Saturday, December 31, 2011

Where did 2011 go?

I've got a couple of drafts of potential posts sitting around, but haven't been able to bring anything to completion. 
It's been a crazy year for me, with both good and bad things.  I have a feeling that 2012 is going to be even more interesting, since a baby (schnikees!) will be appearing sometime in February (assuming this kiddo is listening to the schedule).
I have a feeling that this blog will become even more sporadic as a result.
Best wishes in the coming year to you all!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Seedy Lemon Berry Muffins - Yum!

Today, after dinner, I had a hankering for some muffins.  Plus, I figured it would give me the opportunity to use up the last of some stuff that has been sitting in my freezer.

I used the Cranberry Seed Muffins recipe from Canadian Living as the base.

However, I didn't have any oranges in the house, so I used lemon rind.  I also didn't measure the lemon rind - I just grated into the bowl until it felt like enough.
I only had 1 cup of cranberries, but I had 1 cup of frozen mixed berries as well, so I substituted that in too.
As for the buttermilk? Well, I almost never have buttermilk in the house, but you can easily substitute by mixing some vinegar into regular milk (which I did).

The result? Well, delicious smelling Seedy Lemon Berry Muffins!
And the close-up!

I think next time, I may add poppy seeds in addition to the sunflower & pumpkin seeds!

Friday, October 7, 2011


I've been debating posting this, since I forgot to take photos while I was making it earlier this week.  However, I've come to the conclusion that it's so gosh-darned delicious that I have to share.

Here's how to make your very own Super Delicious Portabello Mushroom Sorta Fajitas!

You will need:
  • sliced portabello mushrooms - I buy the presliced package from the grocery store & slice them thinner, but you could also just slice up 2-4 full portabellos
  • 1 medium onion, sliced - I prefer sweet onions, but it doesn't really matter
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1 small sweet red pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 small sweet green pepper, cut into strips
  • Any other delicious vegetables you may want to throw in - I sometimes add celery, carrots or broccoli too
  • oil or butter for frying (I usually use canola oil)
  • at least 1-2 tsp ground cumin
  • same amount of chili powder
  • 1 heaping tsp cornstarch
  • about 1/4 to 1/2 cup water
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • tortillas to wrap the mushroom mixture in
  • assorted fajita toppings (sour cream, guacamole, salsa, shredded cheese, etc)
In a large frying pan or skillet, heat up your cooking fat of choice on medium high.  Once it's warmed up, add the sliced onion & garlic to the pan.
After the onion has started to soften, add your mushrooms and other vegetables.
When the veggies are cooked about 3/4 of the way done, add your cumin, chili powder, salt & pepper.  Mix the cornstarch with the water and then add it to the pan & stir thoroughly.  This will form your sauce.
Once the liquid has boiled down to your desired thickness, and the vegetables are cooked through, take the pan off the heat, heap the mushroom mixture into your tortilla wraps, top with your choice of condiments and enjoy!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Dill Pickle Day

Today was a pretty productive day, considering that I still tire pretty easily (due to growing a human).  I made 6 jars of dill pickles, did a whole ton of laundry, and helped my partner clean the apartment so the landlord could show it today.
If you like dills, and have never made them, it's surprisingly easy!  I didn't take pictures of the process, but you basically need sugar, pickling or kosher salt, vinegar, dill (fresh or dried), mustard seed, garlic, your favourite pickling spice mixture and a basket of cucumbers (the small, not waxed kind).  There's a ton of recipes available on the internet, although I usually base mine on the Bernardin Fresh Pack Dill Pickle recipe
I always add extra garlic & chili flakes to my version though, to make them a little zippier.

Oh, while doing laundry, I also checked on the garden for a minute, and ended up harvesting the potatoes.  Considering that I hardly watered & generally neglected the plants this summer, I'm surprised I got anything. 
I'm excited to see how they taste!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Summer Salsa, and the Reason for Inconsistent Blogging

I know, I know - I'm terrible at doing this regularly.  I have a good excuse though.  It turns out, I'm growing a person.  It's hard to make yourself do things when all you want in the world is to stop throwing up and then have a really long nap.

However, the nice doctors have given me anti-nausea medication so I've been feeling more like a human being than a throw-up factory the last little while.

To celebrate, I made, and canned, some salsa. Woo!
I admit, I dragged the stool into the kitchen and sat through most of it, but I managed to successfully do a whole salsa batch!

You of course, want to start with some fresh veggies.  Something like these ones (2 kinds of hot pepper in the bag, a green pepper, some red onions):
Of course, you'll also need some tomatoes.  I used the Black Plum tomatoes from my plant in the garden.
You'll also need things like vinegar (I used red wine vinegar), pickling/kosher salt, sugar, tomato sauce, garlic (mmm garlic), spices and a giant handful of cilantro.

You'll need to peel the tomatoes first, but then you can just throw everything in a pot together and boil it down until you get a texture you like.
Your whole house will smell delicious.
Eventually, you will end up with a nice thick, chunky salsa, at which point, you can start canning.  Or not - eating right away is also an option.
I ended up with five jars of salsa, and a little bit left over to eat right away.
The extra salsa lasted all of five seconds.  My poor partner didn't get any.
I'm resisting the urge to open the jars.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Jack Layton temporarily stepping down :(

Jack Layton, official Leader of the Opposition in Canada's parliament, and leader of the Federal NDP party, announced that he was temporarily stepping down today, in order to focus on battling cancer.

Since Jack and his party won the official opposition against the Conservative party not that long ago, it's a little bit sad for those of us on the left side of the political spectrum.  He's been a fabulously charismatic leader.

We don't know yet who will be replacing Jack as interim leader (or at least, I don't) but I hope that they do just as well in the position so that Jack can focus on getting better.

Monday, July 18, 2011

I think I'm melting

I've been feeling crappy lately, so I haven't been doing much, other than going to work and coming home again.
In addition to feeling crappy, the weather has been doing it's best to melt us all.  I know there are parts of the world hotter than here, but when you aren't used to it, and the humidex goes through the roof - holy moly!!
I'm just glad I'm not a snowman.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Long Weekends

This past weekend was Canada Day (for me) and Independance Day (for my friends & relatives in the USA).

I spent mine with some of my favourite people at a cottage in northern Ontario, halfway to my hometown.  There was food, lake swimming, fires, mosquitos, smores, sunshine and lots of good times.  Going back to work after weekends like these is always hard.

I hope all of you had a fantabulous weekend too!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Homemade Poptarts and then, randomly, Yogurt Cheese

It's been a busy weekend!  Saturday was gloomy & rainy for most of the day, but I still managed to get my butt to yoga class.  When I got home though, all of my plans for weeding the garden went right out the window.  Instead, I spent some time in the kitchen making pop-tarts/toaster tarts and then some yogurt cheese.
Pop-tarts/toaster tarts, really, are nothing but a small square pie when you think about it.  Which means that it is surprisingly simple to make your own.
All you need is:
Your favourite sweet pie crust recipe (if you prefer really flaky pies, use a more solid pie crust recipe)
A beaten egg for the egg wash
Your favourite jam for the filling (I used strawberry-blueberry freezer jam that I made last summer)
Icing sugar & a liquid to mix it with to make icing (I used 1 cup of icing sugar, 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons water and 1 teaspoon lime juice for my icing).
And if you're feeling fancy, you could add sprinkles too!

Roll out your dough, cut out enough rectangles to make pairs (and make sure they'll fit in your toaster slots!).  Mine were roughly 4"x3".
Put your egg wash on all of your rectangles, and then put around a teaspoon of jam in the middle of half the squares.  Smooth out the jam, but make sure you leave enough room to seal the edges of the dough together.  I just mushed my dough edges with a fork.  Slap on your icing, and bake around 350F for 20-30 minutes. You don't want them too crispy, since they'll cook again when you put them in the toaster.

Here's what my finished tarts looked like:
Delicious and fresh from the oven. You can't really see the icing, since it went clear when I baked it, but you can definitely taste it when you eat them.

There's the nommular jammy inside for you.   It's going to be really hard to eat only one tart at a time.

Now, on to the yogurt cheese!  Do you like yogurt? Or tangy cheeses like feta or chevre (goat cheese)?  Then you'll probably like yogurt cheese.  It's also amazingly simple, since you basically need to drain the whey out of the yogurt.

Step 1: get yourself a container of plain Balkan or Greek style yogurt.
Step 2: line a bowl with a clean cloth napkin or tea towel (not terry cloth - plain cotton or linen).  Here's the napkin I used after I dumped the cheese out, so it's a little mucky, but it'll give you an idea of what will work.

Step 3: dump yogurt into the bowl, and tie the four corners of the cloth together.
Step 4: Suspend the bag of yogurt over the bowl.  I tied mine to the top shelf of the fridge over the bowl which was sitting on the second shelf.  Some people will apparently hang theirs over the sink, but since it's dairy, I worry about it getting too warm.
Step 5: wait at least 8 hours or overnight.  If you leave it longer you'll have a thicker cheese.  I left mine overnight in the fridge.
Step 6:  When the yogurt is done hanging, you'll need to use up the whey (it can go in smoothies, pancakes, drink it plain or just dump it down the sink), and then untie your cloth and dump the cheese into the bowl (or a clean bowl if you're so inclined).  You should have something that's similar in consistency to cream cheese, like so:

Step 7: Flavour your cheese!  This is the best part.  You can flavour it with lemon & salt, roasted garlic and herbs - anything you like!  I flavoured this batch with fresh black pepper and chive flowers from the garden.
Once your flavourings have been selected, mush them into your cheese!
Once your flavourings of choice have been fully incorporated, put your cheese into a clean, lidded container and stick it in the fridge.  It should last you about 2 weeks or so.

I've been eating my cheese as a dip with crackers, and I'm planning on putting it in sandwiches and wraps.  Yum!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Woo! Gardening!

Well folks, the May 2-4 long weekend has come and gone, and I've managed to get a bunch of stuff into the ground.  And in pots.  I may have gone a little overboard.  Here's some photos for you - keep in mind that this is a small backyard plot in the downtown core - it's amazing what you can cram into a space if you try!
These are the 3 pots that are on the steps of the back porch.  The top one has a marigold and some purple lobelia, the middle one has 2 long cayenne pepper plants, and the bottom one contains potatoes.  When I went to check yesterday, the potatoes already had little shoots with baby leaves!!

The strawberry plants are flowering nicely.  I'm not expecting any of these to make it very far into the house when they turn into ripe fruit.  Nothing made it to the kitchen last year.

This is a Corno Di Polo sweet pepper.  It's an Italian heritage shepherd style pepper.  I've never grown this variety before, so it'll be interesting to see how it turns out.
These pots are along the fence near the back of the yard.  From left to right, there's rosemary, thai basil, a pot that's been planted with opal & spicy globe basil seeds, and a pot with pansies, petunias, white lobelia and marigolds.

This is the back corner of the yard where I've got a black plum tomato, underplanted with purple ruffle basil.

Celery, purchased on a whim, and stuck between the red pear cherry tomato and the radish/beet patch.

Hopefully by this weekend, I'll have some better photos of the other plants to share.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Weekly Blogging What?

It appears that I briefly fell away from the promise I made myself to write something & post it every week.  Oops!  To make up for it, here are some delicious brownies that I made:

I used the recipe found here, minus the nuts.

Since May 2-4 weekend is the traditional start of planting outdoors in this region, I've been busy prepping for, and actually planting things in the garden, in the brief respites between rainshowers for the last week. The onions, chives, garlic, thyme, oregano & strawberries all overwintered nicely, which saves me quite a bit of effort :)
So far, I've got the following seeds into the ground this season:
Yellow, white & red carrots
2 kinds of leaf lettuce (black seeded simpson & red flame)
a lettuce mix packet
a sunflower mix packet
chioggia beets (a striped variety)
yellow wax beans (they seem to have failed to germinate, so I think I'm going to have to replant these)
green beans
sugar snap peas (not as many as I'd hoped germinated, so I'll probably replant some of these as well).

I've got French Breakfast Radishes, yellow beets and several herbs waiting to be planted this coming weekend in addition to POTATOES!!
This is the first year I'm going to try growing potatoes.  The variety I got is called 'Purple Viking' and how awesome is that?!  I'm going to be sad if they get ravaged by the raccoons or squirrels.

I also stopped by the Dufferin Grove Farmer's Market on the way home today and picked up a Black Plum Tomato, Red Pear Cherry Tomato and an Italian sweet pepper variety (I don't remember what it's called at the moment). 
The last thing on the garden list for this year is to get my hands on some hot peppers - I grew Hungarian Hot Wax peppers last year and they were okay, but I'm hankering for something different.  What kind of hot peppers are you growing?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Election Day Tomorrow!

Tomorrow, in Canada, it's election day.  It's been a bit of a weird campaign so far.  It started off with a lot of voter apathy.  About midway through the campaign, there seemed to be a big turnaround in terms of voter engagement.

I'm really hoping that this doesn't peter out when it comes time to actual follow-through on that involvement tomorrow.  The advance poll turnout was promising, so here's hoping that continues.

If I had a bigger kitchen, and more supplies on hand, I'd try to bribe everyone into doing their civic duty with some chocolate chip cookies.  Unfortunately, after this afternoon's baking extravaganza, I'm out of chocolate chips and only have about five dozen cookies done.

I hope you all go out and vote tomorrow, for whoever you feel the best choice is (assuming you weren't one of those who didn't go to the advance polls).

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Weekend Update & Berry Banana Bread (that's also good for you!)

So far, I've had a pretty good long weekend. 
The inlaws fed us on Friday, and we got to play with four lovable dogs (including one Miniature Italian Greyhound puppy!).
Saturday, I went to yoga (for the first time in a few weeks), and discovered that the usual instructor has quit teaching.  While I'm sad that I won't be learning from that instructor anymore, I really liked the new teacher.  She had a was really great at having poses for the beginners in the class, while offering lots of options to take poses further (or alternative poses) for more experienced students.  The day was so nice out, that when I got home, I cleaned up in the garden some, and got the yellow wax bush beans, six-week green beans, sugar daddy snap peas and chioggia beets planted!  There's still a lot to do out there, and I still need to buy a ton of potting soil, but it's a good start!

Today, being the last day of my long weekend, I'm relaxing and baking berry banana bread.  I got this recipe from my dad, and it is based on one from a cookbook called Looneyspoons.  It is a low-fat recipe, but don't let that turn you off - it's really moist and flavourful!
You'll need some standard dry ingredients:
Some wet ingredients - including berry yogurt (I'm using blueberry-blackberry today).
And of course, the star ingredient, bananas!  I'm using up the frozen bananas that were in my freezer, which also makes the process easier, in my opinion.  The only downside, really, is that frozen bananas are not very attractive to look at, are they?
Here's why I think using frozen bananas make life easier:  you just have to rip off one end once they've mostly thawed, and squeeze from the other while holding them over your wet ingredient bowl.  They just squoosh right out!
Since the bananas have already partly broken down from being frozen, you don't need to mash them separately - just mush them around in the bowl a bit with a fork or the back of a spoon when mixing all the wet stuff together.
Here's the finished batter, all ready to go.
And here's the finished berry banana bread fresh from the oven.

I promise - it's really yummy!

To make your own, here's what you'll need
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup brown sugar (not packed)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice (or nutmeg, if you prefer)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 egg whites (or the equivalent of egg white substitute)
2 tablespoons melted margarine or butter, plus more for greasing the pan
3/4 to 1 cup non-fat berry yogurt (any flavour you prefer)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
about 2 cups worth of mashed banana or 3-4 frozen whole bananas
You could also throw in a cup of nuts or chocolate chips if you like

1. Preheat the oven to 325F
2. Grease your loaf pan with butter or margarine.
3. Combine your dry ingredients in one bowl (the first 8 in the list)
4. In a separate bowl, combine all the wet ingredients.  If you are using fresh, unfrozen bananas, stir all the other wet ingredients first, mash the bananas, and then add them to the already mixed wet ingredients.
5. Add the wet ingredients to the bowl of dry ingredients and stir to combine.  It will be sticky!  If the batter seems too dry to you, add a little bit more of the yogurt.
6.  If you are adding nuts or chocolate chips or anything, now is the time!
7.  Pour the batter into your loaf pan and bake for 80 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.  I usually rotate the pan halfway through the cooking time to make sure that everything bakes evenly as well.
8. When the time is up, take the bread out of the pan (should be pretty easy since we've greased the pan) and let it cool.  Or at least, let it cool enough so that you don't burn your fingers when you try to slice it!

I hope you enjoy it!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Flexi-Bendy Weekend

I've been doing yoga (mostly Hatha) off and on for a few years now.*  The last year or so, I've found a studio I really like, with classes at prices I can afford - especially the community classes.  Community classes are great because they are generally easy-going, inexpensive, and part of the money goes to local charities.
I don't get to go as often as I'd like to, in part because I work out in the outskirts of the city and the commute back doesn't always have good timing.  So, I mostly end up doing the Saturday classes.
However, this past weekend, I went to the Yoga Conference with a good friend of mine, who goes to many more classes than I.  She managed to get some free passes into the show (hooray free!) and I had a really good time.
They had a 'yoga garden' (surrounded by planters filled with flowers and cedar trees) in the middle of the main floor where different teachers led free half-hour sessions throughout the day.  We managed to go to three of these sessions early in the day.  The first was led by Jason Crandell, the second by Todd Norian and the third by Seane Corne
Like anything, it was nice to hear from different teachers, with different styles and different perspectives on things.
The free sessions got really crowded really quickly, so we decided to check out the vendors after Seane Corne's session.  I managed to score a new mat & towel from Kulae.  Their mats are made from an environmentally friendly, biodegradable material and it is super light! My old mat was a cheapo one, and is starting to disintegrate, so I'm excited to break in the new one.
My only complaints about the vendor area would be that many of them were starting to run low on stock when it was only the second day of the event, and some of the American vendors were only taking cash or cheques.  This was a bit weird for a Canadian event, since debit/Interac is such a pervasive part of the Canadian landscape now.
All in all, I got to spend an awesome day, with an awesome friend, and learned some new things - even though I did not get to see Woody Harrelson.

*Note: I am not as flexi-bendy as the lady in the photo. Not by a long shot.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cheesy Veggie Pie

I had this great plan this morning where I was going to make homemade poptarts today.  Then I slept in until 11:30 am.  I also had a ton of other household chores to do, so the pastry plan got shelved for this weekend.
However, since I had some frozen, pre-made pie crusts in the freezer, I decided to make a vegetable pie for dinner.  Thank you Tenderflake, for making vegetable shortening pie crusts for lazy vegetarians like me.

Here's how you can make your own cheesy vegetable pie:

Preheat the oven to about 350F and take out your prepared pie crust.  Then, start laying your vegetables in the pie.  I tend to throw in whatever I have available in the house. 
Here you can see corn, carrot slices, cauliflower, wax beans, and diced red pepper.  You could also add broccoli, diced potato, green beans, leeks, etc.  If you have any fresh herbs, I would throw them in now as well.  I happened to have some basil in the house, so I threw in some of that.  Oregano, sage or thyme would also be nice.

Once your pie is mostly filled with your veg, it's time to start making your cheese sauce.  Throw a big blob of butter or margarine in a sauce pan, and then add some diced onion once the fat has melted.

Once the onions have softened, add a clove of diced garlic and cook a few moments more until the garlic has softened.  Then add a spoonful of flour and stir to combine (you want to make a roux at this point).  Once the flour & fat have combined, pour in about a cup of milk and stir.  It should look something like this:

While the milk is heating, grate a huge bunch of cheese.  I used marbled cheddar because that's what I had in the house, but you can use whatever flavour of cheese you like.  I think I ended up with about a cup of grated cheese.
Once your milk has warmed, add your cheese to the mixture, and stir until it melts and turns into  a smooth, cheesy sauce.
Once your sauce is lovely and smooth, pour it over the vegetables in your pie.  You don't want the liquid level to be too high, or it might boil over the edges.

Now it's time to make the crumb topping.  Take 2 tablespoons of cold butter or margarine and put it in a bowl.  Add about an equal amount of flour, and any herbs or spices you like (I added pepper and oregano).

Then use a fork to combine & mash it all together until you get a crumbly mixture.

Spread your crumb mixture evenly over the top of your pie, and then sprinkle a layer of grated parmesan over that.

Bake for about 40 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked through, and the top is browned and crisp.
Let it cool before you cut it, or the cheese sauce will ooze out of the pie and turn into a runny mess.  If you do let it cool though, you get nice neat slices of pie to enjoy.  I served my pie with a nice side salad, and it made a great dinner.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

I Love the Way the Apartment Smells When I Bake

Sunday is usually baking and chores day for me and today was no exception.  A ton of laundry gone completed, as well as cleaning the guinea pig cage, and then the mess they left after floor time.  In between those chores, I got my baking done. 
I started out by making an apple-blueberry pie.  I admit that I was really lazy with this and used store-bought crust that I've had in the freezer.  Unfortunately, it's not a pretty looking pie, as the top crust tried to crumble apart when I was laying it on.  Fortunately for me, it smells amazing!
While the pie was baking, I started on my bread dough.  I decided to a yeast bread instead of a quick bread and I opted to flavour it with dried oregano, rosemary, and fresh black pepper.
My main problem with yeast breads is that we live in a basement apartment, so it's a little cooler than most homes, which can affect the rise of the bread.  Here's my little trick to counteract that fact.

That's right! Stick your bowl of dough, covered with a tea towel, and a glass of freshly boiled water into the microwave.  Then shut the door and set the microwave's timer to go off when the rise should be done.  An added bonus to this method is that you still get to use the oven for other things.

Here's the bread rising away!  Rise bread, rise! You must double in size! 
When the bread was done the first rise, I gave it another little knead, put it on a cookie sheet, and left it to rise again.  When it was done that rise, it got some shallow cuts across the top, and a dusting of cornmeal, and we were finally ready to bake!
The thing I love about this recipe is that the total baking time is only 40 minutes or so.  After waiting around all afternoon for dough to rise, a quick bake is important to me!  Especially when the house smells so delicious you want to eat the air while it's baking. 

Here's the finished product!  It turned out to be a much bigger ball of bread than I expected and I can't wait to cut into it.