Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Winter Relief

We had our first snow of the season (Kate's first snow!) and it's still sticking around as the Arctic outflow is keeping temperatures down. Rather unusual for here in November; that's more like January. So we're all suffering from really dry skin and chapped lips & cheeks this week. So off to the pantry to mix up some winter relief.

Rich Body Lotion

A beautiful thick lotion that feels silky going on and smells even better.

Step one:

Steep about 1 tbsp herbal blend (I use 1 tsp rose petals, 1 tsp comfrey root, and about 2 tsp calendula petals) in:

100 mL boiling water (distilled is recommended)

for at least 15 minutes. Drain into a ceramic dish or glass measure to cool. Once cool, add:

2 tbsp aloe vera juice
2 tsp witch hazel extract

Step 2:

Melt in non-reactive double boiler (I place the oils in a ceramic bowl over a pot of water and simmer):

100 mL carrier oil (I use grapeseed oil)
1/2 tsp grated cocoa butter
2 tsp grated beeswax
2 tbsp shea butter

Once the oils have been melted, get the temperature up to 175 F (I use a candy thermometer), keep stirring & heating for at least 20 minutes to properly and completely melt the shea butter, otherwise it'll crystalize into little bits in your mixture once cooled.

Let the oils cool down once finished, so that they're still at least mushy if not totally liquid, but not still super hot.

Step 3:

Gradually pour your herbal liquid mixture into your oils while using a stick blender to thoroughly beat everything together until creamy. Make sure to do this part gradually and thoroughly so that a proper emulsion forms, otherwise you'll get separation of the oil & water. You may wish to add essential oils at this point; I use about 10-15 drops altogether, but you can use up to 25-30 drops. Suggested essential oils would include lavender, citrus, rose geranium, depending on what you need or what the purpose is for.

Lip Balm

...which also doubles as a great baby bum balm!

Essentially, you want these proportions:

20% beeswax
25% solid at room temperature (e.g. coconut oil or shea butter)
15% brittle at room temperature (e.g. cocoa butter)
40% liquid at room temperature (e.g. pomace olive oil or grapeseed oil, cold pressed for either)

So when I make it, I use:

20 g beeswax
25 g shea butter
15 g cocoa butter
40 g grapeseed oil

1 tbsp total of rose petals & calendula petals
10 drops of essential oil (e.g. lavender, tea tree, rose geranium)

I heat up the grapeseed oil separately in a Pyrex measure in the microwave, then infuse about 1 tbsp altogether of rose petals and calendula petals while the other oils are melting & heating, then strain it. If you're coordinated enough, you could do this a few days in advance so that the herbs have some opportunity to infuse into the oil; if you do, keep the oil in a warm spot, like a sunny windowsill (hah! around here?) or on top of the refrigerator.

As with the lotion, I heat up the beeswax, shea and cocoa butters in a double boiler, heat to 175F and hold for 20 minutes, stirring regularly. Once that's done, I add the strained oil infusion to the hot mixture and bring it back up to 175F, stirring. You can remove from heat, let cool a little, and stir in any essential oils at this point if you wish. I pour it into clean plastic jars that I got for the purpose (a long time ago), but I'm sure Tupperware/Rubbermaid or margarine/cottage cheese/cream cheese containers would be just fine. Let cool, and it'll solidify quite solidly. You have to scrape it a bit with your finger or thumbnail and rub it in your hands to soften it a bit before applying, but it works really well once warmed. If you want it a little less solid, you can always change the proportions by increasing the amount of grapeseed oil in the recipe.

Whipped Shea Butter

This is now my favourite dry skin relief.

10 oz Shea butter (preferably unrefined, cold pressed or however the equivalent works for it)
6 oz carrier oil (I used grapeseed oil)
essential oils

Melt the shea & oil in a double boiler (as before, I use a ceramic bowl set over a pot of boiling water) and bring up to 175F. Keep at that temperature, stirring regularly, for 20 minutes.

Cool over a bowl of ice water, add your essential oils, then whip using a hand mixer or stand mixer, until it reaches "soft peak" stage (like whipping egg whites or whipping cream). I didn't wait that long; mine got just to the equivalent of "trace" when making soap (which means you can dribble some of the mixture over the surface and write with the dribbling). Pour into your clean containers, and it'll set up into a mousse/paté like consistency.

This makes a HUGE batch, so feel free to halve or even quarter the recipe; although with one family member that has psoriasis, one with eczema, and all of us with dry hands, we'll go through it pretty darned fast. The consistency when cool is fabulous, creamy smooth, it melts into the skin instantly and stays moisturized for a long time.

Pickle-y Goodness

Dave & I visited family in Ottawa a couple of years back, and while we were there, we went to the Canada Agriculture Museum. While we were there, one of the demonstrators was canning up pickled carrot sticks. Before I started preserving the harvest, I wasn't that huge of a pickle fanatic; I mean, I like some pickles, but I know that some people like all kinds of pickled things. These pickled carrots were absolutely marvellous. So I knew I had to have the recipe, and lo! they had the recipe right there for us to take away.

Pickled Carrot Sticks

4 lbs carrots, peeled & cut into 4" sticks
6 fresh dill sprigs or 3 tsp dill seed
18 peppercorns
6 cloves garlic, peeled & thickly sliced
3 1/2 cups cider vinegar
2 1/2 cups water
1/3 cup honey

  • Boil water, vinegar & honey
  • Raw pack carrots with 1 clove garlic, 3 peppercorns and one sprig of fresh dill or 1/2 tsp dill seed per scalded pint jar.
  • Pour hot liquid over carrots to 1/4" headspace, and use non-reactive utensil to remove air bubbles.
  • Process for 15 minutes in boil water bath canner (or whatever is appropriate for your altitude).
And of course, if you're pickling, why not do pickled cucumbers?

Dill Slices

4 lbs medium cucumbers
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup pickling salt
4 cups cider vinegar (see *Note below)
4 cups water
3 tbsp pickling spices in tea ball or spice bag
5 bay leaves
5 garlic cloves, peeled & thickly sliced
5 heads fresh dill or 5 tsp dried dill seed
2 1/2 tsp mustard seed
  • Wash cucumbers, scrubbing lightly with soft vegetable brush to remove spines. Cut 1/8" off blossom end and discard. Cut into 1/4" slices or rounds
  • Combine water, vinegar and salt, and place tea ball or spice bag of spices in, bring to a boil & simmer 15 minutes.
  • Add honey, dissolve, and bring back to boil.
  • Into each scalded pint jar, place 1 bay leaf, 1 garlic clove, 1/2 tsp mustard seed and 1 head of fresh dill or 1 tsp dill seed.
  • Pack cucumber slices into hot jar with 3/4" headspace. Add hot pickling liquid and cover to within 1/2" headspace, and use non-reactive utensil to remove air bubbles.
  • Process in boil water bath canner for 15 minutes (or whatever is appropriate for your altitude).
Note: When I do this recipe, I always get about 1 L of liquid left over from 6 pint jars. As a result, I've got pickling liquid left for another batch.

We have usually an over-abundance of lovely French filet green beans (we grow Maxibel), and while we freeze a lot, we thought it'd be nice to try some kind of pickle recipe. This one is a winner, and is fantastic with dumplings like pot-stickers.

Dilled Green Beans

4 lbs green beans, tipped & snapped into pieces (of course, if you want to have competition worthy beans, then Blue Lake is apparently king, and you want them cut exactly to fit your pint jars. Meh, I say; I just wanna eat them!)
4 cups cider vinegar
4 cups water
1/2 cup pickling salt
1/3 cup honey
3 tbsp pickling spices into tea ball or spice bag
7 cloves garlic, peeled and cut thickly
3 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
3 1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes
7 heads fresh dill heads or 7 tsp dried dill seeds
  • Bring to boil vinegar, water, salt & spices; reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Add honey, dissolve, & bring back to boil.
  • Into scalded pint jars, place one clove garlic, 1/2 tsp mustard seed, 1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes, 1 head fresh dill or 1 tsp dill seed.
  • Pack bean pieces into hot jars.
  • Ladle hot pickling liquid into jars, leaving 1/2" headspace, and use non-reactive utensil to remove air bubbles.
  • Process in boiling water bath canner for 10 mintues (or whatever is appropriate for your altitude).

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Impossible Pie

I had this dessert for the first time at my best friend's house when I was in my early teens, and thought it was just so awesome that I got the recipe from her mum. What makes this impossible is that all the ingredients get piled into a blender or food processor, and the end result has three distinct layers: a crust, a middle, and a topping. Pretty cool, huh?

The original recipe calls for milk, but as I'm on a total dairy elimination diet for my little girl's eczema, we thought we'd try it with coconut milk instead. We're never going back. It was incredible.

We've also done this recipe using a can of pumpkin, and it works really well too. So in the following recipe, replace the coconut milk with actual milk, and just add a can of pumpkin puree, eliminate the coconut, and add some pumpkin pie spicing as desired.

Impossible Pie

4 eggs
1/3 cup oil
1/2 cup flour
2 cups coconut milk (take a 400 mL can of rich, full coconut milk, not skim, and make up the difference with water)
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup grated coconut
2 tsp vanilla extract

Blender the eggs first. Add oil & coconut milk & blend again. Add remaining ingredients and blend until fully mixed. Pour into greased 10" pie plate and bake at 350F for 1 hour (check at 45 minutes if your oven runs hot), or until centre is firm, and top is toasted a golden brown.

UPDATE: While quite tasty hot, it's even better chilled and eaten cold the next day. It might be something like soups and stews, it improves with sitting in the fridge over night. If you can manage to keep your fork out of it until then, I recommend it!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cucumber Relish

We had an overabundance of cucumbers this year (they went a little nuts in our greenhouse), so aside from doing pickled cucumbers (we had a bit of a glut left over from last year as I couldn't bear eating them during pregnancy - I know, go figure!), I had to find something else to do with them. Along came this great cucumber relish recipe, which worked really well for us.

Cucumber Relish

6 lbs (about 10 cups chopped) cucumbers (we used a mix of Cool Breeze, Lemon and Suyo Long)
1 cup chopped white onion
4 cups chopped red bell peppers
3 cups chopped green bell peppers
1 cup chopped celery (about 4 ribs)
1/2 cup pickling or Kosher salt
3 1/2 cups pickling or cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
4 tbsp mustard seed
2 tbsp celery seed
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp ground turmeric

Place all vegetables into an enamel lined or stainless steel pot and stir in salt. Cover & let stand 4 hours at room temperature.
Put vegetables into large colander and drain. Rinse with cold water, using hands to squeeze out excess liquids. Repeat rinse & squeeze.

Combine vinegar & spices & sugar and bring to boil. Cook for 10 minutes. Add drained vegetables and stir to blend. Bring back to full boil, reduce heat & simmer 10 minutes. Fill hot, scalded half-pint or pint jars to 1/2" headspace and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes (up to 1000 feet altitude).

Monday, November 8, 2010

Nose to Tail... almost

This year we did a much better job of using the lovely venison that Dave got. We've become a little more adventurous, so we saved the heart, liver and tongue, along with the meat and bones this year. With our fabulous pressure canner, we can do meat preservation. Last year was the first year we tried chicken stock, and that was hugely successful. This year, we tried venison chili as well as stock, and they were brilliant.

One of Dave's favourite blogs is Hunter Gardener Angler Cook. Here's his venison stock recipe, which we basically followed (maybe a little less salt, as we didn't add salt to the final product), plus an onion (skin on) and a couple of parsnips, so the result was quite a bit sweeter, likely, than the original.

We made a couple of batches (so far!) of venison chili with our own tomatoes, and while I'd like to use our own kidney beans, the recipe calls for 3 cups worth, and we didn't have enough for two batches as well as saving seed stock for next year. I started with the USDA's Chili Con Carne recipe, then went from there. I can't use chili powder (don't know what's in it that bothers me, but it does), so I added a lot of my own spicing to it. Star anise is just magic with rich meat; I've started adding it to most of my venison recipes.

Venison Chili

  • 3 cups dried pinto or red kidney beans
  • 5-1/2 cups water
  • 3 lbs ground venison
  • 1-1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped red & green bell peppers
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp toasted ground cumin seed
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 3 to 6 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 1/2 qts tomatoes, peeled & puréed
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
Yield: 9 pints

Please read Using Pressure Canners before beginning. If this is your first time canning, it is recommended that you read Principles of Home Canning.

Procedure:Wash beans thoroughly and place them in a 2 qt saucepan. Add cold water to a level of 2 to 3 inches above the beans and soak 12 to 18 hours. Drain and discard water. Combine beans with 5-1/2 cups of fresh water, and 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat simmer 30 minutes. Drain and discard water. Brown ground beef, chopped onions, and peppers, if desired, in a skillet. Drain off fat and add 3 teaspoons salt, pepper, chili powder, tomatoes, and drained cooked beans. Simmer 5 minutes. Caution: Do not thicken. Fill jars, leaving 1-inch headspace. Adjust lids and process according to the recommendations below.

Recommended process time for Chile Con Carne in a weighted-gauge pressure canner.

Canner Pressure (PSI) at Altitudes of
Style of Pack Jar SizeProcess Time0 - 1,000 ftAbove 1,000 ft
HotPints75 min10 lb15 lb

Dave also got all the accouterments for sausage making this autumn, so we made some batches of venison sausage, too (with lots of meat in the freezer for making plenty more). We started off again at Hunter Gardener Angler Cook with this venison sausage recipe, tried it, then tweaked it for ourselves.

Venison Sausage

4 lb venison meat, ground
1 lb pork back fat, ground
1 tbsp Kosher salt
1 tbsp (heaping) dried juniper berries, chopped
2 tsp crushed dried sage (omit if canning the sausage meat, rather than casing & freezing)
1 tsp black pepper, ground
1/4 tsp (heaping) celery seed, ground
1/2 tsp cumin seed, toasted & ground
1 tsp coriander seed, crushed
1 tsp cinnamon, ground
2 star anise pods, ground
1/2 cup cold grape juice (the original called for gin; this is what we had on hand and it worked just fine)

Follow Hank's instructions for turning into sausages. It's usually suggested that you fry up some of the seasoned meat before you proceed much further, to make sure that you like the flavours you've added before you go to the bother of casing the sausages then find out you don't like it. Not a bad suggestion.

Finally, from one of my favourite cookbooks, Art of the Slow Cooker, comes a marvelous recipe for beef brisket that works just fine with venison cuts, especially big, juicy rump roasts.

Espresso Braised Venison

2 tbsp finely ground espresso coffee beans
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp garlic powder (or 1-2 cloves garlic finely minced)
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp cumin seed, toasted & ground
1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 tsp Kosher salt

Mix above ingredients in a small bowl & rub all over the meat. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest at least 1 hour (we usually let it rest in the fridge overnight).

2 tbsp olive oil, divided
3 lbs venison
1 large onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups strong brewed coffee
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (we used our own fruit vinegar here, yumm)
1/4 cup dark molasses
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 whole cloves

Heat 1 tbsp oil in large skillet over medium-high heat and brown the venison on both sides (about 5 minutes per side). Transfer to a 5 or 6 quart slow cooker.

Add remaining 1 tbsp oil to skillet, add onion & cook until browned (about 3 minutes). Add remaining ingredients except for the cloves and bring to a boil. Pour over venison in slow cooker and throw the cloves into the liquid. Cover the cooker and cook on high 4 to 6 hours or low 8 to 10 hours until meat is fork tender.

Remove cooked meat from cooker and let rest. Cut across the grain, and serve with the sauce.

Happy Pantry

One of my favourite chores at the end of the growing season, once the hectic pace of harvesting and preserving is over, is to take stock of what we've got on our pantry shelves and create a tally of our preserves for the year. This summer was quite the challenge, balancing looking after our new girl Kate with the work of the harvest. Dave, of course, did most of the work. I won't go into totals, but here are lists of what we put together last summer and this summer.

2009 Preserves Tally

2010 Preserves Tally
No cherries this year; really unfortunate year for cherries, sigh.
It's sure nice having a happy pantry!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Halva... Sort Of

I don't have an enormous sweet tooth, but I do love dessert, and I adore halva, a Middle Eastern sweet. We had some fantastic tahini in the cupboard, and some local honey, so I figured what a great use for these ingredients. I've never made it before, so I followed this recipe; I didn't find that it went into the correct texture for halva, I don't know what I did wrong, it's more like fudge. But it tastes great so who cares!!

Tahini Honey Halva

2 cups honey
1 1/2 cups tahini (stir it well if it has separated)
1 cup blanched, roasted & chopped almonds
vanilla or other flavouring to taste

Bring honey to a simmer, stirring to keep from getting hot spots or scorching. Cook until soft ball stage (or 240F/115C). Meanwhile, heat tahini in a separate pot (to 120F/50C), and blanch & roast the almonds (want the almonds hot). Let honey cool a little, then mix in heated almonds, then fold in warmed tahini.

I poured the warm mixture into a very slightly oiled Tupperware container. You can use oiled cake pan, lined with parchment, or oiled ramekins, as long as you can extricate the cooled candy afterward! If you let it cool, then cover to keep air out, leave for 36 hours in the refrigerator to develop the texture of the halva. I wasn't successful with that, but I didn't let it cool enough probably first (it was about 10 pm when I was done cooking it), so I'll try again!

Handsome Visitor

We had a barred owl visit us this afternoon - he sat on our orchard fence at least long enough for me to snap some photos. I think he was looking for our meadow voles, I hope that he got dinner (and that he comes back for more)!