The everyday life of an amateur Mother, gardener baker and cook.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

When life hands you strawberries, you make jam!!

Well, I officially feel like a grown up. I made jam all by myself without my Mom and I may have just crossed over into adulthood, finally! I will admit that I had the utmost confidence in myself until I got everything started and realized I had no idea what the heck I was doing! However, after one panicked phone call to my Mother (who did not answer I might add), I pulled myself together and got on through.
It took 3 hours of literally slaving over a hot stove, on a 28 degree day, to create 15 jars of lovely organic strawberry jam, but it was oh so worth it.
I was prompted to set off on this journey by the mass amount of strawberries that I picked from our garden, I mean what else does one do with 5 large freezer bags of berries?

Here is what I did if anyone else feels so inclined to grow up like me!

After weeks of our family all picking the strawberries, we had about 5 freezer bags full of yummy, organic strawberries. The best part about home grown strawberries is that besides being super sweet and juicy, they don't have the hard, white centre to them that store bought ones do. They are red throughout and the little green tops practically slide right off, easy peasy for prep!
I wanted to make organic jam, so I used organic cane sugar and bought a package of Pomonas Pectin. To be honest, I'm not sure its officially organic, but can pectin even be organic? 
Anyways, it uses a whole lot less sugar than regular brands and is well worth the extra $2.00 it cost me.

I basically just followed the instructions on the inside of this box. I had to   re-read them about 10 times, and after adjusting my pots and burners about the same amount of times, I had a good system.
I remember making jam with my Mom and it was a little different from this process, hence the panicked phone call!

First I cooked up all my berries with a mix that you create from one of two packages in the pectin box. I also added 2 cups or organic sugar, which is way less than regular pectin's call for. I got about 24 cups of jam from this, so the sugar content is actually quite low!
It took about 15-20 minutes of cooking and mashing to get them all soft enough and boiling away.

Meanwhile I had two other pots on the go. One smaller one of boiling water for all the lids and rings, and my largest pot for boiling the jars.
I pre-boiled all the jars before hand  and then placed them back in the boiling water right before filling with the jam. One thing I did remember is that when making jam its very important that everything is super sterile and clean, otherwise they may not seal.
I had my metal tongs all sterilized as well as my measuring cup for pouring the jam into the jars, and everything was all laid out on a clean cloth, ready to go. Being organized certainly is important when making jam, as the process involves what seems like a million steps!

Once the strawberries were cooked, and all the jars, lids and utensils were ready to go, I added the pectin (the other package in the box) to the strawberries and cooked for another 2 minutes or so. Then I added the jam to the jars, gave the tops a quick wipe with a cloth that was dipped in the boiling water and placed the lids and rings on.

Once all the jam from the pot was in the jars, the jars needed to go back into the boiling water for 10 minutes. Now here is one thing that I don't remember from jam making before. The jars were supposed to be submersed with an inch of water on top to help with the seal. I however, being the amateur jam maker I am, did not have a deep canning pot! So I did the best I could and spooned the boiling water on the tops of the jars that were to tall to go under the water.

I then used my slippery tongs to wrestle the jars back out the boiling water, and after a few burns and perhaps a couple of mumbled bad words, I had all the jars out! Next time I will be sure to get the special tongs used for getting jars out of water, what a novel idea!!

After looking at my jars with a sigh, I got started on batch #2! Although, the second time went a little quicker :) The end result was lovely, the jam was a beautiful red colour and tasted just like strawberries out of the garden, yum!
I certainly will set out on another canning adventure, but for now I will sit back and enjoy my toast with jam every morning, I certainly have enough of it to last me awhile!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Green, Brown or Red?

Ahhhh, the lentil...... In true Amateur Mother fashion I will admit I know nothing about the wonderful little lentil, which is why I decided to have a go at my first lentil creation.
First of all the decision is, what colour lentil does one choose? Well, perhaps because I liked the colour best, or perhaps I had a grumpy 2 year old at the store and had to make a quick pick, but I went with the red lentil. Although it really appears more orange to me, the bulk bin assured me that it was red!

I had seen somewhere a curried lentil recipe, so I made up my mind to create these, I was thinking of a thick sort of lentily-type stew that could be spooned over some brown rice or quinoa. I also had some left over coconut milk which I thought would taste yummy too.

So here is what I did....

2 cups or so of red lentils, rinsed in cold water
1 1/2 cup of coconut milk
about 2 cups of water
1/2 chicken stock cube
small spoonful of curry paste
few shakes of the following.......
- cardamon
- cumin
- cinnamon
I put all this in a pot and brought to a boil, then simmered for about 20 minutes till the lentils were cooked.

I also cooked some garlic, onion and ginger in a pan then added it in about half way through.

Once it was cooked I served it over some rice with mango and veggies on the side and some red onion, cilantro and tomato on top.

Enjoy! Pretty easy peasy hey??

Now I learned a few things by making this. In retrospect I would of cooked the garlic, onion and ginger in the pot I was going to make the lentils in, then added all the stuff to the pot after. Then you get the goodness of the caramelized onions and garlic.

Also, I learned a couple of very important lentil lessons. First, next time I will use a little less liquid. Second, when making a lentil dish where you want the lentils to hold their shape, DO NOT use red lentils! They tasted wonderful, but didn't really live up to my expectations of a thicker dish to serve over rice, it was more of a curried lentil soup! So, next time I will try the green or brown ones, stay tuned for an update!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda

If I only had known that fish tacos were as fabulous and delicious as they are, I would of made them years ago! Now, maybe I'm out of the food loop, or maybe I'm ahead of the game, but I had my very first go at the fish tacos last night, with a little inspiration from another Mom at Elysabeth's school and a little inspiration from a restaurant in Seal Beach, California.

It all started when my Husband and I added fish tacos to our (very lengthy) life list. I kept hearing of all these wonderful fish tacos that people were eating, although it seemed that these were mostly being consumed in wonderful far off places with white sandy beaches and a forever warm sun!

So when it was our turn at a sandy beach we went on a mission!
It all happened when we were in Disneyland a few weeks ago, we spent a day driving the coast and checking out some beaches. With no particular plans it seemed like a good time to find a place that served fish tacos, preferably some place that was next to a beach and was a 'one of a kind, hole in the wall' type place. With two sleeping kids in the back, there was no real rush, and we finally ended up in Seal Beach at a neat looking place called Taco Surf. At only one block from a gorgeous beach and a good 'one of a kind' look to it, we ventured in to find the house specialty was..... fish tacos!! They were absolutely perfect and made my day complete, mission accomplished!!

So I took some inspiration from this yummy little restaurant, which we later found was NOT actually one of a kind, as there were six more in the surrounding areas.... darn! Then after we were home another Mom at Elysabeth's school mentioned that she was making some yummy fish tacos and I was lucky enough that she shared her wonderful recipe with me. They were super yummy and the kids gobbled them up!

So here they are, fish tacos!!

Chipotle sauce ingredients
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
2 garlic cloves minced
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 tsp canned chipotle pepper, pureed (7oz/198ml can)
1/2 tsp salt
(I threw all the stuff in my magic bullet and pureed away, but you could chop it too)
In medium bowl, whisk together mayo, sour cream, garlic, cilantro, chipotle and salt. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour until chilled.

Fish Tacos ingredients
1 lb skinless cod or other firm whitefish fillets cut into 4 pieces
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp salt
8 soft corn or flour tortillas
4 tomatoes, chopped
shredded cabbage
red onion, diced
avocado (I mixed mine with some lime and salt for guac, but chopped would be good too!)

Rinse fish and pat dry with paper towels. Place in a shallow dish. In a small bowl, whisk together oil, lime juice, cayenne and salt. Pour over fish. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, until chilled.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with greased foil. Wrap tortillas in foil and place in oven. Remove fish from marinade, allowing excess to drip off and discarding marinade. Place fish on prepared baking sheet. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes or until fish is opaque and flakes easily with a fork. Let cool slightly, then use fork to flake fish into bite-size pieces. Transfer to serving bowl and stir in enough chipotle sauce to moisten. Remove tortillas from oven.
Assemble your ingredients in the tortilla and enjoy!

So, my plan was to take a picture of the assembled perfection, but we ate them up too quick and I didn't get the picture in! But I after we ran out of tortillas we just mixed the ingredients on our plates for a little fish taco salad, also really yummy!!

Although we were not on a white sandy beach enjoying the warm sun, we did manage to make a mean fish taco! If I only had know how wonderful these would be I would of made them years ago. Perhaps I would of been the trendsetter then, but for now I will be the follower. My plan now? Make up for lost time and start enjoying these regularly! YUM!!!


Thursday, March 29, 2012


You say tofu, I say delicious!

Ok, I have something to admit.... I am truly a wannabe hippie, but don't tell anyone. I like to think that I live my food life on the edge, always coming up with fun and healthy ideas, never caving in on those oh-so-yummy teen burgers. But, I am not perfect, and before yesterday I had never cooked up a tofu scramble.

To be perfectly honest I don't ever really cook with tofu at all. But I saw the recipe in passing in a magazine and have tried something similar when out to breakfast with my truly (not a wannabe) hippie sister. So I thought, why the heck not!

I chopped up all my veggies, and like the scramble I had tasted before, I decided to add some curry paste for extra goodness!
Now, one thing I do know about tofu is that you have to dry it out a bit in paper towel. So I sliced it up, pressed it between the paper towel to soak the moistness out, then crumbled it up into the bowl.

I cooked up the garlic, onion, pepper, mush and broc for a few minutes, then added the spinach, tomato, tofu and a couple spoons of the curry paste. Once it was all hot and mixed together I topped it with cilantro and enjoyed it all on my english muffin.
It tasted remarkably like scrambled eggs and even the two year old ate it up!

Perhaps now with one more notch on my belt in the area of vegan cooking I can start to consider myself at least part hippie? Or perhaps I am destined to be an amateur one of those too..... sigh......

Friday, March 9, 2012

Chocolate Cake...(without the cup)

It was almost a year ago that I ventured out to become a cupcake pro and over this past year I have had many failed attempts and successes at cakes and icings. But today I took on a new challenge, a cake, not baked in a cup!

I have never been a cake baker and always have looked on with envy at these beautiful cakes that you see in pastry shop windows. Like the ones that look like they belong in a shop in some bakery on the streets of Paris, covered in chocolate and other delicacies and oh so tempting....
I figured though if I can do a cupcake, I can do a cake...right? To make matters easier I took my chocolate cupcake recipe and my buttercream icing, same just bigger I figured!

I had a vision of a chocolate cake with perfectly placed berries on top and a oh so yummy strawberry filling, here is what I got....

Not so bad to look at, but will it taste good? Don't ask me,  I have made this for my Husbands work party and I wont even get to try it! The pressure is on though, this isn't my family I am baking for... Actually, it has just dawned on me, THIS ISN'T MY FAMILY I BAKED THIS FOR... Yikes!! Fingers crossed it tastes as good as it looks.

If you are interested in creating this chocolate cake then follow my chocolate cupcakes posting from last July. The only difference is that I cooked the cake for 25 minutes instead of the 20 that I usually do the cupcakes for.

I also added a strawberry filling, super easy!

1 cup strawberries all blended up.
Cook these in a pot with 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup sugar.
Bring to a light boil.
Mix together about 2 TBSP cornstarch with 1 cup water, slowly add this until it gets thick and gooey.
Cool down

Then chop up some strawberries and add these to the cooked strawberry goo! Put in the fridge until ready to fill.

Once the cake has cooled you slice it in half, to create the top and bottom. (very slowly and carefully in my case!)

I put a very thin layer of buttercream on the top of the bottom half of the cake, so the strawberry filling wouldnt soak through too much.
Then I put a bit of my buttercream in the piping bag and piped a border around the edge of the bottom half, so as the strawberry filling wouldnt ooze out.
Then I put the strawberry filling on thick.
Then I slapped the top half on, buttercreamed the whole thing up and licked the spatula after!

I grated some chocolate on for decoration, and who doesn't like extra chocolate??
I also mixed my blueberries and strawberries for on top with a bit of sugar, so when I placed them on top they would be all shiny and sticky.

And voila! I dont know about Paris worthy, but it will do :)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Pasta Italiana!

True story..... I, a lover of homemade things, have never made my own pasta sauce. I know, sacrilegious you say. So I decided it was about time to venture out and whip up some sauce and to top it all off I was inspired to try my own pasta as well.
I wanted to make a pasta that had filling, cheese filling in particular. Going with my motto, 'cheese makes everything better!'. With a little inspiration from the Husband, I went with a ricotta and spinach filling, in a ravioli noodle. I picked ravioli as it looked the least challenging of the filled pastas.
For the sauce, I used sun dried tomatoes as my inspiration and went with a tomato sauce.
I rustled myself up a 5 year old helper, who started dreaming away her pasta creations, and we got started!


2 cups flour
3 eggs
1 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. water
pinch salt
( I read about a million recipes for pasta, some used oil and water, some did not. As it was my dough was a bit dry so I needed the water and I though the oil would help it to not stick)

2 cups fresh spinach
3 cloves garlic
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
s & p

1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes
small onion
4 cloves garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 cup grated zucchini
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup fresh, chopped basil
s &p

First I made my filling for my pasta.
I put the spinach and garlic in some olive oil and cooked them till the spinach was soft, about 5 minutes. I then chopped up the spinach, let it cool a bit and mixed it with the ricotta. I put this in the fridge while I made my pasta.

I made the pasta dough in my mixer, using the dough hook. I mixed it about 3-4 minutes then took it out and hand kneaded for a minute or so. I then rolled it out. Looking back my dough was not thin enough. I found the rolling out to be very hard and the dough was quite stiff and springy. I think next time I will add a bit more water to it to see if that helps. But, I rolled it the best I could and my helper rolled hers out the best her little arms could too!
Perhaps what I need to invest in is the pasta roller attachment for my mixer? (My birthday IS less than 2 months away!)
By then my arms were pooped but I still managed to make a flat sheet, then  I cut it into two equal sized sheets. I dropped my filling in little piles on one of the sheets. Then I used water to moisten around the filling piles and placed my second sheet on top. I sealed up around each of the filling piles then cut between to make square ravioli's!
Also in retrospect, I would have used more filling! I found that it wasn't quite enough, and had the dough been thinner I think it would also have been easier to fill them..... next time!
I gave them a dusting of flour so they wouldnt stick to the plate and put them in the fridge for later.

Elysabeth's pasta creations!

Ok, now for the sauce.....

First I covered the sun dried tomatoes with boiling water to plump them up. As this was doing its thing I started cooking the veggies. I cooked the onion, garlic, mushrooms and zucchini up in some olive oil. Once these looked cooked I added the diced tomatoes and tomato paste. Then I drained the sun dried tomatoes, saving the water and adding it to the sauce. I chopped up the sun dried tomatoes and added them in. Last, I put in the basil and some s & p to taste. I found at first the sauce was pretty 'tomatoey', but I covered it up and let it simmer for over an hour and the taste just got better. The end result was pretty yummy and even better topped on our homemade pasta creations.

So pretty much I would say I'm a natural Italian.....Well, not really yet.... But I may fool some of you in the future! Pasta night at the Hillis' was a success, enjoyed by all except the littlest Hillis who enjoyed her brown rice, gluten free pasta, sorry Kayleigh!
Perhaps next time I will be as bold as to attempt the tortellini, hmmmm.... Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Hippie Rice Bowl

my inspiration...

broccolini..soooo good!

Last night I created a new meal for the fam and to my surprise it actually turned out great! My inspiration came from a recipe for lemon aioli, some sprouts and some broccolini (also called raab, raap or rapini).

Now side bar here but... I got all of these things from my new favourite service, SPUD. Anyone tried this? Its organic produce and also organic and natural groceries delivered to your door! As long as you spend $35.00 your delivery is free, and pretty much all of their products are cheaper or comparable to the grocery stores. I often get things I normally wouldn't because they may be on special or just a great deal. I also get a lot or Ms. Kayleighs gluten and dairy free products as well as some other great things too, highly recommended to all, and they deliver everywhere!

Okay, back to the rice bowl. The hippie rice bowl.... Called so because my Husband often like to refer to my food as 'hippie'. Funny thing was, this dinner wasn't given this title by him, I gave it this, as I was very surprised he didn't tease me at all, au contrare.... he said it was great!


brown rice

chicken, I used thighs, but whatever you have will work

I used a mixture of raw and cooked veggies which gave the bowl a nice texture.
I sauteed up some onion, celery, carrot, peppers and my broccolini
Then I grated some zucchini, beet and had sprouts and avocado as well.
soy sauce

marinade for chicken
a whole lemon, olive oil, garlic, thyme, s & p.

homemade aioli
lemon juice, egg yolk, dijon, olive oil, s & p

The first thing I did was marinate my chicken. I took boneless, skinless chicken thighs, but you could use any chicken really.

I chopped up about 4 garlic cloves and about a tbsp of fresh thyme. Then grated a couple tsp of lemon zest and squeezed the whole lemon for its juice. I put these in my magic bullet (thanks Kati!!) with about half cup of olive oil. I blended this up and tossed it on the chicken to marinate for a few hours.

Then I made my aioli. This was my first time doing this, but as  lover of mayo I had to try it! And the lemon made it sound extra yummy....

I used my wire whisk on my kitchen aid mixer (thanks Mr. Hillis!) and first put in the egg yolk and a half tsp of dijon to mix together. I then drizzled the olive oil in the bowl while it was whisking away. I used about a half cup of oil before it looked the right consistency (thick!). I then added the juice from half a lemon.
Now I wasn't going to add garlic, but the aioli at this point tasted kind of bitter. So I chopped up three cloves and transferred the whole lot to my magic bullet. I added some salt and pepper to taste and blended it all up. In retrospect, this was the best idea! It turned even creamier and thick and was oh so tasty and garlicky!
I tossed this in the fridge with my marinating chicken.

I did all this earlier in the day, but when dinner time came around the first thing I did was to start cooking my rice and my chicken. With these cooking away I moved on to the veggies.

I chopped them all up and with about 10 minutes till the rice was ready I started to cook.
Carrots, onions and celery went in first for about 4 minutes, then peppers and broccolini. These only take a couple of minutes till cooked. I put a bit of soy sauce in at the end to give it a little flavour and called it done!

When everything was ready I started the fine art of layering the bowl. I seriously believe this makes the dinner!!

First hot rice in the bottom of the bowl.
Then raw veggies... zucchini, beet, sprouts. I kind of put these in little piles on one side of the rice.
Hot veggies.... peppers, broccolini, carrot, onion, celery. I put these on the other side of the rice.
Chicken... sliced up and put right on top of all veggies.
Aioli... drizzled all over hot chicken.
Avocado...sliced on top

My Husbands comment was "Did you seriously just make this up?" Which translates to a successful dinner. Also, my 5 year old at her whole bowl! And the 2 year old......Well, she was grumpy, so that doesn't count!

All in all a wonderful hippie dinner!