Posts Tagged ‘cooking’

It’s nice to have two consecutive posts inspired by discussions on the WellPreserved Facebook group.  There’s been a lot of great back and forth there lately – discussions on which preservers people made too much of, not enough of or plan to make this year.  There’s also been a lot of sharing about pressure canning, getting over the fear of it and the like.  It’s been a lot of fun.

Kelly shared the following idea/ question/ thought:

I wanna have a preserv-a-palooza where a bunch of educated preservers(?) get together and make a large batch of one kind of preserves, split the cost and walk away with some yummy preserves – any thoughts on how to organize something of that nature? More hands make less work….

She also noted that her and her Mother-In-Law yields a big batch of tomato sauce – 96 jars (this is quite the feat for two people – we get around 160-180 with 4 people and I do think 4 is more in this case – i.e. it’s less work to do twice as much with 2 times the people).  More than 4 people could start to get difficult.

Preserving ‘parties’ are common in many places in the world.  They range from seasonal parties where entire communities get together through communities simply working as a group to preserve an abundant harvest.  The far north preserves significant supplies of meat during the great migration (something that happens less and less) by smoking, drying or even canning meat for the winter.  It’s not so much a party as it is a way to ensure that precious food isn’t lost.

Wine and tomato sauce are common in many families to get together and share the burden.  These batches are easily multiplied without loss of quality.  With few exceptions, jams and jellies do not multiply well when cooking as Marissa at Food in Jars explains (I won’t steal her post – be sure to check it out as she’s simply brilliant).

Here’s a few ways I’d approach such a party:

  • If you want a single batch and insist on jam or jelly, you could form a line and make catch-after-batch of the same thing.  This is more practical unless you have a giant pot for the water-bath (such as one you’d use for tomato sauce)
  • If you want a single batch and want fruit, consider other sauces (such as applesauce) or approach sliced/ whole fruit for your jars.  These can be done in large batches and easily worked on together.
  • To avoid tripping over each other, consider multiple style of preserving in the same day.  i.e. while some work on a water-bath of applesauce, others could work on dehydrating.
  • My approach would be to alter the approach.  I’d get our set number of people (imagine 6) and have each show up with 6-24 jars and enough ingredients to fill them with their single favorite recipe.  If you double a recipe, cook it off in separate pots.  Each person gets to lead their project and everyone goes home with several jars of each recipe.  With each person leading I believe you would learn a lot from each other, and still go home with a mixed bounty.

The last approach is novel – the natural lulls of one recipe (cooking, waiting for the water-bath to end and the like) naturally lend themselves to starting the next recipe while the current one finishes.  It’s how I completed 5 different batches of preserves (including a jelly, seeding cherries and more) in 2 day in 2009.  This could have easily been done in 1 day with more people (you can read about the haul here and here).

A word of caution; take some time to plan the day in advance – either with the entire group or have the group decide who (or whom) will co-ordinate on the day.  It’s easy to lose time to chaos and trying to figure out what’s next.  We now make more tomato sauce in one day than we used to in 2 – and it’s largely to do with each of us knowing what everyone else is doing.  For instance, I know that I will be grinding tomatoes next year by 9:00AM.  We don’t keep a list, we’ve just fallen into this from trial and error (and can easily trade ‘jobs’ if others want to).

Lastly, be very cautions.  A hot pot of jam is dangerous.  A vat of molten sugar could be lethal.  Not the nicest of thoughts but something to be cautious of.

How would you approach such an event?  Comment here or pop over to Facebook and we’ll see you there!


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It`s been a long time since we`ve posted a recipe – especially one focussed on an economical meal.  A good friend (the lovely Jesse) recently pointed our that she`d love to see a return of our Cheap Tuesday Gourmet series. Back then we shared about 25 recipe ideas that were considerably less than $5 a portion and had an emphasis on flavor as well as often showing that season and local could be fused into the same theme.  The series also often included some of our preserving efforts as ingredients.

Life is a little busy these days to commit to a weekly posting like that but we thought we’d share the odd idea and recipe from our kitchen that’s in the same spirit.  Today’s recipe can be followed loosely if you don’t have all of the ingredients – the cost was about $2 a plate:

Thick slices of polenta are seared in an oven, rested on a bed of red pepper puree, topped with goat cheese which is dusted with beet powder and thinly sliced leeks:


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Although I struggled in school, I adored taking small quizzes and surveys (most from Cosmo which is probably why I struggled with the ones that evaluated real knowledge!)  Being Friday and too hot to concentrate on much of anything, I thought I’d share a few online quizzes (ranging from silly to difficult).  All are free and I learned at least 1 thing from each of them – enjoy!

TLC has two quizzes on-line:
Global Easts and Techniques (here)
Name that Utensil (here)
While neither one is especially difficult, I found the utensil game to be too easy to be fun – the other went from easy to tough and back again.  Ironically, I scored worse on the utensil game!

AllAboutYou.com offers a quiz to assess your potential to become a chef (it’s mostly tongue-in-cheek but still fun).

Epicurious has really good content in their Julia Child Quiz but you have to mark it manually.

20 questions on mushrooms (with instant feedback) are given to us by Auschef.com (this was originally part of a promotion to give away prizes – you do not need to register to play and this is a pretty academic test that I struggle with – I suppose I am more of a fun guy since taking the test :))

Go For something totally different, play the Cooking Academy Game (be patient and wait past the advertisement – the game will come up in less than 10 seconds here)

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I have to say, I’m crushing….Jamie Oliver’s new magazine hit Canadian shelves this month, the  second issue. I was lucky to get my hands on the first issue. Joel brought it back from the UK a few months ago and it has been passed around and well thumbed. I think he actually likes to encourage this crush, hoping Jamie will have a positive effect on my culinary skills, or at least my culinary inspiration. Truth be told I’m actually more inspired by how integral design is to the brand of Jamie Oliver. This new magazine is case in point, it’s got everything: stunning photography – from the ‘unstyled’ food shots to the joyful portraits and mood shots for every article – the typography is off the hook, really beautiful and sporadic use of illustration. All of this just serves to present really amazing content: recipes, stories, interviews, features all really wonderfully crafted to feel like the ‘voice’ of Jamie Oliver but express the individual writer’s vision. Okay, i’m an admitted magazine freak (I buy loads on many different topics), but I haven’t come across one in recent memory that I want to savour and collect. Jamie Oliver’s people have created a real jem here that sits right smack dab in the middle of my two favorite things: design+food. Here’s a little taste:

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Dana is the resident salad expert here – though I’ve been trying my hand at it recently with some mixed results.

Salad - Yummy in the tummy....who knew?

Salad - yummy in the tummy....who knew?

The simple salad above has some pretty strong flavours – fortunately we are not afraid of going bold with a few flavours.  This was baby spinach, toasted peanut, shaved Spanish onion, feta, chili flakes, salt, pepper and dried oregano.  Place the herbs on the tomatoes (and goodness please do not put them in the fridge – more on that later :)) and let them all hang out for a while – 30 minutes is the minimum before tossing.  This is one more flavour than described in the $6 kitchen makeover post and there are no fresh herbs – but it is an example of more of less flavours.

The nuts add a crunch and the spinach is strong enough to withstand and compliment it’s friends in the bowl with a great texture to boot.  This isn’t one for the faint of heart but is a hearty accompaniment to a heart meal such as roasted chicken or grilled red meat.

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I have a pattern of burning myself unintentionally and in really stupid ways all at the same time.

When I was a teenager I used to lean on the stove, often putting my hand on the cool burner.  It was a bad habit and one that my parents would frequently scold me for and try to correct.  I burned myself 2 times in 7 or 8 years before I eventually burned my hand bad enough that I could see the small rings of the coil on my hand.  It didnèt require the Hospital but it hurt enough to stop (hopefully for good).

The hand that heals

The hand that heals - tiny flesh wound.

I have burned myself twice in the last 2 or 3 weeks – the first times that I have done so in many years.  Not a bad burn and I certainly didn t enjoy it. The first time was on an oven rack (top of hand above) and the second was grabbing a roasting pot with a bare hand mere moments after taking it out of the stove – I just blanked out and grasped it with 3 fingers.  Stupid move and one I am lucky to laugh about.

My question is somewhat morose – am I the only one who doesn t like getting burned but considers it some mark of courage or a cost of admission for our passion ? I know it ‘s not logical and that I should wear mitts before something more serious happens – and I can‘t explain the feeling; I just dont think I’m alone with this one!

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There is a lot of money being made in the industry of teaching and enabling people to become better cooks.   Cookbooks, the Food Network and thousands of tools and gadgets.  This isn’t meant as a complaint so much as an observation – there is a lot of excitement around food and so many ways to learn more about cooking and eating than ever before and I think all of that is very exciting.

In a world where one can spend almost $20 for a piece of rubber to peel garlic (and, yes, I own one :)) there is a simple must-have in your kitchen – especially if you are from a place which goes through any type of winter.

There was a time (and I still suffer from it on occasion) that  I cook with far too many ingredients.  We have an exceptionally small kitchen that keeps us from acquiring too many gadgets.  A good cutting board, a few knives and my trusty peeler and I’m mostly happy.

Michael Smith (I know I’m quoting a TV chef) changed my cooking for the better with a few simple rules – one of them being that you could through as much of any ingredient that you wish to as long as you had 5 or fewer flavours in the pot.  His sage advice came shortly after I had cooked a pasta dish with more than 20 flavours including an almost whole bulb of garlic (I was nervous – one of my first dates and my first time cooking for Dana).  I am thankful she thought it was cute (and that she liked garlic) and it wasn’t entirely bad – it was just one large giant overloading pot of a thousand tastes which, in effect, became one.  Chef Smith’s understanding was (and is) far greater than mine and I have learned that less is indeed more – the pallet can discern 3 or 4 separate layers of flavour and simplicity can taste deeper than an overwhelming slam dunk of a Heinz 57 mash-up.

Let’s explore this another way – I know what a rum and Coke tastes like and I know it tastes different from a rum and Pepsi.  If I mixed rum with Coke, Doctor Pepper, Orange Crush, 7 Up and Ginger Ale I’m not sure I’d know the difference compared to a rum with Pepsi, Doctor Pepper, Orange Crush, 7 Up and Ginger Ale.  Perhaps I’ll test this theory out some time – for now I’m willing to trust my best guess.  Less can indeed be more.

When you use fewer ingredients, you can use much more of each flavour than you would think possible.  When using a small amount of different flavours, be bold and don’t hold back.  If your ingredients are fresh and seasonal, all the better – which brings us back to where we started – how to overhaul your cooking for less than $6 a week…

Seasonal eating in Canada can be difficult if trying to eat somewhat local and fresh.  Cellar-ed apples, squash and many root vegetables can survive through the winter a long time and preserving certainly cuts into the glut of the cold, dark days of winter but eventually cravings for variety and that “summer fresh” taste that you get in August beacon.  Fruit and veg trucked from 2,000 kilometers or more can be hit and miss and moving that far South is a little extreme.  What’s a boy to do?

Fresh herbs transform your cooking.

Fresh herbs transform your cooking.

We keep a Tupperware with 3-4 fresh bunches of herbs int he fridge at all times.  They last a week or two (we put a damp paper towel in with them) and they are available on a whim.  We stock the typical – basil, sage, rosemary, parsley and experiment with whatever you can find – marjoram, oregano and anything we can buy.  They are available on a whim and when topping a familiar dish, added at the last minute or used in roasting, they add a divine and earthy fresh touch.

Instant freshness - even in winter

Instant freshness - even in winter

We tend to add leafy herbs (such as basil, oregano or sage) late in cooking (very close to serving) while the more hearty (things that look closer to evergreens such as rosemary and thyme) make good company for roasting or slow cooking soups (of course you can add those at the end as well such as topping roasted beets fresh out of the oven).  There are other options of course – frying sage leaves crisp make a great accompaniment to pan fried fish (cook 15 or 20 leaves in a bit of oil or bacon fat for a party of two).

Chives - not just for dip or baked potatoes any more!

Chives - not just for dip or baked potatoes any more!

If using herbs as one of very few ingredients, pile them on heavier than you feel comfortable – less ingredients allow you to use more of them.  If you don’t have a locker full of fresh leaves in your fridge, explore the local grocery store (many places buy them from local greenhouses though they tend to transport well compared to vegetables which are often shipped unripened).

Let us know your favorites or what you use them for and enjoy fresh food year round!

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