Friday, December 30, 2011

A Last Little Bit of Christmas

The carols are off the radio, the boxing week sales are in their glory and I am thinking of taking down my tree.  No more Christmas.  Phew.  And boo.

But, before I say goodbye to the season, I have to display my last batch of Christmas cookies:

Mixed Fruit and Nut Cookies

And my 2011 wrapping scheme.

I never got around to making the fabric bags I'd planned on, but I did reuse the paper I decorated my office with last year (wrapping paper = wall paper in my cubicle).  I am happy with the cuteness that came together (and the gift receivers were too!).

There was old-fashioned paper and twisty string.

Used cards and scrapbook supplies became gift tags.

I loved the huge candy canes!

I hope that you had a Merry Christmas.  Best wishes for a Happy 2012!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Chocolate Gingerbread

These Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies are a new recipe for me this year.  I wanted a change from the rest of the cookies I make at Christmastime, which tend to be fairly "vanilla" in their flavouring.  But, I knew that moving too far away from the family favourites would mean a lot of leftovers in the cookie jar and was hesitant to go too far afield.

I ultimately chose Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread because all of the Christmas spices make it different than the rest of my cookie repertoire and the CHOCOLATE CHUNKS should keep everyone happy!  They were easy to make and turned out beautifully.

I haven't had the chance to share these cookies with anyone else yet, but I think this recipie will be a keeper.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sugar Cookies


Sugar cookies are one of those cookies that NEVER taste good when bought from the store, but are delicious homemade.  And, they are so fun to decorate.  I've made snowflakes for the past two or three years and I think I am ready to move on, but they have to be one of the most admired cookies I have ever made.  

Chewy, crunchy, sweet, perfection.  

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Candy Cane Shortbread

My most festive cookie of the season!

Candy Cane Shortbread became an instant classic way back when I first started experimenting with baking after moving out on my own.  The first year I remember making them was 1997.  Yikes!

I can't recall where I got the recipe I originally used, but I now follow this Icebox Shortbread recipe.  I replace the vanilla with peppermint extract and top each cookie, before baking, with about half a  teaspoon of crushed candy canes.    They are perfect.  Minty and buttery, crispy and crumbly.

Preparing for tea and cookies with a friend.
My new (to me) tea pot!

Just add tea.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti

The fourth item on my Christmas baking agenda was Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti.   This is my favourite biscotti recipe although I've never made it at Christmas before.  Biscotti is delicious and sturdy.  I think it will be a great addition to my cookie tins!

Monday, November 28, 2011


My Christmas baking has begun!  Beginning with last weekend, I plan to bake at least one batch of Christmas cookies per week until Christmas arrives.

And, first on display is . . . Martha Stewart's Basic Shortbread!  This seems a dull name for such a tasty cookie, but it is true that it is very simple.

Martha suggests dipping the cooled cookies in chocolate but, instead, I finished them off with a toss in vanilla bean scented sugar while they were still warm.  These cookies are so delicious, I've had to use a significant amount of willpower in order to avoid eating the whole batch.

Nothing says Christmas like shortbread!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I Couldn't Help It

I know, I know, it's only mid-November.  But, I do love my Christmas decorations so.  And, I just pulled a few out, the tree will wait until December (I think).

Cookie baking begins on Saturday!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Weekend Homemaker

I didn't cook much this weekend.  It was a three day weekend for me and I was trying to keep things as low-key and relaxing as possible.  I did do a lot of Christmas window shopping and also discovered the TV show, True Blood.  I had been avoiding it despite the rave reviews.  It just didn't sound like my kind of show.

It is.

I can't wait to watch more.

I also didn't do a lot of cooking because my budget has come it it's end and I will have to wait a week before I can go grocery shopping, leaving me in a bit of a pinch.  I had to do a bit of scavenging in my own cupboard and, along with a loaf of bread and some fruit, all will be A-OK.

I did a little harvest from my winter garden, which is growing away very slowly.

And I made one of my favourite ginger salad dressings, which requires very few ingredients.  Along with some smoked salmon and cucumber, several delicious salads were had.

I also made pumpkin muffins with some frozen pumpkin I had stashed in my freezer.  I forgot to take pictures, but they are bound to be yummy.  I don't care for squash in it's natural state, but in bread, muffins or waffles?  Take me there.

Today, I tried a new recipe for Carrot Ginger Soup, which required little more than carrots, ginger and onion.  It turned out very well.

At the moment, my yogurt maker is humming away.  It will provide me with breakfast for 7-days.  Along with some leftover casserole in my freezer and some dinners of toast and eggs, my grocery-less week won't be too challenging at all.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Weekend Homemaker

The chilly, wet days and long, dark nights are calling me back into the kitchen.  Although I have a small winter garden, my desire for crisp salads has been replaced by a hankering for all things warm and savoury.

Last Saturday was the last full-day farmer's market of the season and next Saturday will be the final market of the year.  With my looming lack of access to local veggies, I am debating on reinstating my weekly, mostly-local, food box delivery.  I have a love-hate relationship with the lack of choice involved with food box programs.  I'm forced to try new things, which is good, but I also have a low turnip tolerance.  

In any case, my last trip to the market resulted in a batch of goodies:

Apples, more apples, carrots, almond brioche,
 Red Pepper Jelly and Zucchini Pickles.  

Which resulted in a chicken casserole:

And a huge amount of applesauce:

I also made parmesan coated yam fries, which had no relationship to my market buys, but were delicious nonetheless!

Monday, October 31, 2011

. . . or Treat!

Something sweet for Halloween.  Teeny tiny sugar cookies painted in the blackest black and the orangest orange. 

Black Cats

Orange Pumpkins 

The perfect one-bite treat.  Yum!

Happy Haunting!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

To Market, To Market

Saturday means market day!  The market has been dwindling for the past month and today is the last "full-day" market of 2011.  There will be a few "half-day" markets in November and a Christmas market in December but, after that, my groceries will be a little less local until spring.

Here are a few of the things I will miss:

Apples (oh, the apples are delicious right now!),
onions, pain au chocolat from my favourite baker,
grapes, carrots, fresh fig jam and lettuce.  

There are many things I love about the fall and winter, but the closure of my neighbourhood farmer's market is not one of them!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Homemade Yogurt

I made yogurt!  And it was easy!

As a lactose intolerant sort of person, yogurt is one of the few dairy products I can eat without significant consequences.  In fact, it seems to keep my somewhat ornery stomach in check and I try to have a serving every day or two.  However, all yogurts are not created equal and the high fat, low additive yogurt that works best for me is expensive, at $6.00 a tub!  In addition to high cost, many of the yogurts on the market today are hardly representative of the yogurt that has been consumed by humans for thousands of years.  They are extremely low in fat, high in sugar and contain setting agents such as gelatin, pectin and agar agar in addition to a variety of other additives and preservatives.  I was pretty surprised when I learned that yogurt is not a complex substance that requires a long ingredient list, but just milk and a little bacteria.  Once I knew homemade yogurt was possible, I decided to ditch the additives, containers and high cost and start making my own.

My yogurt-making technique:

(1) First, I heat two litres of milk over medium heat until it reaches a temperature of 180 degrees ferinheight (a candy thermometer can be used to measure the temperature throughout the process) while stirring regularly.  I use a combination of organic whole milk and cream. You can use milk of any fat content you like, but higher fat milk will result in a thicker, creamier and more traditional product.

Heating the milk is necessary in order to unfurl the proteins of the milk so that they will set smoothly, rather than in curds.

(2) Next, I take the milk off the heat and let it cool, at room temperature, down to 110 degrees while I stir it occasionally.  

(3) As the milk is cooling, I pull my yogurt starter (3-4 tablespoons of yogurt, either from my last batch or from a store bought yogurt containing live active cultures) from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature.  Once the milk has cooled to 110 degrees, I add half a cup of the warm milk to the starter, stir them together and pour the combined mixture back into milk.  I stir it up well to evenly distribute the bacteria.

If you add the starter back into the milk at a temperature above 120 degrees, you will kill the bacteria.  If the milk is below 90 degrees, the bacteria will not be activated.

(4) Once the mixture is combined, I pour it into my yogurt maker, plug it in and leave it alone.  My yogurt maker keeps the yogurt at an even temperature of 110 degrees throughout the incubation period.

Now that I understand the yogurt making process, I wish that I had bought a crock pot rather than a specific tool just for yogurt.  Alternatively, some people use thermoses wrapped in towels, water baths, or a pot in the oven with just the pilot light on.  If you do use a crock pot, you must make sure that your "low" or "simmer" setting remains at a constant temperature, somewhere around 110 degrees.  This will vary based on crock pot.  

(5) Next, I wait.  The incubation process can be anywhere between 4 and 12 hours, depending on the  type of yogurt you would like to achieve.  A shorter incubation will results in thinner, milder yogurt that tastes very much like milk.  A longer incubation will result in a thicker and more tart yogurt.

During incubation, the warm and cozy bacteria are multiplying and metabolizing the lactose in the milk.  This process turns lactose (milk sugar) into glucose, galactose and lactic acid.  Because I am lactose intolerant, I want to get rid of as much lactose as possible and wait through a full 12 hour incubation.  The longer you allow for incubation, the easier yogurt will be to digest as the bacteria has already done part of the work in breaking down both milk sugar and milk protein.

(6) After the incubation period, you have a few choices.  You can either put the yogurt directly in the fridge to set, strain the yogurt immediately or put it into the fridge to set and then strain it.  I have attempted all three approaches and prefer the last.  My goal is to produce Greek-style yogurt (it's not true Greek yogurt because I am not in Greece) which requires straining to reduce/remove the whey.  Many people seem to confuse whey with whey protein (which is a very small component of whey), but whey is composed predominantly of carbohydrates (the broken down glucose and galactose).  Removing whey leads to yogurt with a higher fat and higher protein content.  Whey removal will also remove some nutrients, but everyone seems to have a different opinion on the content and importance of these nutrients.  I just go with personal preference and the desire to eliminate as much lactose I as can.  So, I let the yogurt set in the fridge overnight and then strain it in a muslin bag for a few hours.

(7)  Once strained, I spoon the yogurt into jars for consumption.  Two litres of milk will give around 5-6 cups of yogurt (and lasts me a week), but this depends on how much whey you strain out.  I always set aside some starter from my current batch in a separate container and use it within 6 or 7 days.

(8) Eat!  There are endless ways to use homemade yogurt.  I often use yogurt in muffins in place of oil and in sandwiches in place of mayonnaise.  But, my favourite way to eat yogurt is for breakfast, with a sweet topping of homemade cinnamon apple sauce, honey or homemade strawberry sauce.  Yum!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Weekend Homemaker

It's fall.  And that means it's time for . . .




Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Block of the Month

The block of the month club I have been attending, Yours, Mine and Ours, is now finished.  The August block was called Sarah's Choice.  It was a simple pinwheel star and it was nice to end with something easy.  Although, I will admit, it was not the true final block.  The final block is from the September session and it looks more complicated.  However, I've decided not to complete it. It is not a traditional block and contains, of all things, an octagon. I don't want octagons in my quilt!

My final blocks from the club:

My donation block

My block

After 9 months of the Yours, Mine and Ours club, I have 6 star blocks to use in my quilt.  I am making a king size quilt and am anticipating that I will need 10 more blocks to complete it.  I am not sure if all blocks will be stars, but they will all be traditional blocks made of squares and triangles.  I would really like to finish the topper by Christmas, but I have another project that needs to take priority so I think that Christmas 2012 might be more realistic!

Let the block hunt begin!  

Monday, October 10, 2011


Happy Thanksgiving!

I haven't been feeling particularly thankful lately, but I do know that, all things considered, I have a lot of blessings in my life.  Today, I thought I'd document a few:

(1) A place to call my own, with all the fixings of comfort a person needs.

(2) My fuzzy friend, who is sweeter than I have ever dreamed a pet could be.

(3) Unexpected opportunities to make big changes and the knowledge that, sometimes, change can be a really good thing.

(4) The time and freedom to cook, bake, grow and create.

(5) And, last but not least, Thanksgiving leftovers!

All that we behold is full of blessings.
~ William Wordsworth

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Weekend Homemaker

OK, so September kicked my butt in pretty much every way possible.  I would say that weekends saved my sanity, but I am not so sure it was saved.  Only time will tell.  In any case, knowing that a little cooking is good for my soul, I went all out last weekend.  I especially went all out on the protein.  I needed some extra umph!  

On Saturday, there were steak sandwiches with salad.  Yum!

I even made enough of my favourite creamy ginger dressing (no dairy or eggs involved!) to last the week.

I also baked muffins for weekday snacks.  

10 Grain Pumpkin Muffins

On Sunday, I made a big chicken dinner.  

Veggies for roasting

Perfect Roast Chicken

In addition to chicken and veggies, I made baked sweet potato slices with raisins, pecans and feta.  

The food was good, the week that followed was not.  October WILL BE better!    

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Weekend Homemaker

The arrival of fall has been very sudden this year on the west coast.  Last Sunday (September 11th) was  a lovely warm summer day.  On Monday, the 12th, it was fall.  Victoria weather usually consists of one season, spring, with a pinch of summer and a bit of fall tossed in for a little bit of variety.  The transitions are usually long, slow and awkward (what should I wear?) and I am desperate for a change by the time it arrives.  But, not this summer.  It came late, left early and was was rather noncommittal, even on the hottest days.  I wanted more!

In any case, the cooling weather has put me into a cooking and baking mode.  I haven't quite gotten back into my weekends of weekly food preparation (in true Weekend Homemaker style), but I am heading in that direction. Over the past few weeks, I have turned to oven on several times!

I've made:

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

Rosemary Focaccia

Wicked Thai Chicken Soup
(I omitted the dairy and replaced rice with rice noodles)

I even baked bread!  Yum!

Of course, I can't let the last few weeks of summer go by without a few final simple summer eats.

Tomatoes from my balcony garden.

Tomatoes, freshly baked bread with local cracked pepper
cheese, chicken and homemade honey mustard sauce.  

Although I am not yet accepting of the arrival of fall, the knowledge that there is baking, soup making and roaring fires to look forward to makes the change a little easier to handle!