Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Spicy Thai Lobster Soup

Sorry for the delay in posting to the blog! Like many of you, the month of December flew by and before I even realized it, the holidays were here.  I am now able to breath calmly again and decided to share an awesome recipe that I created for a spicy Thai lobster soup that we're having tonight.  It's full of flavour, super easy to make, and this soup really "warms the belly"- especially on a cold winter day!

About 2 lbs of lobster meat (I like a lot of lobster in it, but you can reduce as you see fit. If you don't have access to lobster, then you can substitute with shrimp- just use uncooked shrimp and toss them in after you've added your stock-- not before-- otherwise they will overcook)
1/2 bell pepper of your choice (I like orange or red)
1/2 sweet yellow onion
1 lime
6 large button mushrooms
1 tbsp of vegetable oil
1 seasoning pack of Thai red chili (or about 3 tbsp of Thai red chili paste if you have it in a jar)
6 cups of stock (I used low sodium chicken stock, you could use fish stock or veggie stock if you prefer)
2 cans of coconut milk (I like the full fat version for maximum flavour). I often find coconut milk in the international foods section of the grocery store
Fresh cilantro and basil leaves if you have access to them (if not, you can skip this part)

1) Chop up lobster into bite-sized pieces (if your lobster is cooked or uncooked, it doesn't matter- it will cook in the soup).  We are so lucky to live in Nova Scotia- we have a winter lobster season which means extra flavourful lobster from the ice cold water this time of year.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Holiday Cookie Recipes

It's the time of year when many of us are on the hunt for cookie recipes for our holiday celebrations or holiday cookie exchanges.  I am probably like most people where I have a few go-to recipes and then usually around now start looking out there to see if there is anything new I might want to add to my list. Here are a few that have grabbed my attention lately, in case you need some inspiration.

My go-to cookie recipe for the holidays (and really most times of the year) is the Chewy Molasses Spice cookie from Martha Stewart. It has many layers of flavour and is perfect with a glass of milk or cup of tea.

I love peppermint. I love biscotti. I have a feeling I will love the two of them together. Recipe from Chatelaine. 

These cookies look so cute! I can't wait to try them. Recipe from Canadian Living.

Simple thumbprint jam cookies- keeping it simple is sometimes the best route to go.

I also still loooove these ooey gooey chocolate chip cookies. I may have to make them again too.

What are your go-to cookie recipes? 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Homemade Mushroom Soup

The weather was a bit cool today, and after doing a little bit of backyard clean-up, a hot bowl of soup sounded great for lunch.  We decided to make homemade mushroom soup with grilled cheese sandwiches. Yum!

It takes in total about 25 minutes to make this soup- how easy is that? Forget those cans of creamy mushroom blobs and make it from scratch the next time you want it- trust me, you won't be disappointed. 

To start off, cut up mushrooms into pieces and try using a variety of them. I like creminis, button and chanterelles- I used them today. Also cut up 1/2 of a red onion into small diced pieces.  Add 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil to a non-stick pot and put your onions and mushrooms in.  Add 1/4 tsp of pepper and the same for sea salt.  Then, add thyme. I used about 1 tsp. using thyme from our garden.  Move them around and sautee them on medium heat for about 5 minutes until they soften.  If you'd like a spicier soup,  you can also add a cut up thai chili pepper (or similar hot pepper) and add it into the mixture. You can also add garlic to this soup- garlic and mushrooms go very well together.

Then, add a couple of splashes of red wine vinegar (trust me, it adds a little dimension to the soup so it's not bland), stir everything around, and then add 3/4 of a container of low sodium chicken broth. 

You're almost done.  Mix one can of coconut milk with the rest of the chicken broth and 3 tbsp of flour. I used our Magic Bullet to mix everything together but a covered mason jar would work just as well. Just make sure there are no lumps and everything is mixed well together. 

Reduce the heat and add the coconut milk mixture.  Stir everything together well, then turn the heat back up and get it to boil.  Once you've reached a boil, turn it down and let it simmer.  If you'd like less chunks of mushroom, you can use an immersion blender to puree it a bit.  I like to leave chunks so I don't puree it for more than 60-90 seconds, if at all. 

Taste and add seasonings as you see fit. I like to let it simmer to get the flavours to blend together for about 15 minutes.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

How to Plant Garlic for a Great Summer Harvest!

Garlic is perhaps the easiest item I've ever grown in my garden. It's also one of the tastiest additions and produces two harvests: garlic scapes in late spring and then pungent, flavorful garlic in the summer.  You don't need a lot of space to grow garlic (yay for those of us living in small spaces!)- in fact, you can grow garlic in containers if you don't have a garden bed or plot to use.  Here are more detailed instructions on how to grow it, including a few photos.

To get started, get thee some local garlic from a seed catalogue company or local nursery. Don't use garlic from the grocery store that has been shipped from a foreign country like China, it is old and less flavorful by the time it reaches us.  You want garlic that has a higher quality.  I have picked up garlic at Halifax Seed and ordered it from Veseys before, both Canadian companies.  I use a hard neck garlic variety.

Break the heads of garlic apart, separating bulbs. Be careful not to remove the paper from each bulb- they shouldn't be naked, they need their protective shell.  For organic gardening, I soak the bulbs in a seaweed solution. It's ground up seaweed that I purchased at a local feed store.  It too can likely be ordered online or picked up at a local nursery.  I mix 2 tbsp with water in a 1.5 litre mason jar and then drop the bulbs in.  I let them soak overnight before planting them- usually for about at least 12-16 hours in total.

To get your soil ready, make sure the ground isn't frozen (it likes to be planted when temperatures are cool, but not when the ground is frozen. For me in zone 6B, it's usually early November).  Give the soil a good turn so the soil is loose.  Then, plant each bulb with the pointy tip upwards, about 1.5-2" deep.  You can plant the cloves surprisingly close together and still get good results- I usually leave about 3-4" between each.

Garlic bulbs peeking before they got pushed down further into the ground

Once you've got them planted, it's important to make sure to cover up the holes so they're protected.  Then, add a layer of mulch on top to protect them further. I like using straw (also purchased at a local feed store) and put about 2" worth on top.  If you don't have access to straw, there are lots of alternatives- you could use a thick layer of chopped up leaves as an example.

That's it!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Easy Beef Stew Recipe

I love a good beef stew. It has to have layers of flavour and beef that is slow cooked for it to be full of stew goodness for me.  This recipe is pretty simple- add ingredients to a dutch oven pot + slow cook everything in the oven for a few hours.  I like to make it on the weekend to have during the week- it heats up well as leftovers or from individual containers that had been stored in the freezer.

Start off by patting off your cubes of beef with a paper towel to remove moisture. Add salt and pepper generously, then place in a hot pot (I recommend cast iron) that has a bit of canola oil in the bottom.  You can roll the beef pieces in a dusting of flour- it will help thicken the sauce- before placing them in the pot if you'd like. I didn't do this step this time but have done it in the past.  Don't play with them when they're in the pot- let them get brown.  When they're ready to be flipped over, they'll turn over easily. If they're stuck to the bottom of the pot, they aren't ready yet. Also, you may need to brown them in batches- don't overcrowd the pot or else the meat will start to boil.  You need room around the pieces of meat to let steam escape.

Once the meat has been browned, add 1/4 cup of chopped onion, 2 garlic cloves and a small can of tomato paste.  Let it cook for a few minutes, mixing it with the beef.  You can also add a splash of red wine, a splash of balsamic vinegar, or a splash of coffee to the mixture if you'd like.  Then, add 4 cups of beef broth (I like the reduced sodium broth so I can control the salt level), 1 small package of whole mushrooms (about 8-10 mushrooms in total), 6-7 small carrots cut into wedges, 1 tbsp of thyme, and 1 sprig of rosemary.  Add 1/4 tsp of sea salt and a few pinches of pepper.
Awesome local carrots from the farmers market. I like leaving the skins on, they are packed with nutrition.
Mix together, then put in the oven at 325 degrees, with a lid on the pot.  Let it cook for 2.5 hours.

After 2.5 hours have passed, add the potatoes and green beans.  Put the lid back on and let it cook for another 45 minutes or a bit longer.  When the potatoes break down, they help thicken the broth.
This is what it looks like after 2.5 hours in the oven.
Serve it with a rustic country bread or roll, and a few pickles on the side.  I love having stew with beet pickles.  You can add vegetables as you like- if green beans aren't your thing, then maybe sweet potato or turnip would work better.

NYC trip round-up

Dear blog, I promise I haven't forgotten about you!

I'm back from NYC and ready to share a few photos. I had a great week of job-related training, and managed to sneak out in the evenings to eat some great food. I ate at Eately twice, ordered Mexican take-out, had the best brunch at Bar Americain and finally tried some fried chicken in the Big Apple.  On the down side, I ate at the trattoria in Macy's Herald Square and it was just so-so; we also had a mediocre experience at Becco- it was the most crowded restaurant I have ever been in and we felt rushed.

We also managed to stroll around Central Park on the weekend and dropped by the ice rink at Rockefeller center. We also thoroughly enjoyed seeing Macbeth at the Lincoln Center- a beautiful production with amazing performances- a  highlight of the trip. 

Now, back to normal life and autumn goodness.  I'll soon have a recipe up for THE best beef stew. I'm also planning on getting an early start on holiday preparations, so I'll be posting tips and recipes.  Lastly, I haven't stopped gardening. Lots of tasks coming up that I'll be blogging about.


Ordered beignets at Bar Americain and it came with these cute little jam jars! Each jam was amazing.


Crab cakes benny- so good!

Cheese plate appetizer at Eately. Served with local honey that was so creamy and delicious.

Awesome pizza at Eately. The tomato sauce was fresh pureed tomatoes- tasted like it had just come out of our garden.

Fried chicken from Hill Country Chicken. Best french fries ever. (Pic was taken with my Blackberry- apologies for quality)

Beautiful fish soup from Eately. Had a tomato mixture in the middle, sitting on top of a piece of bread in the bowl. The broth had saffron, anchovy oil and lots of other good flavors. (Pic was taken with my Blackberry, apologies for quality).

My main at Eately on the same day as when I had the soup. It's a white fish with a breadcrumb topping, broiled.  Served with some of the saltiest olives I've ever had and simple roma tomatoes. It was delicious!

Such a beautiful evening for a walk!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

I Heart NYC

I'll be in NYC as of tomorrow afternoon for training and am looking forward to doing a little exploring when I have some downtime.  There are a few foodie places I'm really looking forward to visiting, including:

Eately: a little piece of heaven near the flat iron building. I browsed through it the last time I was there, but didn't a chance to sit down and enjoy any food- it was around 6pm on a Friday and it was PACKED. I'm hoping to catch it when it maybe isn't so crazy (and I recognize that may not ever be a possibility!)

Bar Americain: hands down one of the best brunches we've ever had in the city. And awesome cocktails too! 

Mexican eats.  We ate at Centrico a couple of years ago in the Tribeca area and it was some of the best Mexican I've had.  I was so sad to read it had closed. I'll have to look for a replacement. 

Balthazar was such a nice surprise! It's in Soho- there are lots of people buzzing around, wonderful servers and the food was incredible.  I would love to return again.

I plan on visiting the Union Square greenmarket- I missed it the last time I was there. I can't wait to browse and check out the great vendors. 

We had a great dinner at Hell's Kitchen a few years ago, my hubby's entree of a blueberry mole with pork was the best mole I've ever tasted (I had plate envy that night!). If I get the chance, I'd love to go back.  It's a teeny, tiny place but the food was amazing.

This will be the first time I've been in the city this late in the fall- I'm looking forward to seeing the colors in Central Park.  We also have tickets to see Macbeth at the Lincoln Centre, which I can't wait to see! 

What are your must-have's when visiting NYC?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Easy Homemade Cranberry Sauce

One of the easiest things to make for Thanksgiving or other holiday turkey dinner is homemade cranberry sauce. I have it down to a few simple steps: empty a bag of cranberries into a medium sized pot (I am fortunate to have access to local cranberries), add one frozen can of apple juice (yes, you read that correctly), add sugar and spices, then cook until it reduces and gets thick. The results are perfect every time.

One bag of cranberries (about 4 cups)
One can frozen apple juice (pure apple juice, not a juice like drink)
1/2 cup sugar (add more after you have tasted mixture while it cooks if you like it sweeter)
1/4 tsp each of nutmeg and all spice
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Bring to a boil, skim off foam.  Reduce heat to medium-low, and reduce until mixture gets thick and cranberries break down.

That's all there is to it! Super easy.  In total, it takes about 20 minutes and can be made well ahead of time.  It will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Canadians! 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Fall Garden Update, Zone 6B

It has been a while since I took a few photos of the garden. Things are still in full swing, with arugula, Swiss chard, carrots, hot peppers, raspberries (golden and red) and cherry tomatoes (sungold and chocolate) still on the go.  My herbs are also doing well.  I haven't done too much yet to protect the crops as the weather has been cooperating (I have a few plastic hoop tunnels that I like to use to extend the season). 

In preparation for next year, I've planted tulip bulbs and relocated a lavender plant to one of our garden beds. I've also cleaned out almost all of the tomato plants and pulled out the container plants.  In a couple of weeks, before storing the containers, I'll give them a good wash outside.  By mid-November, I'll be ready to plant our garlic bulbs for next year's garden haul. 

The other step I'm going to take, and most likely this weekend, is to plant fall/winter greens and put the raised bed cover on one of the beds.  I'll likely plant a lot of spinach and arugula. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Spicy Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

This time of year, there is nothing I like more in the kitchen than roasting vegetables.  The smell of vegetables caramelizing, shriveling up in the hot oven, are so comforting.  One of my favorite soup recipes is one that uses roasted butternut squash- a vegetable that is readily available this time of year at farmers markets and grocery stores.  I bought one at our local farmers market (Alderney market).

1 large butternut squash
3 leeks
3-4 cloves of garlic
1 piece of fresh ginger
1 can of coconut milk
1 container of stock
1 cup of water
Seasonings to taste

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Awesome Chocolate Cake

Chocolate cake is one of those desserts that I like from time-to-time but always seem to find them a tad too sweet. I stumbled upon a recipe for an espresso chocolate cake earlier this summer and thought it sounded intriguing. I took the plunge this weekend and am glad I did. I made a couple of changes to the recipe, like adding a couple of layers of my strawberry jam- it helped to kick it up a notch with flavor.

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
2 eggs, room temperature ideally
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup espresso

Monday, September 30, 2013

East Coast Pickled Chow

Pickled chow is one of those things I never liked as a kid, but enjoy as an adult.  I used to watch my grandmother make it at the end of the summer when I was little; to this day, the smell of pickling spice and sight of a bowl of veggies soaking in pickling salt brings me back to that memory EVERY single time.

Chow is a perfect match for fish cakes (especially if they're made with salt cod) and is very common on the East Coast.  You can also have it on burgers or as a side dish with a pot roast... but with fish cakes is the best way, in my opinion.  It is super easy to make and only really contains two items as the main ingredients- green tomatoes and onions.

This recipe was adapted from "You Can Too!" by Elizabeth Peirce.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

I Heart Apple Pie

I love this time of year. It seems like the air is a tiny bit cooler, the humid days of summer have passed, and the harvest is in full swing. Farmers markets are overflowing with beautiful products- it's hard to resist not buying one of everything! I always look forward to the apple harvest in Nova Scotia because there are so many varieties to choose from (see my previous post for more details.) Craving an apple dessert, I stumbled upon a recipe from Martha Stewart for a spiced apple pie and decided to make it my own.  Making it takes a little patience but the end result is so worth it!  I think this pie would be perfect for Thanksgiving or a Sunday family dinner.

For the pie crust:
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 1/4 sticks (18 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
9 tablespoons ice water

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Tangy Pickled Onions

I stumbled upon a recipe from Food in Jars about pickled red onions. I'm not a fan of onions unless they are slices super thin or diced fine- otherwise they're just big bites of pungent flavor that I don't enjoy.  I took a chance with this recipe and and am so happy I did. The result is a sour and sweet thin onion that is perfect on sandwiches or burgers. I highly recommend it, and it takes little or no time to make.

3 pounds of thinly sliced red onion (I used my food processor to slice them)
2 cups apple cider vinegar (I used a local vinegar- make sure it has at least 5% acidity)
1/2 cup cold water
3/4 cup white sugar
1 tbsp pickling salt
2 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp celery seed
1/2 tsp red chili flakes

1) Combine water, vinegar, salt, sugar in a pot and bring to a boil.
2) Then, turn down stove to medium heat and add onions.  Stir onions and watch for them to soften, it took me about 5-6 minutes.
3) Sterilize jars and simmer lids.
4) In sterilized warm jars, add an even amount of spice in each jar.  Then, fill with onion and brine mixture, leaving 1/2" headspace.
5) Remove air bubbles from jars, wipe rims, then affix lids and screwbands.  Process in hot water bath for 10 minutes.
6) Test lids to make sure they've set after they've cooled. If they didn't set, you can store them in the fridge.

Pickling Jalapeños

One of my favourite canning discoveries was pickling jalapeños. So easy to do and a million times better than the store bought jars of sliced jalapeños. They are surprisingly simple to make and tend to disappear quickly among my friends and family.  Recipe is originally from Food in Jars.

To start, select firm, ripe peppers. Rinse them and then decide how you would like to can them- whole, sliced, or halved. I like sliced and whole the best. 

Once the peppers are prepared, sterilize your jars and simmer lids. Then prepare a brine of 2 cups white vinegar, 2 cups water and 2 tbsp pickling salt. Bring to a boil and dissolve salt. Fill jars with peppers, then pour brine over them. Leave 1/2" headspace. Remove air bubbles, affix lids then process in hot water bath for ten minutes. Voila! 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Ooey Gooey Chocolate Chip Cookies

We're having a few people over for dinner & I was trying to think of an easy dessert I could serve when I stumbled on the latest cooking club challenge from Chatelaine. This challenge is about cookies- they offered up 5 different recipes to try. Sometimes keeping it simple is the best thing to do and I happened to have the ingredients in my pantry and fridge for chocolate chip cookies, so away I went.

This recipe is so easy to follow, and the results are amazing. The cookies are ooey, gooey good. They're great on their own or would be great in an ice cream sandwich (just layer a scoop of vanilla ice cream between two cookies).

2 & 1/4 cups of all purpose flour (I used 2 cups of flour and for added texture, used 1/4 cup 7 grain cereal)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt (I used a fine sea salt)
1 cup softened unsalted butter
1 & 1/4 cups lightly packed brown sugar (I like dark brown sugar the best for baking)
1 egg
1 & 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups of chocolate chips

Make Your Own Mustard

Mustard is by far my favorite condiment. It's the perfect combination of tangy and spicy, which I adore. I was reading through a few preserving cookbooks yesterday and stumbled on a recipe for a spicy honey mustard that looked surprisingly simple to make. I can't wait to have it on burgers, sandwiches, etc. It's another recipe courtesy of Food in Jars (seriously- the book is amazing!).

1 cup dry mustard
1 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup honey (I used clover honey- it's a light honey)
1/2 tsp salt (I used a fine sea salt)
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
 I used small jars (125 ml) and ended up with 7 of them.

1) Add everything to a medium-sized pot, and whisk everything together to blend it
2) Simmer over medium heat for 5-6 minutes, it should get thick.

3) Sterilize jars, simmer lids, and prepare hot water bath in your canning pot.
4) Ladle mustard mixture into jars leaving 1/2" of headroom. Wipe rims, clear out air bubbles, seal and process in hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Edited to add: the mustard will take several days to develop its flavor and mellow out- be patient.  Also, if you don't feel like canning, you can put jars into the fridge instead.  It should last a few weeks.

Easy peasy! I highly recommend giving it a try.

Pickled Golden Beets

I have been looking for pickling recipes to preserve beets for a while now. I have pickled red beets before and grew up eating them, but wanted something different. I stumbled upon a recipe for pickled golden beets from Marisa at Food in Jars; it was on my radar for a few weeks so when I saw beets at the farmers market on Saturday, I went for it.  I plan on digging into these with pot roast, putting them on salads with goat cheese and walnuts, or having them with fish. Beets are easy to grow, easy to find at markets this time of year, and are full of nutrition.

2 lbs of golden beets- make sure they are firm to the touch when you buy them; if they feel soft, they're old and won't give you the best results
2 cups of apple cider vinegar; I used a local apple cider vinegar from the market. Make sure it has at least a 5% acidity
2 cups of water
2 tbsp of pickling salt
3 tbsp of pickling spice (it's a spice mixture sold at most supermarkets)
This recipe made 3 500ml jars of pickles

1) Boil the beets until they slide off of a fork or knife.  Run cold water over them once boiled, let them cool a bit, then peel their skins off. The skins should come off easily.

2) Cut beets; I prefer slices but you can cut them up into wedges if you prefer.

3) Prepare brine- bring cider vinegar, water, salt to a boil.
4) Sterilize jars and keep them warm while you wait for the brine solution to be ready. Make sure your canning lids are simmering in water, to soften the gel on the lid.
5) Remove jars from water (I sterilize mine by putting them in the canning pot with the hot water that I'm using for the hot water bath), fill with pickling spice (divide pickling spice among jars). 
6) Add beets to each jar and top with brine. Leave 1/2" headspace in the jar.

7) Tap jars to remove air bubbles (I also use a chopstick to circle around jar); wipe rims, apply lids, then put bands on jars (finger tight only- don't tighten them too much or you won't get a proper seal).
8) Process in hot water bath for 10 minutes. Remove, let cool then check lids to make sure they sealed.  Store in cool, dark space. They're good to eat within 48 hrs... if you can wait that long.



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