks like it would be at home in an upscale restaurant.   (At least I think it would…..I can’t remember the last time I was actually IN an upscale restaurant…..)

Spicy Tomato Chicken Soup

  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 2 Tbsp oil
  • 1 can whole tomatoes (28 oz)
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp cumin
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 2 – 3 chicken breasts cut in very small pieces
  • Toppings: feta, avocado, pita chips, cilantro (all, some, or none, your choice!)

Saute the onions in the oil for about 2 minutes, then stir in garlic.  Add the tomatoes and the paste and use a potato masher or side of your wooden spoon to crush the tomatoes. 

Bring the mixture to a boil and add the herbs, spices, stock and chicken.  Simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked.

Ladle into bowls and sprinkle on the toppings of your choice.

To make Pita Chips:  Cut the pita into slices or triangles and drizzle with olive oil.  Bake at 350 for 7 – 10 minutes, or until crispy. 

Variations:

  • Instead of using chicken breast add leftover roast chicken (both light and dark meat work fine) and cook until the chicken is heated through. 
  • I have used canned diced tomatoes instead of whole tomatoes in a pinch (the whole tomatoes or better, but this is still good)
  • For a more hearty soup you can add cooked rice (I have not personally tried this variation yet but I trust Crystal’s reccomendations!)

What are your favourite quick-but-healthy week-night meals?

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When I was doing a Google search for something completely different, I discovered this amazing sewing website (don’t you love it when that happens?)

It’s called Pattern Rescue, and it is a place where they collect, complete, trade, and give away vintage sewing patterns. 

Have a pattern that is missing pieces – they will find the pieces for you.  Have old patterns you don’t want anymore – trade them in for something different.  Inherited a huge stash of patterns you won’t use – donate them and leave a tribute to your loved one.

Check it out!  http://www.patternrescue.com/

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Pickles and Salsa

For all of you who guessed that I would be making pickles after reading about my large cucumber harvest – you were absolutely right!    I had already decided that I would not, at all costs, go crazy with the pickling like I did last year, because we still have many jars of last year’s pickles waiting patiently to be eaten.   (Can I interest anyone in some mustard pickles?)

There is something about canning that I find addictive.  It is a little tiresome to cut all the vegetables, but once we are into the jar-filling, water-processing, listening to the lids go “pop” stage, I find it hard to put on the breaks and find myself looking around the kitchen and garden to see what else I could possibly put into jars.

Hence last year’s overdose.   (Not a fan of mustard pickles?  Would you like to take home some delicious bread and butter pickles? )

This year I stuck to the basics – dills.  Dills are the pickles that hubby likes best, and one that I can count on being eaten.  I made the standard dill slices recipe I made last year, from the Bernardin Complete Guide to Home Preserving

They are simple and good, and the 8 jars the recipe makes is plenty for us for a year!

But I did have just a few more cucumbers (ok…a lot more cucumbers) so I decided to do a little experimenting.    The first thing I tried was naturally fermented pickles. 

I used this recipe except I did not have any grape, cherry, oak or horseradish leaves to add.  (I knew from research that these leaves help to keep the pickles crunchy, but I decided to try making them anyway).  They look absolutely beautiful in the jar, but I cannot bring myself to eat them.  Having learned how to preserve using a boiling water canner, leaving something out on my counter for three days and then eating it still freaks me out a little…..  I’ll let you know if I am ever brave enough to try them.  For now they will sit in the fridge…looking pretty. 

And because there were still so many cucumbers piled up on the back deck, I decided to try some refrigerator pickles. 

I found a basic recipe on allrecipes.com with good reviews, and then I changed it up to suit my own needs including reducing it so I only made one jar.    The jar on the right is similar to the original, but sweetened with turbinado sugar and with white vinegar instead of apple cider vinegar.   I also used pickling spice instead of the mustard seasonings.   The other, as an experiment, is sweetened with honey, and then I added some dry mustard and turmeric to make it like a honey-mustard pickle. 

After a week in the fridge, batch number 1 does not even taste like a pickle – more like cucumber salad, and not a good cucumber salad at that.

The honey mustard pickles are delicious!!  One of those recipes where I really should have taken notes as I made it, because I will probably never be able to make another jar exactly like it. 

And the pickle making could have gone on as there were still piles of cucumbers piled up outside, the water in the canners was hot, and I was in a canning mood.   

But I had promised myself not to make any more pickles. 

So I made salsa. 

Last year the salsa I canned went bad and bubbly in the jars – hoping that this one is better.

And then I packed all of the canning supplies away and gave away all of the extra cucumbers.   So I woudn’t be tempted.

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I have heard that there is a canned pumpkin shortage in the U.S. this year.  A blogging friend, who blogs at Gardening Gone Bad dropped by the blog yesterday and asked me to spread the news. 

A little internet research confirmed that there is indeed a shortage of this fall staple south of the border, but Canada does not seem to be affected. 

I have to admit that even with our Thanksgiving a mere two weeks away, I personally never would have noticed if the canned pumpkin was unavailable.  It’s not that I don’t love pumpkin, because I do, but with squash growing in our own backyard I don’t have a need of the canned stuff.

And if there are squash and pumpkins available at your local market, you won’t have to worry about a canned pumpkin shortage either.  It is really very simple to make your own squash puree, and a lot cheaper!  And although every squash has a slightly different taste, you can substitute any winter squash puree when a recipe calls for pumpkin (except for maybe spaghetti squash, somehow I don’t think that one would turn out quite the same.)

Here’s what you need:

  • one squash
  • a food processor or blender (although a potato masher, a fork, and a strong arm would work in a pinch!)

That’s it!  I told you this was easy!

Use a sharp knife to cut your squash in half. 

Scrape out all of the seeds and stringy innards.

Place in a baking pan and pour in a little water, I used about a cup to cover the bottom of this pan.

Cover tightly with foil and bake at 350 for about an hour, or until a fork easily pierces the flesh.

Let the squash cool for a little bit until you can touch it without burning yourself.   Then scoop the cooked squash right out of the skin and puree it in a blender or food processor (or give your arms a workout and try it by hand).

If it is a nice dry squash like this one, your puree will be ready to be used in your favourite recipes.  Some squashes and pumpkins however, can be very moist.  If you find there is a lot of excess water after pureeing you will want to strain your puree or you will risk ruining your baked goods and pies (ask me how I know….).  Just drop the puree into a cloth-lined strainer and let it sit overnight. 

Use right away or toss into jars, containers or bags and keep in the fridge for up to a week or the freezer for several months.   Be sure to thaw and drain frozen squash puree before use to remove excess moisture.

That’s it!  It really only takes a few minutes of hands-on time and this little squash made about 4 cups of pumpkin puree, enough for two pies although this batch is destined for soup  (a new favourite) and bread. 

What are your favourite pumpkin and squash recipes?

Anyone else make their own squash or pumpkin puree?

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Blue Blueberry Muffins

I first tasted these delicious muffins at a friend’s house and it was love at first bite.  They are moist, sweet (without being overpowering) and are full of blueberry flavour. 

The original recipe came from this book which is part of a series of books that pairs murder mysteries with recipes.  My good friend played with the recipe a little to make it healthier and I, of course, also added my own little tweaks. 

The end result is scrumptious and definitely a recipe that I will make again!

Blue Blueberry Muffins

  • 3/4 cup melted butter
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 1/2 cup blueberry pie filling (I made my own by mixing 1/2 cup blueberries with a little maple syrup and corn starch and then cooking until thickened)
  • 2 cups plus 1 tablespoon of whole white flour
  • 1/2 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. 

Coat the blueberries with 1 tablespoon of flour.

In a large bowl, mix together the melted butter and honey.  Once combined add the beaten eggs, baking powder, and salt, and stir together.  

Add half the flour and half the milk and stir in.  Repeat with the remaining flour and milk.  

Add pie filling.  Fold in blueberries.

Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups 3/4 full.  

Bake 25 – 30 minutes, or until done.

Makes 18 medium-sized muffins.

  Check out all those blueberries!  Delicious!

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Frost Harvest

We had our first frost warning on Friday night.  In past years, during frost warnings,  I have gone and gathered a wide variety of blankets and tarps and tucked the whole garden in for the night. 

But our garden has somewhat outgrown our blanket and tarp supply. 

So instead, I harvested what I could, blanketed what I could, and happily left the frost-tolerant plants to fend for themselves. 

Our cucumber plants were exploding with cukes just waiting to be harvested (poor things~ they were neglected last week.)  I think I pulled about 80 or 90 cucumbers – all from 3 plants! 

 Luscious green cucumbers seek new homes.  We are thick-skinned but are really sweet-hearts.  We will be your perfect companions at picnics and BBQs and get along well with cheese, tomatoes and dill.  Vinegar baths also make us happy and will allow our love to blossom over the winter months.  Will you open up your heart to us? 

 

 The greens were pretty much done on these, but the beets are beautiful.  We had BBQ-roasted beets for dinner with butter and fresh herbs and the rest have been stored in the basement for later. 

 These lovely onions aren’t quite done curing yet, although we have been enjoying them already!  I love that smell as I walk through the kitchen door (but am thankful they aren’t being stored IN my kitchen just yet! 🙂

Oh, my, there were a lot of tomatoes ready to be picked.  This bag is just   Mystery Keepers and I left just as many on the vines!  I also harvested a big basket of the tiny yellow tomatoes and red tiny tims and enough big red tomatoes to make salsa this week-end.  I’m still hoping we may yet get a few more vine-riped red tomatoes, as we really haven’t had that many this year.

Harvest and canning season has begun! 

What’s the weather like where you are?  Has the weather gotten colder or are you still enjoying summer heat?

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I was really excited to try growing chamomile in my garden this year, as it seemed such a neat thing to do, to grow your own tea. 

I planted the seeds in a pot (away from the deer!) and anxiously awaited the day when it would grow and blossom.

In the end, I had a handful of blossoms, just enough to try brewing my first cup of home-grown tea.   

I let the blossoms sit out for more than a week until they became nice and dry.  Then it was tea time! 

I was a little worried that those few blossoms would not be enough, but it brewed a beautifully coloured, strong scented tea.

I sat down to relax and took my first sip.

Oh.  Dear. 

Not what I was expecting.  It may have looked and smelled like chamomile tea, but it did not taste like it.  It had a very grassy flavour with a strong, almost metallic, aftertaste.  I took one more sip just to make sure….and then dumped the whole thing down the drain.

I’ll have to read more about growing chamomile before I attempt this one again.  Hopefully my peppermint tea will do better!  🙂

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A Beautiful Surprise

I am sorry if my blog posts sound as if I am out of breath recently.  September is always like that for me as two big parts of my world collide – school starting again, and the garden ready for harvest. 

I do not always do well at remaining calm.   (I am sure those of you who know me well are laughing right now….)

Sleep and food deprivation don’t help. (Shocking, I know…  Who would have ever thought that sleep and food are necessary?? 🙂 )  How my students manage to eat their lunch in 20 minutes I do not know…it will take me a couple of weeks to get used to “speed eating” again. 

So on one of THOSE days, one of those days when you wonder what it really is you are doing with your life anyway, you run outside to get the mail and are confronted with this:

And you remember that everything is going to work out in the end.   

(and my blog posts will start to sound calm again – promise!)

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I always seem to be reading 5 or 6 books at a time and have a habit of taking books out of the library a little faster than I can read them (especially this time of year!) 

Although I do love fiction (especially if it was written for the younger crowd – most of my favourites are children’s literature, it’s a job hazard I think) most of what I read would fall into the non-fiction category.

Here’s a sneak peek of what is on my night-stand (or, rather, on my nightstand, on the floor by my bed, resting on my favourite chair, sitting on the kitchen table…you get the idea)  🙂

Although I have moved past parts of this book (essential sewing equipment, measuring, using a commercial pattern) I love all of the step-by-step diagrams for making simple pattern alterations and am really excited about the chapter on making your own patterns.  The full-colour pictures and diagrams really help in understanding the process – I might just need to purchase this book (because although I keep renewing it, I think the library might want their copy back at some day….)

 

This book, although older and not in colour, has really changed my understanding of patterns.  I am only partway through and already feel like a more confident sewer.  I am no longer afraid of darts!!  I am pretty sure I could now tackle moving, removing and designing darts of my own – which is a huge step for this direction-following, the-pattern-designers-made-it-that-way-so-it-must-be-right sewer!

I took this book out of the library because I wanted to improve my food photography.  Tom Ang thoroughly covers EVERY kind of photography in this book, except for food. 😦   On the bright side, it has encouraged me to play more with my camera and has definitely given me some ideas for improving some of my other photographs.  Anyone know where I can learn to take a good food photo?

 

 

 

I feel like I have read a tonne of these craft business type books but it has been nice to see where the authors agree and disagree.  I do appreciate that Meg touches on internet use both for marketing and sales and love the vignettes of successful crafters – will I be included in their number one day?

 Outliers is still my favourite Malcolm Gladwell book, but I always enjoy how he looks at things from different angles and really makes you think about everyday things in a new way.  “The Ketchup Conundrum” and “John Rock’s Error” are two of my favourite chapters in this book so far.

Ok…so I’m not really planning on making a six-figure income from this blog (I think I have enough jobs!) but I was hoping to find some tips on being a better blogger, (if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well, right?) and I was not disappointed.  Lots of great tips and ideas here.

This book is full of yummy-looking bread recipes.  I loved the corn bread recipe and cornmeal crackers are next on my list of things to make.  This is another book I could happily withhold from the library for another few months!

 And that’s it!  (Well…there are the two I just picked up from the library, and the three that  I haven’t started yet, but we won’t count those just yet….)  Just a few to peruse in those minutes before I drift off to sleep…

What’s on your night stand?  Any recommendations for my next library trip?

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I was really excited when hubby found these at the grocery store this week:

I don’t know how many of these boxes I have been through already, but when I got to the bottom of what I thought was probably the last one for the season I was sad…and for a week yogurt and smoothies just weren’t the same…and then this!  Another week to enjoy blueberry abundance!

I decided to use some of them right away and make a little blueberry crumble for dessert.  In my cast iron pan.  Because I love the way it cooks things in the oven (be gone aluminum and teflon!)- and it is so easy to clean.  Everyone needs a cast iron pan.  If you don’t have one, you should.  (and check yard sales and flea markets, mine only cost me $10 and it was already beautifully seasoned.)

And there is a certain rustic charm to something served in a cast iron pan.   Maybe not the thing to top off a gourmet dinner, but for a weeknight meal it creates the perfect down-home ambience. 

Simple Blueberry Crumble

  • 4 cups blueberries (or thereabouts, no need to dirty measuring cups for this recipe, just plop them in until it looks good.)
  • 3 tbsp honey or maple syrup (depending on the sweetness of your blueberries, and how sweet you like your desserts, you might like more or less)
  • 2 Tbsp flour (I used spelt, but anything would work)
  • 1 cup oatmeal, ground into flour
  • 3/4 cup ground almonds
  • 3 tbsp butter or coconut oil
  • zest of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice

Combine the blueberries, honey, and flour in a 10″ cast iron or greased 8 x 8 glass pan.    Combine the rest of the ingredients together in a bowl and sprinkle over the blueberries.  Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes, or until blueberries are bubbly and the top is golden brown. 

To counteract the blue effect (cooked blueberries will stain your mouth and teeth blue!) serve with a splash of cream, a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream.

Then enjoy the blueberry goodness.  This recipe will also work well in the winter, with frozen berries, just up the flour you throw in with them. 

Do you have a favourite blueberry recipe?

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