Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Homemade Vanilla Extract

I found this recipe on a food blog and couldn't wait to try it out. Nothing could be more easy and it tastes great! You just need some good quality rum or vodka, vanilla beans and a clean bottle.
You can get vanilla beans at the Bulk Barn, and I've seen them at the Superstore as well. If you really want good quality beans there are lots of places to order them online, but you would have to be a real foodie because they usually come in large quantities. Vanilla beans are a bit pricey but their flavour is long-lasting is well worth the initial investment. Not to mention the fun of making your own vanilla!

The alcohol preserves the vanilla, and burns off with cooking. Because vodka is flavourless, the vanilla taste comes through unhindered, but rum adds another dimension. I tried it with rum and find that it adds a little je-ne-sais-quoi to whatever I am cooking. If you think about it, anything you would flavour with vanilla would only be improved with a hint of rum - cookies, cakes, crêpes, custards... Essentially, you just need a liquor that is 40% alcohol, so take your pick.
We were lucky enough to go to Cuba last May. I used some of the quality rum we brought back to make this bottle of vanilla. So. Good. Also, Value Village is a great place to find little unique bottles that are perfect for making vanilla. That's where I found this great little one with a cork!

Homemade Vanilla Extract


- Clean glass jar or bottle
- 3 vanilla beans
- About 1 cup 40% alcohol of your choice (enough to fill your jar or bottle)


Slice open the beans to expose the seeds. Then simply place the beans in your glass container and cover with the liquor! Shake and place in a cool, dark place. Shake it a couple times a week and it should be ready in about 8 weeks. Use it as you would store-bought vanilla.

You can just replenish it with more liquor and an occasional bean to keep it going a LONG time.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Chicken Soup with Quinoa and Leek

So, I have been sick this week. Head cold, sore throat, hacking cough, you name it. Since I'm pregnant and can't take any medication, my best recourse was good old chicken soup. I made this one almost exclusively with ingredients from our produce pack or my mom's garden (just not the chicken). It was SO good. My husband even said it was the best "vegetable-y chicken-y soup" he has ever had! Honestly I've never seen him so excited about getting seconds of soup.

Although you can experiment with any combination of veggies and grains in this kind of soup, the stars of this show are the quinoa and leek. The gentle leek flavour just lights up the soup and the quinoa fills it out really nicely. Even if you aren't sick, this is a hearty, flavourful, healthy soup to make. Feel free to double the quantity if you want a big pot.

Chicken soup with quinoa and leek


- Sprigs of fresh thyme, sage and parsley, twist-tied together (called a "bouquet garni"!)
- 1 onion
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 pieces of chicken (with bone for flavourful broth)
- 5 small carrots, diced
- 1 zucchini, diced
- 4-5 medium potatoes, diced
- 2 small leeks, sliced
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tsp butter

1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup water


First, slice an X on the top and bottom of the garlic and onion (In my mind it releases the flavour) Place the chicken, garlic, onions and bouquet garni in a medium saucepan. Add salt and pepper and cover with water.

Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until chicken is done.

Remove the chicken and set aside to cool. Remove the onion and garlic and discard. You can also discard the bouquet of herbs but I like to keep it in to enhance the flavour. Just don't eat it!

Add some water to the pot if you would like more broth, then throw in the carrots and potatoes and continue to cook.

Because zucchini and leek are so quick to cook I decided to fry them up in a pan with some butter.

While the potatoes and carrots are cooking, heat up the butter in a pan
and cook the zucchini for a few minutes before adding in the leeks.

Fry until soft and take the pan off the heat.

When the potatoes and carrots are soft, add the zucchini and leeks to the pot.

While the veggies are gently simmering together in their deliciously fragrant broth, cut the meat off the chicken bones and throw it in. Add salt or pepper to taste.
In the same pan you cooked the zukes and leeks, place the quinoa and water. Cover and bring to
a boil, then simmer for about 15 minutes until the quinoa is cooked and the water is absorbed.
I find that any starch I add to soups soaks up all the broth and just takes over, so I like to reserve the rice, noodles or in this case, quinoa, to add to each bowl individually.

Serve up hot bowls of delicious soup with a generous scoop of quinoa on top, and enjoy!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

CSA produce pack

For two summers in a row now we have shared a fresh produce pack with some friends. Every week we get a banana box full of seasonal vegetables, fruit, eggs and bread from a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) called Dave's Produce Packs. We split it between us, since full box would definitely be too much for our household of 2. The cost of the box ranges from $40 to $50 a week, which we split. It has been so great to have local, organic produce in our fridge all season. I usually only buy a few extras from the grocery store - meat and dairy products and treats, etc. to supplement our summer diet. I recommend finding a CSA near you and getting in on the local food action! There are more and more farmers who are selling directly to the customer rather than trying to go through grocery stores. It's cheaper for them and gets us, the consumer, in touch with the hands that make our food.

Next spring we hope to plant our own garden (in our new backyard!) so we may forgo the produce pack next year, but we have thoroughly enjoyed it these past two summers.

We get weekly emails telling us what seasonal produce to expect that week, including pictures of the farm and the crops, and what extras we can order such as boxes of blueberries or organic meats from partnering farms.

As the seasons change, so do the meals we create with our weekly pack! It has been interesting to discover new ingredients such as garlic scapes and kale, which encourage creativity in meal planning. I've discovered the fabulous taste of fresh garlic! It turns out the garlic we get in stores is dried and I find it has quite a different taste.

Here is an example of what we received in a recent produce pack:

Brussel Sprouts
Fresh garlic
Zucchini or cucumbers
Tomatoes or Eggplant
Red Free Apples
Free Run Eggs
Whole wheat and honey bread

Throughout the summer we have received so many different types of vegetables and fruits - all types of berries, lettuces and herbs, as well as swiss chard, radishes, beets, cabbage, broccoli, kale (LOTS of kale) and even purple potatoes! There is always some funky stuff, like these different types of tomatoes:

As more and more people become aware of how far most of our food travels to get to our table, for example strawberries come from California and avocados from Mexico, the desire for locally grown food is growing. It tastes better since it has been allowed to ripen, and usually contains fewer chemicals (since it doesn't have to survive a cross-continental road trip). Not to mention that when we buy produce from halfway around the world our money is going to huge food corporations instead of to NB farmers :) If you go to the Kingston Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings, or to the occasional Queen Square Farmer's Market, you will see crowds of people deciding that local is best.

If you are interested in receiving a produce pack, here is Dave's contact info:

For more information on other CSAs, here is a great website if you are looking for local food providers in New Brunswick.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Crabapple Jelly

Making jelly is meant to be fairly simple, just boil, strain and boil some more. But I am a creative cook who likes to improvise, but with some things (like jelly) apparently improvisation does not work. I have learned this from experience - mostly my jelly not jelling properly. So this time, I decided to follow the recipe and learn how jelly works. Although, I must admit even after all that my insecurity kicked in and I poured in a pouch of liquid Certo as back-up. It probably didn't need it, so decide for yourself if you want to use some.

You can find crabapples pretty much anywhere this time of year. A friend gave me about 5 lbs from their tree, so I didn't have to go far.

I started off reading through the jelly section of my Joy of Cooking. I learned that the balance between fruit juice and sugar must be just right for it to jell, as well as the temperature of the syrup. For crabapples they call for about a 1-1 or 3/4-1 ratio of sugar to crabapples. For some sweeter fruits, that ratio would be lower. I also learned that in order to get a beautiful, clear syrup you shouldn't disturb the apple mixture as the juice is being strained (like squishing it down to get the most syrup you can... again, I learned from experience). Ok, now I feel ready to get started.

*As for any preserving, make sure your bottles and lids are ready to be sterilized in boiling water just before pouring in the jelly.

Crabapple Jelly


- about 5 lbs of crabapples
- white sugar (amount will depend on how much juice you get)

* If your apples are a drab yellowish-green (like mine) add a handful of fresh raspberries or blackberries for some colour


Quarter your apples and place in a large pot along with your berries if you choose. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Cook until fruit is soft then mash it up. Stretch a cheesecloth or piece of old sheet over a large bowl to strain the juice. I use clothes pins to attach the fabric to the edge of the bowl. Spoon your fruit mixture onto the cloth and wait. And wait. And wait some more while ALL the juice strains out. When you can no longer hear the juice drip into the bowl, measure the juice into a pot. Bring to a boil, then add either 3/4 cups or 1 cup of sugar for EACH cup of juice. Boil the mixture for around 30 min. Test by spooning up some syrup and slowly dribbling it over the edge. If it no longer drips in a liquid stream but rather two drops form together, you should be good to jell. Another good test is to ladle a little jelly into a bowl and wait to see if it begins to jell. If you are not sure, boil a little longer.

Sterilize your jars and lids (check my post on beets for further instructions).
Then pour in your jelly and twist on the lids.

Allow to cool to room temperature before storing in a cool, dark place.

I love how the raspberries really helped to give it a beautiful colour.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pizza Pockets

With only four more weeks to go (more or less) before Baby Morell makes his/her appearance, I've been trying to cook and bake food to keep in the freezer for quick, easy meals. So far, I've frozen chili, bean soup, lasagna, muffins and loaves of bread. But what is a better quick meal than pizza pockets?? Not the McCain's who-knows-what-they-put-in-there type, but homemade pizza pockets that taste good and are filling. What better idea for those of us who need a meal on the go for ourselves, our kids or significant others? The time invested in the prep is well worth the ease of popping a couple of these babies in the oven and having a delicious meal - no muss, no fuss.

I got this great idea awhile ago from my friend Katie's blog, and have made pizza pockets a few times since then. You can find her original recipe here. I also use her pizza dough recipe - it's so good. Take a look at the rest of her blog for lots of great ideas.

My mom came over and helped me put the pizza pockets together, so we had quite the assembly line going. She was well paid... in pizza pockets. I also threw a few in a bag to bring to my brother who has recently moved out and is starting school (studying Culinary Arts, ironically), and will need quick meals.

Pizza Pocket Recipe

Katie's Pizza Dough (depending on your ambition, make 2, 3 or 4 times this recipe)
* Allow to rise until double it's size, this makes for a lighter pizza crust.

Pizza topping suggestions:
- hamburger
- sausage
- bacon
- pepperoni
- pineapple
- olives
- sliced tomatoe
- green and/or red pepper
- onion
- cheese (Of course!)
... and the list goes on. I suggest pre-cooking your ingredients so you don't have to worry about them cooking in the oven. This way the filling is ready to eat and just the dough needs to cook.


Lay out your ingredients so they are easily accessible and clear a space to roll out your dough. You may need to grease your counter/table a little bit.

Take a small lump of dough - about the size of large plum - and use a rolling pin to roll it out about 1/8 of an inch thick. Slather some sauce on half of the circle, then sprinkle on a combination of toppings. Be sure not to put too much or else the pocket will not close properly. Also, if you get the edges wet, with sauce or anything else, it will not seal easily.

Carefully fold over the non-topping half of the dough and press the edges together to seal. You can use a fork to make the edges even.

Place on a greased baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes at 350 degrees.
Allow to cool before you throw them in a freezer bag to freeze.

When ready to eat, thaw the pockets and bake for another 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees. Voilà!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Pickled Beets

You may love them or you may hate them but when the mood strikes me I can sit and snack on
half a jar of pickled beets. They have a flavour and colour that are just beautiful. I remember
reading that the more colourful your fruits and veggies, the higher the nutritional content. If anyone has cooked with beets you will know they are just about the most colourful food out there! In fact they will colour whatever they touch, your hands, your sink, your cutting board, anything. Beets are full of good things like anti-carcinogens and carotenoids, they are low calorie and just a great side-dish to any meal (well, maybe not breakfast). I made a great batch about 2 years ago and have recently eaten my way through the last jar, just in time to buy a 10 lb bag of fresh beets to pickle. Of course I have no idea what recipe I followed last time, so I'm flying blind baby - I hope they're as good as last time!

If you have never canned before, it can be an intimidating process. However, if you are organized and have a system that works, you can really minimize time and mess.
You want to make sure that your jars and lids are washed and ready to be sterilized. Have a pot of water on the stove ready to boil for just such an occasion. Prepare your syrup/brine/spices before you start cooking your vegetables (or fruit).

Pickled Beets Recipe

Warning: Be ready for your kitchen to look like the crime scene from some gory movie...


- 10 lbs of beets


- 10 cups vinegar
- 5 cups sugar
- 3 tbsp whole cloves


Clean your beets and boil until just soft. Place your larger beets in first, and addthe smaller ones a few minutes later so they finish cooking around the same time. This should take around 15-30 minutes, depending on the size of your beets. While they are cooking, combine vinegar, sugar and cloves in a pot and bring to a boil. Also, bring your pot of water to a boil to be ready to sterilize your jars and lids.

When the beets are tender, drain and peel off the skin and
nubs. If they are sufficiently cooked the skin and nubs should just slip right off.

Lay in your pot of boiling water however many jars will fit. Cover and allow to sterilize for about 3-4 minutes. Lift out with tongs and empty, then place right side up on a clean dish towel. When you are finished, pour some of the boiling
water over your lids and let them sit for a few minutes.

Cup up your beets into whichever size you
want, (I usually cut 1/2 inch slices, then cut those in half) and pack them into your jars. Pour in brine up to 1/2 inch from the top.
To prevent having some jars that basically taste like a giant clove, reserve your cloves and portion them out, about 6-7 per jar.

Here is where you may have to do some juggling - you want to sterilize your jars at the right time so that they are still warm when you fill them with
beets and brine.

Take a warm, clean cloth and gently wipe the edge of the jar, then place a lid on the top (making sure not to touch the inside of the jar or lid) and gently twist on the other half of the lid. Now cross your fingers and hope they seal. If everything goes well, they will seal and keep for a year, but even if they don't, they should still stay fresh for several months. Store in a dry, dark place. The longer you allow them to 'pickle', the more flavourful they will become.

There is something so satisfying about seeing your little group of finished jars all lined up in a row, waiting to be enjoyed, getting more delicious with age.