Friday, August 30, 2013

Summer Berry Syrups & a Labor Day Cocktail

It's the Labor Day long weekend and most of us will be trying to squeeze in one more relaxing weekend of summer.  Fresh, local berries are one of my favorite things about summer and I couldn't resist doing one more round of cooking with them before September rolled around.

Berry Syrup (I made one with strawberries and one with blueberries)
2 lbs of clean, washed berries
4 cups of cold water
2 cups of granulated sugar
Sprig of basil (for the strawberry syrup)
splash of lemon juice

Cut the strawberries into 1/2" pieces and add to a pot with 4 cups of water.  Bring mixture to a boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes. You're looking for the stage when the color has come out of the berries.  For blueberries, I mash them a bit instead of cutting them.
The strawberries have started to lose their color, they're getting more opaque. This was after about 5 minutes in the water.
Once the water has changed color, pour everything through a fine strainer or sieve.  Do not mash the berry mixture, just gently move it around until the liquid is out.  Mashing it won't add much more than some floating bits of fruit that interfere with the syrup's silky texture.
You can see some of the blueberry pulp that is left behind from putting it through a sieve
Add sugar to the liquid, stir and bring to a boil. Once a boil is reached, turn the heat down to simmer it for about 3-4 minutes until the sugar has completely dissolved.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Dinner at Two Doors Down Halifax

Today is our four-year wedding anniversary; to celebrate, we went out for dinner at Two Doors Down in Halifax. It's a great casual restaurant that focuses on using seasonal, local ingredients.  Their menu is great- it's divided into three categories: meat, fish, vegetables.  This was our second visit and it was just as good as the previous visit we made earlier this summer (which was delicious!)

The heirloom tomato salad with goat cheese was a tasty appetizer. As you've probably guessed from my garden blog posts, I love tomatoes... I may have been accused on several occasions of being even a little obsessed with them. Not the bland grocery store variety- the in-season, local heirloom variety. These hit the mark perfectly.

Then, I had the burger. Not just any burger. It's described as:
Old School Cheeseburger
house ground PEI chuck, brisket, and short rib, house 
made cheese slice, burger sauce, sea salt fries

It was the best burger I've had at a restaurant.  Hands down the best.

Lastly, the meal ended with a peach cheesecake. To make it even better, it was a de-constructed cheesecake served in a jar and it contained peach preserves.  Given the amount of canning I do, I loved seeing this!

Going out for dinner is a fun way to inspire at-home meals; I'll definitely use more goat cheese with tomatoes. I'm also imagining making the cheesecake in jars with blueberry preserves, or maybe the strawberry-rhubarb jam I made.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Quick Garden Update (Zone 6b)

Took a few pics of the garden tonight while admiring how much it has grown in the last couple of weeks. We've had a fairly dry August and I think it was perfect for letting the vegetables grow and for the tomatoes to ripen.  I've been hauling in tomatoes on almost a daily basis! The chard, cucumbers, beans, and peaches are all doing really, really well too.

A coworker asked me today, after seeing a photo of one of the tomato plants, if I fertilized them a lot because they were the tallest plants she had ever seen.  I haven't- I use organic methods, fertilizing with a seaweed solution and use a lot of compost.  I also like to give the raised beds a good soaking every 2-3 days.

The only problems I've had is a fungus appeared on some leaves on a few plants.  I gave all of them a good spray of a copper sulfate to prevent it from spreading. It seems to have worked.  We also had a caterpillar eating some of the leaves of our peach tree. I used the seaweed solution to feed the tree and it worked like magic.

The tomato plants are so tall- I've had to stake them going sideways over to the other beds for support. 

Chard, tomatoes, beans

Scarlet runner beans have the prettiest flowers! 

Growing tomatoes among string beans worked really well. 

View of some of the garden beds

Our peaches are turning red! We almost lost the tree to a caterpillar infestation that was killing the leaves, so it's so nice to see it has rebounded just fine.

A sample of some of the tomato harvest that I've hauled in this week

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Preserving the Tomato Harvest: Roasted Tomatoes

Inspired by this post on Simple Bites and this post on the Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking, I decided to roast some of the tomatoes from my tomato harvest & from the local farmer's market. The results: AMAZING. I will definitely do this again.  I tasted a few and they're little bursts of flavor and concentrated tomato goodness. I've got them cooling in a container before I put them in the freezer. (I'm setting them aside for our cottage vacation next week in beautiful Cape Breton.)

I preheated the oven to 275 degrees.  I then cut the tomatoes in half and spread them out on a baking tray.  I sprinkled them with sea salt, ground pepper, and dried basil. I then drizzled a little bit of extra virgin olive oil.

Spiced Blueberry Jam & A Lesson in Jam Setting

I've been making jams and preserves for about 5 years now.  I've made mistakes along the way but have arrived at the point in my jam making where it is pretty much smooth sailing. That is unless I leave out an ingredient like I did today.

I decided to roast tomatoes for freezing, to make a couple of jars of dilly beans for an upcoming cottage vacation, and to make spiced blueberry jam- because of the beautiful berries at the farmer's market yesterday. This jam is very popular with my friends and family- it makes great gifts and gets rave reviews. In my multi-tasking, I forgot to add lemon juice to my berry mixture. And predictably, my jam hasn't set yet. Lemon juice does more than just brighten up the jam, it helps it to gel together.  The lesson learned today: SLOW DOWN.  I shouldn't try to do more than one or two recipes at a time.  I was feeling pressed for time and next thing I knew, I was standing over my filled jars wondering what happened.

Having said all of  that, I'm crossing my fingers that the berries + sugar + pectin + a bit of honey will be enough and over time, it will get thicker. If it doesn't set, there are lots of uses for it- I don't mind a runny jam every now and then. And the flavors in this jam make it taste just fine regardless of its consistency.

5 cups of blueberries
1/2 cup honey
2 & 1/2 cups of sugar
Zest of half a lemon and 1 tbsp bottled lemon juice
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1 pouch liquid pectin

Mix everything together in a pot, bring to a boil.

Turn heat down to medium, skim off foam. Let it cook for about 10 minutes.  Turn off the heat, add the liquid pectin and stir everything well.  Bring to a boil again for 2 minutes, then reduce and stir for a few minutes. It should start to set up and feel thicker.  Pour into hot sterilized jars, then process in a hot water canning bath for 10 minutes.  It makes about 4-5 half pint sized jars, depending on how much you reduce it.

What do you do when your jam doesn't set right away? Any suggestions you'd like to share? 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Peaches & Cream Cake: Chatelaine Cooking Club Challenge

I stumbled upon the Chatelaine cooking club challenge one day and although I had missed that deadline, gave the Peach Berry Galette a try.  It was amazing- such a great recipe.  I recently saw another challenge issued about their Peaches & Cream Cake and decided to give it a try. I love peaches (local peaches are available now at the farmers markets), and it had lime in the recipe- I love a bit of tartness in a dessert. I had also recently stewed some peaches (they were stewed with vanilla paste, a little lemon juice, and honey- recipe is below) and thought I might be able to use some of them in this recipe.

In total, it takes about 30 minutes to get everything ready, then another 45 to cool the cake. The recipe is easy to follow, ingredients are not hard to find, and the results are impressive... it's such a pretty cake! We're having people over for dinner tonight and will have it for dessert, but I'm imagining this cake served at a reception, shower, or family gathering.

The recipe isn't complicated, just a few steps to the process.

The lime zest added to the batter is cool- little flecks of green moving about while it's mixing

Friday, August 23, 2013

Easy Peasy No Knead Bread

Sometimes it's the simplest of things that work like magic in a kitchen.  Take for example this no knead bread recipe. It was featured in the NY Times, based on the Sullivan Street Bakery recipe in 2006.  This is my version of that recipe.

3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp of yeast
1 & 3/4 tsp of fine sea salt
1 & 1/2 cups of room temperature water
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg (if you don't like nutmeg, you could swap it for cinnamon or skip it altogether. It just adds the lightest touch of flavor)
Splash of olive oil (optional)

1) Mix dry ingredients together- flour, sea salt, nutmeg

More details and photos after the cut...

Don't Be Afraid of Zucchini: Walnut Spice Zucchini Bread Edition

Tis the season when we have lots of zucchini in the garden ready to harvest.  Growing up, I HATED zucchini.  It always seemed mushy, flavorless, and blah.  My grandfather grew it in his backyard garden and would get sooo excited about them.  I just didn't get it. That is until I took a chance one summer and decided to grow it myself.  I harvest them when they are little, unlike the giant mammoth zucchini I saw growing up.  What a difference. They are little bites of garden freshness!  I put them in pasta sauces, stir fry, and I bake with them.  I also learned that there are lots of health benefits to this little veggie like vitamin A, potassium, folate and calcium. I also cook with zucchini flowers- I stuff them with a spicy goat cheese mixture and lightly batter them before quickly giving them a fry. They are so delicious!

Beautiful walnut spice zucchini bread
This recipe is amazing- it creates a bread that has hints of sweet, spicy, and savoury goodness.  I adapted it from this recipe from Martha Stewart.


Wet ingredients:
3 small zucchini, ideally fresh from the farmer's market or garden
1 cup medium to dark brown sugar, packed
2 tbsp granulated white sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla bean paste (it has a nice syrupy consistency and is packed with flavor)
2 large eggs

Dry ingredients:
1 & 1/2 cup of all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 & 1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp ginger
3/4 tsp fine sea salt

1/4 cup of walnut pieces


More details after the cut!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Tomato Crazy! My Go-To Recipes This Year

I seem to be harvesting tomatoes on almost a daily basis right now. It's a nice surprise because it's a bit early for garden zone 6B. It also means I'm looking for recipes for preserving my tomatoes.  Here's a round-up of my favorites.

Marisa at Food in Jars has a lot of great tips and recipes on her site.  Check here and here for examples. As mentioned previously, her website and book are among my favorites!

Simple Bites has a great suggestion for an easy tomato sauce that can be frozen.

This is a great one for roasted tomatoes that I cannot wait to try out from Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking  I am imagining freezing them after I roast them, then enjoying them in the middle of winter when everything around me seems blah. 

This recipe from the National Center for Home Food Preservation is simple and great. 

I am Canadian, so I have to give a shout-out to Canadian Living for their list of recipe suggestions.  It includes a Three Pepper Chili sauce- sign me up! 

Safety note: before embarking on canning tomatoes, please keep in mind that they are a low acid fruit and require the addition of citric acid or lemon juice/vinegar in order to raise the acid level. Hot water canning methods aren't the safest method of canning to use- it is recommended to use a pressure canner for safest canning practices.  If you want to be fancy and add ingredients to your tomatoes- pressure canning or freezing are the best methods to use. To learn more, there are lots of great trusted expert resources online. Here's an example of what you can find. 

In the past, I've made tomato sauce that I've canned, I've frozen tomato puree, I've also canned BBQ sauce made from scratch.  They were all fantastic.

What are your go-to recipes for tomatoes? 

The tomato basil jam and BBQ sauce were terrific ways to celebrate the tomato harvest!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Mid-August Garden Update (Zone 6b)

There has been lots of progress in the garden! Beans are abundant, tomatoes are getting ripe and turning red, Swiss chard is near perfect, and peppers are getting hotter by the day.  I've harvested cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, jalapenos, and herbs in the last week.  As a recap, we have raised garden beds in our backyard, more than 10 of them in total. They are built of cedar and are various sizes, most of them 3 x 6'. Here are a few photos to show the latest.
Purple string beans are delicious! I love having them in the garden each year.

 Very happy that I was finally successful with cucumbers. 

The heirloom tomatoes are growing perfectly. 

Golden cherry tomatoes are sweet, juicy and burst with flavour- highly recommend them.

We have a mixture of scarlet runner and string green beans growing

Beautiful string beans

Swiss chard mixed with tomato plants
 More updates after the cut...

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Lavender Honey Blueberry Jam

It's national Can it Forward Day hosted by Ball Jars today.  I decided to make a batch of lavender honey blueberry jam after seeing beautiful Nova Scotia wild blueberries at the market this morning.

Nova Scotia wild blueberries are little bits of heaven. They're juicy, semi-sweet bursts of flavor that I can-- and thanks to freezing, I do-- eat year round. They're great in smoothies, as a snack, as a dessert, and as a jam.  This recipe makes a jam that smells and tastes amazing, and it is easy to make.

Both lavender and wildflower honey are light tasting and light colored.  It can be challenging to find lavender honey- if you can't find it, you can make a lavender tea  and put it in the recipe (just reduce it down a bit longer) or using a spice grinder, grind up lavender buds and add it with a light honey (clover or wildflower).

8 cups of wild blueberries (keep them whole)
3.5 cups of sugar
1 cup of lavender honey
1 cup of wildflower honey
Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
1 pouch liquid pectin
Makes 6 medium-sized jars of jam

Friday, August 16, 2013

Fried Green Tomatoes & Jalapeno Yogurt Dip

Not sure what to do with the green tomatoes that you have at the end of the season? Or perhaps you're like me and have tomatoes falling off the vine a little early thanks to a dog's tail.... er, I mean windy weather knocking them off? Well, I have a solution: fried green tomatoes. They're super easy to make, delicious and are great with a wide range of sides (eggs, chicken, fish, steak, a salad) or just on their own.

I first tried fried green tomatoes in NYC at the best breakfast place- Clinton Street Baking Co & Restaurant on the Lower East Side.  This recipe is adapted from theirs (they have an amazing cookbook!).

5 green tomatoes, cut into 1/2" slices
1/2 cup canola oil for frying
Dredging stations- there are three in total:
1) 1 cup all purpose flour, mixed with 1 tsp sea salt, 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, 1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper
2) 2 large eggs, beaten together with 2 tbsp cold water and a pinch of salt
3) 1 cup panko breadcrumbs, mixed together well with 1 cup ground cornmeal and a pinch of a salt

Dredge the tomatoes in flour first, then egg mixture, then the cornmeal/breadcrumb mixture.

More details after the cut!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Rainy Day Roast Chicken Goodness

I don't know why but on cloudy, rainy days I crave comfort foods like lasagna, pot roast, or roast chicken for dinner. Roasting a chicken is pretty easy to do and throwing everything in one pan or pot makes it even simpler. This version includes roasted garden veggies and an extra little kick from kalamata olives (you could use green olives as well).

1 whole chicken
2 tbsp butter, slightly softened
3 tsp of Herbes de Provence (I use PC brand from Superstore here in Canada)
1/2 tsp of sea salt
1/8 tsp of ground pepper
Garden veggies of your choice
Small potatoes, cut in half
1/4 cup of chopped olives
375 degree oven

Step 1: prep your chicken by giving it a good rinse (inside and out) in cold water, then pat dry with a paper towel.

Step 2: using a spoon, loosen the skin carefully on the breast of the chicken, to create an open pocket area. Go slowly so you don't tear the skin.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Canning Safely

I think a lot of us who are involved in home canning started off feeling a bit nervous about how to safely preserve and can food.  I knew a few things about it from watching my grandmother- I knew everything needed to be very clean (clean hands, clean counters, clean tools, etc.), a boiling water bath or pressure canner needed to be used to preserve food (or they would be placed in the fridge), and the best results came from fresh in-season ingredients.  Beyond that, I had a lot to learn. I've read numerous resources-- online and in print-- and found a resource that in my mind spells out everything in a clear manner.

It's a resource prepared by the US Dept of Agriculture and although it's a bit lengthy (40 pages), it's a great source.  I highly recommend checking it out.  A few highlights are below.

"Whether food should be processed in a pressure canner or boiling-water canner to control botulinum bacteria depends on the acidity of the food. Acidity may be natural, as in most fruits, or added, as in pickled food. Low-acid canned foods are not acidic enough to prevent the growth of these bacteria. Acid foods contain enough acid to block their growth, or destroy them more rapidly when heated. The term “pH” is a measure of acidity; the lower its value, the more acid the food. The acidity level in foods can be increased by adding lemon juice, citric acid, or vinegar."

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Fermentation Experiment- Verdict: Amazing!

I am so happy to report that the fermentation experiment for dill pickles has come to an end on day 14.
 They turned out really well- they are dilly, full of garlic and are very pickle-y.  I skimmed the last bit of mold off of them (don't be alarmed, it's part of the process of fermentation), then transferred them to sterilized jars.

Once the jars were filled, I poured the brine solution over them, sealed them up and transferred them to the fridge.  Moving them to the fridge will bring the fermentation to a slow crawl.

I'm definitely going to make these again!


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